Grace rubs her temples gently. She is having a persistent headache that will simply not go away. She is having trouble concentrating at work. Grace is the Group General Manager of Shava Oval Hotels and Restaurants Limited, a holding company that owns Hotel Shava, Messa Oval Restaurant and Meke Oval Restaurant.
A new hotel, Nanyuki Oval Hotel and Lodge, was ready for launching in Nanyuki town before the pandemic struck in March. The launch was suspended indefinitely. Grace has been the General Manager of the holding company since early last year. Before that, she was the General Manager of Hotel Shava, a position she had been holding since she joined the hotel from Alitad Sacco, where she had been a branch manager.
Sam, the owner of the hotel group, consolidated his business interests last year for efficiency purposes. Before that, Hotel Shava and Messa Oval Restaurant were operating independently. But Sam started his expansionist plans last year, with the establishment of Meke Oval Restaurant. He decided to establish that restaurant following the revival of Meke Mission Hospital, which has in turn helped the economy of the town. Just like Messa Oval Restaurant, which is located opposite Beeline Hospital, Meke Oval Restaurant is located opposite Meke Mission Hospital. The restaurant became an instant hit, pulling all the professionals from the other eateries, including the hospital’s cafeteria.
However, with Covid-19 wreaking havoc in the country, the hotel and the two restaurants suspended their operations several months ago, alongside all the other hotels in the country. But with the recent relaxation of measures, the hotel group is preparing for reopening. That means that after months of having very little to do, Grace is suddenly finding herself with tonnes of work; she has to arrange for the testing of staff, the reorganization of the restaurants to allow for social distancing, getting in touch with suppliers and holding endless meetings with Sam and with ministry of health officials.
Today she is looking at the report submitted by the manager of Messa Oval Restaurant on staff utilization. Because of social distancing, and because the pandemic is far from over, Grace expects that the hotel and the restaurants will be operating at about half their normal capacity, so it is important to figure out how to use staff optimally. Sam made it clear months ago that the hotel group would not be firing or retrenching anyone.
Grace texts her husband Julius and asks him to come with painkillers. Julius is a trained mechanic and a businessman. He owns two auto-garages, one in Shava and another in Messa. He is just about to leave his office at the Shava town garage when he receives his wife’s text. He picks his jacket and walks to his car.
He drives to a pharmacy in Shava town to get painkillers for his wife then heads out again. He and Grace bought land in the outskirts of a small market called Satellite, about forty kilometers from Shava town. They commute every day to Shava town. They agreed to purchase land here as opposed to the outskirts of Shava because they wanted to farm, and they could not get the size of land they wanted near Shava town. They own fifteen acres of land, where they grow French beans, tomatoes and onions.
When Julius gets to the house, he finds his wife wrapped in a blanket. She is shivering and generally looks very ill. She is all alone, because their two daughters and the house help are with Grace’s parents. Schools are closed because of Covid-19, and they insisted on going to visit “shush”.
“Come on, let us go to hospital,” Julius tells Grace.
“No, I will be fine.”
One of the things that baffles Julius about his wife is her stubbornness.
“No you are not fine sweetheart. You need to see a doctor.”
“I am sure it is just a bout of malaria.”
“Then at least let us go to the clinic and have you tested.”
Grace agrees to this, and so Julius drives her to one of the small private clinics in Satellite market. He is tempted to just drive on to Shava County Hospital, but he doesn’t want to cross his wife. Grace has the capacity to get very annoyed when she feels slighted.
The clinic they choose is run by a retired clinical officer called Gerald. Although it is evening and almost getting dark, Gerald and his staff are still at the clinic. He listens to the symptoms for about half a minute.
“That is malaria,” he says confidently. “But Job will run a test so that we can be sure.”
Julius and Grace have their face masks on, but neither Gerald nor any of his staff are bothered. With the government easing lock down measures, people are getting more and more relaxed.
The results are out within a quarter of an hour: Grace indeed has malaria. Gerald prescribes medicine which Julius pays for as they leave.
Julius doesn’t want to sleep. His wife’s condition is getting progressively worse, and he is doubting the diagnosis given by Gerald. Julius has a culprit in mind, although he is too scared to even think about it.
He has cooked supper, but his wife is too ill to eat. Neither does he have the appetite. He is afraid of going to bed, lest he falls asleep accidentally. So he stays in the sitting room, watching a silly TV show and goes to check on his wife after every fifteen minutes.
At around midnight, when he goes to check on her he realizes that she is finding it difficult to breathe. He makes a decision instantly. He is taking her to hospital. By now, he is sure that she is positive for Covid-19. He carries her to the car and drives off towards Shava at high speed. Guilt is eating him up. Why did he listen to her? Why didn’t he take her to hospital earlier when she was much better? What if she dies?
He drives like a madman, testing the limits of his Toyota Fielder. Although he can afford it, he has generally avoided buying a luxury car, arguing that he does not need it. The Fielder has been serving him just fine. The road from Shava to Satellite is tarmacked, so what is the big deal? But today he is doubting the wisdom of that. If he had a machine, he would get to the hospital much faster. Grace has her own car, but it is a cute, red Nissan March.
About half way to Shava, he is stopped by cops. He is not only speeding, it is way past curfew time. He feels like crying.
“Officer, my wife is very ill. I am rushing her to hospital,” he pleads.
“Do you know what time it is?” one of the officers asks him, as if he has not heard what he has just said. “Do you know there is a curfew?”
“I know there is a curfew, but my wife is very ill.”
“The law is the law. Get out of the car.”
For a moment, Julius thinks about speeding off, but he knows they will overtake him within no time. The brand new police jeep will almost certainly outpace the fielder. That will make him waste even more time.
“Your wife should alight too.”
“She can’t because she is too ill. Unless you carry her.”
“And you are talking trash?” the officer asks, opening the passenger door. Julius has strapped in Grace firmly to support her, because she is barely conscious.
“Where is she sick?”
At the mention of the word ‘corona’ the officer jumps back as if he has seen a rattle snake.
“Why didn’t you say that from the start? Get in your car and get out of here,” he orders.
Julius doesn’t wait for him to finish. He jumps into the car and speeds away. He is in Shava County Referral Hospital within no time. He parks the car and carries Grace to the outpatient area. Unlike during the day when the place is usually crowded, there are no people. Not even nurses. A guard, who doesn’t bother taking their temperature after seeing how ill Grace is, directs Julius to the casualty and emergency services area.
He almost runs there. The room is open but there is no one there. He can hear voices somewhere in the background so he calls out. A young nurse comes and checks him out.
“Yes?” she asks.
“My wife is unwell. Please help.”
“What are her symptoms?”
“She was complaining of a headache earlier. But now she has a very high fever, and as you can see, she is shivering and is having difficulty breathing. I am suspecting she has Covid-19.”
“I am sorry sir, but we are currently not taking Covid-19 patients. Your wife needs oxygen, which we do not have. We do not even have an available ICU bed, and our isolation center is full. Why don’t you try Beeline? They have the capacity to handle your wife.”
Julius clenches his teeth to stop himself from screaming, but there is nothing he can do to stop tears from flowing down his cheeks. Beeline Hospital is a long way off, and he is sure that by the time they get there, Grace will be dead.
Image by Tep Ro from Pixabay: https://pixabay.com/photos/hands-praying-worship-belief-5441201/
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