The corridors of the mission hospital are deserted, except for the occasional orderly that passes by with a tray of food. Jemimah is getting ready to go round in the wards administering drugs to the patients. There are still enough patients in the hospital to strain the few remaining nurses and clinical officers, although the hospital is hardly half its capacity. Many beds in the wards are empty.
The state of the hospital fills Jemimah with sadness. While located in the small market of Meke, Meke Mission Hospital was once the pride of the region. It was once brimming with young doctors who would pronounce Meke with an arrogant accent:
“I am Doctor Nancy, a medical intern at M’kr hospital,” they would say.
Those days working at Meke Hospital was a source of pride. It was the referral hospital in the region, and patients from all the public, mission and private hospitals in the region were brought here for specialized treatment.
Young professionals, from doctors, nurses and clinical officers to support staff such as drivers, orderlies and technicians strutted the corridors with a sense of pride. They were after all, working at the Meke Mission Hospital.
The older professionals were more reigned in, but there was doubt that they also enjoyed working at Meke Mission. The Hospital had a battalion of 17 experienced doctors, many of the specialists. That number did not include the army of medical interns that came and went year in year out. There was a whole regiment of clinical officers and nurses. Everyone, it seemed, wanted to work at the Meke Mission Hospital.
But that was before the politics began.
A long-standing tradition of the hospital was that the Administrator of the hospital, the CEO so to speak, was chosen by the sponsor of the hospital: the Church. Usually, the administrator was an elder in the church, a respected administrator but not necessarily from the medical profession. It was agreed by tradition that the administrator did not meddle with the medical aspects of the hospital. These were left to the Chief Doctor.
Chief Doctors often had a good working relationship with the Administrators, usually because the Administrators appointed them. Because the hospital had a long chain of effective Administrators, the hospital prospered. The last on this line was Professor Sebastian Karagita, an effective if charming CEO who appointed Dr. Morris Otuoma, a fine surgeon and competent administrator in his own right, to be his Chief Doctor.
All was well until the church decided that they did not want an Adventist as the Chief Doctor. This shocked everyone. Religion was never a factor in the appointment of the Chief Doctor. The Administrator was expected to be a member of the Church but not the Chief Doctor. But everyone understood that religion was only a cover. It was a badly kept secret that some influential elements in the Council of Ministers and Elders, the supreme decision making body of the Church, were uncomfortable with the fact that the Chief Doctor was a Luo. The church is primarily led by people from Mount Kenya.
Archbishop Jeremiah Gitonga wrote a lengthy letter to Professor Karagita, instructing him to remove Dr. Otuoma from his position. The professor refused. He wrote back saying that the charter of the hospital mandated him to pick, at his discretion, the doctor he thought most competent to help him run the hospital. And he thought Dr. Otuoma was best suited for the job.
The following week the Council sat and removed Prof. Karagita from office, replacing him with a little known elder known as Benjamin Gitari. Mr. Gitari’s first job as Administrator was to fire Dr. Otuoma. He picked a young doctor, Samuel Karani to be his replacement. There was grumbling and several senior doctors left in protest.
But that was not all. The looting spree that followed was what really brought the hospital to its knees. The Council, led by Archbishop Gitonga, used Mr. Gitari and Dr. Karani as their puppets in fleecing the hospital. Salaries started getting delayed; machines broke down and were not replaced; food became pathetic. A century old hospital built by visionary European missionaries was going down the drain.
The professionals fled, with senior doctors leading the way. Now Meke Mission is a pale shadow of its former self.
Jemimah is loved by the patients. She is always jovial and talks kindly to them. This was once the norm when the hospital was in its glory days, but now most nurses are overworked and grumpy. They snap at patients at the slightest provocation.
Dr. Karani is the only doctor left at the hospital. There are two clinical officers and about ten nurses. Although she has no official capacity, Jemimah takes it upon herself to ensure that the patients are comfortable. She barks at orderlies to ensure that they clean the floors and bedding; she terrorizes morgue attendants into wheeling away the bodies of those who die soon after they pass on; she ensures that clinical officers make rounds, like doctors used to do, by calling them nonstop until they show up.
The patients are her main business; the only part of her life that gives her fulfillment.
Her finances are in shambles. She used to get a decent package before the Gitari-Karani tyranny. That salary now exists only on paper. She gets bits and pieces every now and then. She could have left for greener pastures alongside the others, but then her father suffered a stroke and she was the only one who could take care of him. She could not leave Meke.
Her social life…well. In those days there were always young doctors, clinical officers and male nurses making passes at her. Okay, they were also flirting with the tens of other young nurses, but who cared? She was young; time was on her side. She was sure that at the right time she would marry a doctor; then they would serve the sick for the rest of their lives.
Now that is a remote fantasy. The only doctor in the hospital is the very married Chief Doctor (can you be chief doctor if you are the only doctor?) whom she slapped three years ago when he tried to grope her outside a ward. They hardly talk to each other after that. He tried to fire her but was vetoed by the Administrator who was sensible enough to know that she keeps the place running.
At 37, her life seems to be on crossroads. Marriage is no longer on her priority list, but she feels she needs to do something about her career. Working at Meke Mission, while personally fulfilling for her, is not financially rewarding. Her dad passed away last year, so technically she can start job hunting. Assuming that any hospital would want to hire an ageing nurse and pay her the amount of money she thinks she deserves. But really, anything is better that what she is getting at Meke Mission.
There are rumours that the hospital is being bought, but Jemimah is not optimistic. Such rumours have been rife for the last six years, and nothing ever comes from it. Perhaps potential buyers see the financial accounts of the hospital and get scared.
“Oh Lord, help me” she whispers to herself as she enters the male ward. Her first patient is an old, diabetic man who is as stubborn as they can get. He is a retired teacher who lives on a farm not far from the hospital. He refuses to take medicine if it is not administered by Jemimah herself. She always starts with him, soothing him and laughing at his dry jokes before easing away to attend to other patients.
The old man has only two children: a doctor son who lives in the United States and who is said to be very wealthy and a lawyer daughter who lives in Nairobi. The daughter had wanted to take him with her to Nairobi, but old Hezekiah refused to leave his farm. So the daughter hires people to take care of him. She has not visited him since he was admitted ten days ago. Jemimah is happy that she suspended her ambitions and stayed with her own father until he died.
“Prepare your appetite Hezekiah, your plate of medicine is coming,” Jemimah says as she nears the door of the ward.
On cue, the old man throws the joke back,
“I hope it has soup today. I am tired of being fed on dry medicine,”
Jemimah is about to throw another joke when she notices that the old man is not alone. With him are a younger man and woman.
“You must be Nurse Jemimah,” the man says. He seems to be in his forties. “I am James, Hezekiah’s son. This is my sister Liz,”
“It is a pleasure to meet you doctor,” Jemimah says, shaking the man and his sister’s hands.
“My father has been telling us wonderful stories about you. He says you are not only an excellent nurse, but you somehow keep this place going,”
“Just doing my job doctor,” Jemimah replies, shrugging her shoulders.
“Can I have a word with you in private?” the doctor asks, leading her out of the ward.
“I want you to be my Head Nurse,” the doctor says, once they are outside the building.
“What? I cannot go to the States with you. I…I have never left this country. And, don’t take this the wrong way, but I hardly know you.”
“No Jemimah, I am not going back to the States either. I am the new owner and CEO of this Hospital. The church sold it to me. But I will need help running and reviving the hospital, and I can’t think of a better person to help me than you.”
Jemimah is trembling. What did that mean? A higher salary?
“I can’t pay you much,” the doctor says as if reading her mind. “For a start, I can only offer you 150k. But I promise that you will get it every month. As things improve, we will review that. You will have Dr. Karani’s staff car, staff house and office. I am a doctor so I will not need a Chief Doctor. But I want a Head Nurse. Will you help me revive this hospital?”
Jemimah nearly collapses. Is he sounding apologetic for giving her 150k when she has been surviving on an erratic 20k? 150k is almost double the amount she was getting during the hospital’s glory days. Is he serious about reviving the Meke Mission Hospital? Of course, she will help. What wouldn’t she give to see the place on its glory days again?
But she is too emotional to answer him in words, so she nods vigorously as she fights the tears that are stinging her eyes.
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