Welcome to the world of a polio-survivor! Of which no apology is made because life hasn`t stopped the last time we checked!
Poliomyelitis (polio) as we know it, is a viral disease that can affect nerves leading to partial or full paralysis. Most of you must be in the know following national campaigns led by the Ministry of Health in partnership with various stakeholders including UNICEF.
We are often treated to derogative photos such as this one below; something that makes me feel out of place or at least awaken that urge of working closely with those incharge of framing pictorial representation of the disease to be humane in the way they express their artistic imagination as far as the disease is concerned.
It should surface to say, yours truly suffered from this very disease at the age two and therefore joined the “club” of polio-survivors across the world; I am told! In plain language, I lost the use of both of my limps to this disease without an opportunity to apply.
The interesting thing when you are in this state, you don’t imagine any other possibility; life is normal for you because that`s the only way you know it, leave alone the “miracle” peddlers with their numerous adverts on our national televisions! This one is a story for another day for the folly of “Men of the Cloth” seeking popularity in the pretence of healing those with disabilities. An act that eats into our personhood and portrays us as full of inequities that needs purification for us to “walk” again!
After the loss of use of my limbs, it essentially meant that I cannot walk the way you would walk, though I can still “walk”. This is only through the “Leg Brace” and we sometimes refer to the same as a caliper, walking aid whatever the name might be depending on the settings.
A leg brace is the most important thing that I need to have to ensure that I can move around and perform my duties as anyone else. This is supported by two elbow crutches that make me stand and be in motion.
This device does not come cheap; it comes in variety and different pricing based on functionality and customization. While anyone can go to a shop and purchase a shoe for themselves; I will need the shoe and the caliper which makes my complete walking aid. It means for me to walk, when you see me around; it would have costed me 3-10 times your normal budget and this explains why the law exempts persons with disabilities from paying tax upto Kshs 150,000 on their income.
Last year, I got an opportunity to travel to Geneva, Switzerland to attend a high level meeting held at the UN by the Human Rights Council. The meeting was about how we can scale up employment of persons with disabilities and I had been chosen to make a presentation amongst other panelists as a practioneer in this field. I could not hide my excitement and the fact that I had the opportunity to travel with my wife, summed it all.
I did what I had to do, the session was great and elicited a lot of interest from participants who came forward after the end to ask for specific information and get the contacts of the panelist for future conversation around the same topic. Having finished with the business of the day, it was time to leave the conference room.
As we walked past the security at the entrance, something happened! What happened was terrible such that, I found myself on the floor. My “leg” had refused to carry me anymore! My leg brace had broken and it meant I had to disobey the law of gravity whether I liked it or not. Don’t ask me how the security responded, don’t even go to the face of my wife on seeing all this happen and she had nothing under her disposal to help with!
Everyone, including my wife thought I had hurt myself and I was trying to put up a brave face as any man would do!Interestingly,I was not hurt and I regarded the falling as normal the only difference here was, my leg brace breaking in a far away land. A place I knew little about their systems and how I could get it fixed! That was my worry and if someone gave me a chopper there and then- I wouldn’t have spent a second in Geneva!
It is a long story but the shorter version is; one staff at the Human Rights Council was indeed of great help. We got a wheelchair from the UN medical team and I was wheeled to my hotel room leaving the staff to fix an appointment with an orthopedic clinic that would weld the broken leg brace! In my mind I was wondering, must we have an appointment for something like this? And remember, I had lost my independence completely but maintained that smile and laugh with my wife. What would have happened to me if she was not there?
The earliest appointment was the following day and the surprise came along as much; the cost of welding this piece of a metal was equivalent of purchasing 15 such new pieces in Kenya! I had to bear that cost on the full knowledge that my employer would refund as I was on official business.
After a successful welding, we did not want to do anything that can jeopardize the leg brace again; so we resigned to waiting in our hotel room until the following day so that this “leg” could carry me to the airport and more importantly, into the plane back home!
This year, I received an equally important invitation to speak at the World Skoll Forum and participate in the Young Leaders Initiative, a program of MasterCard Foundation and Skoll Foundation. This is a prestigious yearly gathering of social entrepreneurs at the Oxford University.
In my mind, there was a flashback of March 2013 in Geneva and I decided I will prepare in advance since I wasn’t going to travel with my wife this time round. I ordered for a new Leg Brace at a local workshop that costed me around Kshs 10,000.They assured me that the joints used are one of the strong ones and the reason it is even costing more!
I parted with the money in the full knowledge that cheap is expensive and who wants to fall again in a foreign country? Days went by and my item was done with so it was time for testing and I did to confirm that it was in good condition.
Early April 2014,I set off for my journey to this great event. At the airport, everything goes well and I am cleared by the security and my wife goes back home after successfully bringing me to the airline counter.
It takes some waiting since the UK flight is normally one of the late ones at around 11pm and this time comes, the usual procedures happen. This means, passangers with small babies, assisted passengers (elderly persons and persons with disabilities) are allowed to board the plane first before the rest.
Wait, after the call-I reach out for my elbow crutches to stand, don’t ask me what happened! It is going to be another long flight to London and I am already imagining very many things. The new leg brace, the one I was promised is very strong breaks at the joint-a sign of poor workmanship?
I immediately tell the attendant that I require a wheelchair right away, this “leg” can no longer carry me even after paying through my nose! I am wheeled to the door of the plane and this time round, I have to use the on-board wheelchair. After settling, I call my wife and at the back of my mind I know this will worry her a lot but still the same, she deserves to know.
Yours truly did not attempt to take any liquids on the length of the journey neither did I get any sleep that night. But before we departed, I quickly write an email to my host about what had happened at the airport. I had the two options either to cancel my flight and go back home or travel and sort out the challenge when I arrive in London. I chose to travel considering the investment that had already been made, how many people had missed this opportunity only for me to get it and throw it around on a simple “Leg refusing to carry me!” No I wasn’t going to allow that especially with the agitation for inclusion of persons with disabilities agenda.
My email was not well understood in the first place, but all the same; preparations had been made to receive me and address anything that had happened. My host had thought that, I had broken my leg and so they were thinking of sending an ambulance to the airport! But they also asked themselves, how I could travel with a “broken leg!”
Everything happened and we were in London, the shuttle taking us to Oxford was there and I was assisted to get on and there we left the airport. I was happy to learn that someone was already waiting for me at the hotel to attend to my “broken leg”, the volunteer took my leg brace and went around to find out where it could be welded.
We got an appointment for the same day and going to the orthopedic clinic, the doctor said he could not work on that one but recommended us to someone who can weld the leg brace, but he still charged us anyway. The interesting thing, the workshop where the leg brace was welded did not charge us a cent and he was very happy to do it because he knew what that device meant to me.
You want to disagree that indeed people are different? You want to disagree that for any traveling person with a disability requires an assistant just incase these hard times happen?
On this planet, good people still exist whether in Geneva, UK, Kenya name it and we cannot afford to generalize whenever we have our bad moments, I have learnt this when “My leg refused to carry me.”