Claire Kirabo, a resident of Police Zone in Lwengo Sub County in Lwengo District, has spent two and a half years in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) of Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital.
The mother of two children, both under ten years of age, was referred to Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital on August 18th, 2020 from Masaka Regional Referral Hospital because of dysfunctional ICU equipment.
By the time of her sickness, Kirabo was 27 years old and working as a secretary in the office of the Lwengo Resident District Commissioner. Her sister, Ritah Kyomugisha, says that Kirabo was found by her house helper, who told them that she fell off her bed and became unconscious, and couldn’t speak by the time she saw her.
Kyomugisha says that they spent five hours at Masaka Referral Regional hospital when they were told that she needed an intensive care unit because she was not breathing well, yet their unit was dysfunctional. They were referred to Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital after failing to get space at Mulago Specialised National Referral Hospital.
Dr. Joseph Kyoobe Kiwanuka, an anesthesiologist, says that he has attended to Kirabo since he was a student until he graduated as a doctor, making her the longest patient in the unit. Dr. Kyoobe says that they found out that Kirabo’s heart had stopped several times, and they had to run several tests for some months to be able to identify what exactly the problem was. They zeroed in on a stroke in the skull base.
He explains that this kind of stroke doesn’t allow blood to move to the base of the spinal column, limiting the patient’s ability to breathe on their own.
He says that they inserted a tube into Kirabo’s tracheal system to help her breathe, explaining that she has been entirely dependent on oxygen even during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in the country. Rosemary Dusabe, the nurse in charge of the Intensive Care Unit, says that Kirabo has been feeding directly through the stomach, and it is their responsibility to ensure that the environment around her is cleaned to protect her from contracting any infections.
Dusabe says Kirabo’s secretion was challenging because she doesn’t feel anything at all and they had to work hard to manage her weight.
Currently, Kirabo uses a computer that she got as a donation from her physiotherapist, Zilla Whitehouse, from America, to communicate when she is hungry or in need of excreting. She looks at the computer and creates sentences, which has eased communication with the health workers and other caregivers.
When Kirabo was admitted, she was unable to communicate anything, but the joy doctors and those around her have is that she has started feeling. Dr. Kyoobe says that Kirabo has had some infections that they have treated. He says that, much as the bills are huge for the family, Kirabo needs to have a machine of her own that she can take home as the long-term solution to her breathing challenges.
At Shillings, 50 million is needed to buy the excavating machine. Dr. Kyoobe says some drugs are very expensive and may not be affordable in the long run, but as a hospital, they cannot deny someone the services because they can’t afford the bill.
For the last six years, she has headed the unit Kirabo’s case has been remarkable for her, noting that the highest number of cases they have handled are severe head injuries caused by accidents. Such patients spend between a month and two months at the hospital, depending on the state under which they are admitted.
Dusabe says the Mbarara Regional Referral Hospital Intensive Care Unit handles an average of 25–30 patients per month. Kirabo’s sister, Ritah Kyomugisha, says since they were admitted to the ICU, they have had financial challenges with paying for tests conducted outside the hospital and staying in the ICU. She says they used to pay 70,000 shillings per night, which adds up to at least 3.5 to 4 million shillings a month.
She also says that Kirabo’s feeding is costly because of dietary restrictions, which cost about 2 million per month. Kirabo’s other sister, Susan Mutesi, says that her sickness has affected the well-being of the entire family because she had taken over the family following the death of their father in 2012. She says at the time of Kirabo’s admission she had a nine-month-old baby who is now in the top class.