‘Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage’ were words uttered by Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu who may have had me in mind.
My love story is incomplete without the story of my husband’s illness and how it changed me.
In early 2016, my husband Eric Odhiambo Ouma was diagnosed with encephalitis.
It’s an inflammation of the brain tissue which resulted in weakness of the limbs and he developed convulsive disorder which has left him paralysed.
Eric’s condition has changed my life. I live a day at a time. I don’t know what tomorrow holds since there is no proper diagnosis.
I also do not expect a sudden change.
Those who know me say that I do not look like I am taking care of a sick person. But I have to be strong for him, myself and the children.
When friends visit and tell me that I am strong, I ask myself, “How else must I be when a situation like this comes our way?” I have to be strong. Such is life.
My name is Mercy Jerop Cherutich. My 13-year-old son, who is in boarding school, has to come home to a mother who is lively, and my two daughters aged six and five years have to play with a bubbly mother.
It has been difficult watching as Eric gets confined to a wheelchair.
Eric, a great outdoors guy, woke up very fit one morning in February 2016 and after visiting the bathroom he came back mumbling like a dumb person.
He could not talk.
Two days before, he had a sore throat that refused to go away.
We rushed to see a doctor and as soon as we got there, he regained his speech.
The doctor could not understand what had happened.
A few weeks later, he caught a very bad fever and his urine was dark brown. The doctor did some liver tests but could not identify anything.
He was given antibiotics and admitted in hospital for five days. Without much improvement, we went back home.
At this time, we had been talking about formalising our marriage in a civil wedding ceremony and the time had already come.
On the morning on April, 9, 2016, Eric became very sick, he seemed tired and limp.
My best friend, who is a doctor, had travelled to be my witness at the ceremony examined him and confirmed that he was not well.
We prayed and left to get the flowers for the ceremony.
The ceremony was scheduled at 2:30pm. On coming back, Eric was already up and preparing. He said he was feeling better.
We left for the ceremony and later had a great evening party at a restaurant in Kisumu town.
DAMAGED LEFT SIDE OF HIS BRAIN
A month later, he suffered a high fever, developed weakness on his right leg and hand, started to walk with a walking stick and could not even drive.
We went to see a doctor and he recommended that we have an MRI scan done and other blood tests and the reports showed the inflammation of the brain and he was diagnosed with a brain infection.
The infection damaged part his left side of the brain, affecting the motor sensory cells that communicate to the limbs to control muscle function.
Doctors say that with physiotherapy, the cells can slowly reactivate themselves, and he can recover. But that will take time.
Eric’s illness brought back memories of my childhood.
Looking back, I have never seen my father walk. He was always in a wheelchair. He had suffered an accident when I was three years old.
This has helped me to cope with Eric’s transformation psychologically because of how I saw my mother take care of my father.
There was this other lady he had been involved with and even bore a child.
Since I had known her after Eric confessed to me, he felt that it was okay for this woman to visit him at home and I realised that this relationship was still going on, yet he was sick and dependent.
This is a lady with a strong personality. She once said to my face: “I am in love with your husband.”
Eric, having grown up in a polygamous home, could not understand my dissatisfaction with the affair.
When I got to find out about this affair in the year 2014, I had asked Eric to make a decision about this lady and his life, and he told me that he has chosen to stay with his family.
He acted as though it was over. He smartly covered up everything.
Last year, as the sickness crept in, pastors would visit Eric and me at home, to pray for Eric and encourage us and he would make confessions of his struggle with this affair and seek for guidance, direction and prayer.
He eventually decided to leave the lady for good. This was after a long and a difficult process, but I choose to forgive him.
I COULD HAVE LEFT
I could have left, but I analysed the situation and concluded that if I left him at his most dependent time in his life, everyone would blame me, especially that I had “hidden this secret from my family and friends”.
His life is on the line. I have a daily routine that I have to carry out for him from the time he wakes up till his bed time. I bathe him, brush his teeth, feed him all his meals, help with toilet issues, and move him from one place to another. Eric is on homecare 100 per cent.
In May 2017, we went to India after we felt that we were not getting the right diagnosis of the disease.
Our family and friends assisted in financing of the medical trip and when we got there, he was not responding well to medication.
He was getting frequent seizures, at some point his oxygen levels dropped and he had to be taken to the ICU.
When he got better, we had to come back as the bills were swelling and doctors were unable to establish the cause of his paralysis.
MRI scans showed damage in the brain, which they say – from the report – should not have caused such paralysis.
As a family, we could still ask whether it is something beyond medicine that has affected him.
HOW WE MET
Forget about this monster called encephalitis. Let’s talk about how I met Eric at my place of work in Kisumu town in August 2009.
Eric was looking for office space in the same building. So he had come to make an inquiry about the owner of the building. He later set up a printing, snacks and photocopy business.
Eric would pass by to greet. We later exchanged numbers, did coffee and became friends. We started meeting often and dating began.
In October, he took me to his parents and informed them that he intended to marry me. I saw this as a commitment to the relationship.
That December, we met my elder sisters in Nairobi, who also approved of our relationship.
We immediately rented a new house and moved in together. In January 2010, we got married.
Eric was more familiar with a marriage set up. Unlike me, he had been in a previous come-we-stay marriage.
I had been an independent single parent to a five year old son.
I found it challenging to fit in. I had been used to making independent decisions and shoulder all household responsibilities, yet, in the new union, Eric had to approve of my decisions.
We drew a guideline that no one had own money- whether from salary or business – it was our money.
This made things easier.
In May 2010 I took Eric to Kitale to meet my mother and the rest of the family. Eric got a charming personality. This won him the love of my family.
In January 2011, we got a baby girl and later, the following year in December, held a customary marriage in Kitale to seal our union.
I was then working as a Loan Officer for a local microfinance – Opportunity Kenya, and he had just been employed under the Ministry of Agriculture & Livestock in Kisumu, and was also running a borehole drilling business by the side Eralmo Services Limited and he incorporated me into it.
Three years ago, we moved in to our home in Kibos, Kisumu. We had bought the plot two years before and had visited the farm almost every two to three days to get vegetables and to check on the chicken we had started to keep.
One day, Eric asked me, "Honey why don't we build a house and move here?"
“But we don't have the money to build,” I said.
He asked me if I mind living in a semi-permanent house, I told him it that I didn't mind. And that is how we drew the plan for the mabati house that ended up being a centre of attraction to many... We drew it inside our bedroom at night.
He took a tape measure, and measured the size of the sitting room, our bedroom and the children’s bedrooms in the rented house that we were living in that night.
We then engaged the fundi that week and he gave us a quotation.
We decided to build a neat mabati house, we did a good foundation, the flooring is tiled, and its height is higher than a normal mabati house and this has a cooling effect.
I will never forget how people would ask: "Are you sure you will be able to live comfortably in that house? What about the children?”
Now, I thank God every day for my home. I feel good when our friends visit and ask: “Will you even need a permanent house?”
Well, the beauty is, with the burden on our shoulders now we have no rent to pay, Eric is comfortable. He is able to enjoy sitting out in the shade, being wheeled in the compound. The children have a comfortable place to live in and a compound to play.
We drilled a borehole and started a small kitchen garden. It is a very comfortable and very peaceful home for us.
MOST AMBITIOUS MAN
When I look at Eric, 36, lying here, I still see the most ambitious man I have ever met.
Eric came to Nairobi when he joined college and was staying with his relatives. He was very industrious and wanted something of his own.
He later moved out to Mukuru kwa Reuben slums to start his life on his own. He is never comfortable where he is and is ever seeking opportunities to better himself.
He later moved to Mlolongo working as a GTV installer and doing other menial jobs and established a photocopy business.
Then he moved to Kisumu in 2008 and got a part time job with Davis & Shirtliff.
Here, he learnt about the water industry, boreholes, pumps and solar equipment and within a short while, he ventured into water drilling.
It is a small business that is growing, we outsource drilling rigs, drill and install pumps and do supply of the water as well. The business picked up in 2014, and we got an office.
I had then been promoted into a Branch Manager, and in June 2015, I resigned to concentrate in the business and slowly understood its aspects. Looking back, it is like God was preparing me since Eric is now under fulltime home-based care.
I currently work from home with less frequent field visits because of Eric’s condition. I however have able staff who have supported us very well.
I would advise couples who are facing challenging situations in their marriages to put aside emotions and rationalise on the issue.
If a spouse has changed his values, then there is very little that you can do to change them. It is only them, who can make the decision to change their ways.
I have been able to overcome my challenges by keeping a journal. I jot down my thoughts and let out the pressure.
MORE ALERT AND MORE MATURE
Initially I could keep a lively going conversation with Eric but now he cannot talk for long, as his speech muscles are affected slightly.
The experience has made me more alert and more mature. Whenever I am making business decisions I ask myself what would Eric do?
I have now come to think like him. At 37, I should still be doing coffee with friends in town. But I cannot. Eric’s burden is my burden.
I keep pushing in God’s time.
When I leave the house to go transact business in the bank, hardly an hour passes before he calls me, “Mum, I need you home”, and I assure him that I am almost done. When I get home, I ask him why he is calling me Mum and he asks, “Na mbona unaitika?” ( Then why did you respond?) We laugh, and our life continues.
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