SURGEON'S DIARY: I was wrong, the ladies at hotel just shared a deep friendship

Saturday March 5 2016

I can put the blame squarely at President

I can put the blame squarely at President Barack Obama’s door for the totally wrong impression I formed about the two ladies I saw every morning at the swimming pool. ILLUSTRATION| JOHN NYAGAH 

By Yusuf K. Dawood
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I can put the blame squarely at President Barack Obama’s door for the totally wrong impression I formed about the two ladies I saw every morning at the swimming pool. It was about the time when, as President of the United States, he was due to visit his father’s country of birth.

Before he arrived, the media was abuzz with the subject of gay rights and the likelihood of Obama saying something about it, while on Kenyan soil. So when I saw these two middle-aged ladies constantly together and also sharing a room in the hotel, my

fertile imagination went in an overdrive and I painted them with the same brush. I cursed myself for jumping to the wrong conclusion when eventually I heard their story.

It all started last year, when to escape the unusually severe and early winter of Nairobi, Marie and I decided to go to Mombasa for a few days to enjoy warmer weather. After arrival at our usual haunt on the north coast, I fell quickly in my usual routine

which consisted of a dip in the pool at seven in the morning, an occasional swim in the sea when the tide allowed, a walk on the beach as the sun was going down and loads of reading and writing packed in between.


I first saw the two Scottish ladies in the pool, when I went for my morning swim. While I was in the pool, I watched them come out, dry each other’s back with towels provided by the pool attendant and then walk together supposedly to their room.

When I went for a walk in the wet, soft powdery sand in the evening, I saw them lying on beach beds, reading women’s magazines. In the lounge, as we were having our pre-dinner drinks and I was telling Marie about them, they walked in and I told her

about what I thought of their relationship and orientation. Marie’s reaction – “You have a suspicious mind!”

After dinner, we happened to walk to our respective bedrooms behind the couple and saw them both enter the same one.” Are you still blaming my dirty mind?” I asked Marie.  

“Considering what this hotel charges, I am not surprised that they are sharing one bedroom.” Marie was still on their side.

Next morning at the pool, while they were drying their bodies, I saw an unusual scar on the belly of one of the two ladies. It was extending from the front of her abdomen and veering to one side to where the kidney is located. That strange scar fuelled my

surgical curiosity and my determination to break the code grew stronger.

I did not have to wait too long because Marie was on a ‘one woman mission’ to revive our tourist industry, badly affected by the bashing it received as a result of the attack on Westgate and the college in Garissa and the advisories announced by the British,

US and European governments.

Her technique was simple and involved targetting foreign tourists staying in the hotel and being extra nice to them, thus unobtrusively impressing upon them how friendly and welcoming we Kenyans are. They would hopefully pass the message by word of

mouth when they returned home and encourage more of their compatriots to visit our beautiful country.


So one evening, when the two ladies arrived in the lounge for their pre-dinner drinks and were looking for an empty table, Marie asked them to join us. Seeing that we were joined by two guests, the waiter came quickly to take drink orders. “What would you

like to drink?” Marie asked them.

There was a slight hesitation and then one of them said.” Thanks. May we have a Malt beer?

“We are hooked to it since we had one on our first evening here.” She then decided to introduce herself and her friend. “By the way, I am Millie and my friend here is Connie.”

“We are from Sterling in Scotland.” Connie added. “We are two intrepid women who have defied the advisory issued by our government and are here to watch the migration in Mara. On our arrival here, we were informed that the best time do so is a little

later in the year. So we decided to enjoy your beautiful beaches in Mombasa and Zanzibar while we are waiting.”

“It is not the advisory alone which is a deterrent.” Millie added.” You know when a government issues one, we don’t get any help from our embassy here if we need it, the tour companies stop booking us and insurance companies refuse to give travel

insurance. These additional factors compound the problem. That also explains why we came so early to watch a spectacle, which gets in full swing much later.” 

“Anyway, that has given you an opportunity to enjoy our beaches, which are the best in the world. And we should know because our hobby is travelling and seeing the world.” Marie did her usual PR for Kenya and reciprocated the introduction.

“We are locals.”  She gave our names and added. “My husband is a surgeon in Nairobi and I am a nurse.”

I was glad at the way Marie had introduced us because it gave me an opening to inquire about the mysterious scar. “I hope you don’t mind me asking, but as a surgeon, I couldn’t help noticing an unusual scar on your belly when you were swimming this

morning.” I said addressing Millie. “I wonder what surgery you underwent to acquire such an odd scar.”

“That’s a long story. You don’t want to listen to it while you are on a holiday. Surely this is not a busman’s holiday.” Millie said.

“Please do tell us your story.” Marie urged her. “My husband has just retired after practising and teaching surgery for the last 53 years in Kenya and is suffering from withdrawal symptoms. Your story might help him to get over the feeling of missing his


“In that case, you better start.” Millie said to Connie.

After taking a long sigh, Connie commenced on what turned out to be an interesting tale. “It all started with the death of my sixteen-year-old daughter following a car accident. Audrey was walking home after a dance and was hit by a speeding car. The

police rang me and I rushed to the hospital.”


As we saw tears glistening in her eyes, she went on. “I was shocked to find her in the ICU where she was connected to wires and gadgets. I tried to talk to her but she did not respond. Soon a young Indian doctor arrived and took me in the Sister’s office. ’I

am sorry,’ he said, ’but Audrey was in deep coma when she was brought here and we hooked her up on life support.’

I cried and cried but the worse was yet to come.” As Millie comforted her, Connie continued.

 “Three days later the same doctor told me that Audrey was brain dead and was only alive because of the life support. He needed my consent to switch it off. I gave permission to turn off the life support because I was told that in the unlikely event that

Audrey survived, she would be a vegetable for the rest of her life. Incidentally my husband had died in the same hospital two years back from cancer and had donated his organs. I knew he would like the same for our only daughter and so also gave my

consent for donating her organs.”

Connie nodded at Millie who picked up the cue. “I suffered from Type 1 diabetes since the age of 10 and was on insulin injections. Diabetes damaged my kidneys and I was on dialysis from the age of 25 and waiting for a kidney transplant. After a wait of 20

years, I was rung by my hospital that a kidney and pancreas had come available. Pancreatic transplant would cure my diabetes and kidney transplant would avoid the need for dialysis. I underwent surgery and that explains my scar.”

“My turn again.” Connie came in.” Out of the blue, I received a letter from Millie, which amongst other things said. ‘I want to thank you because I understand that you had to lose your daughter so that I could live.’”

“In the hospital I heard that the organs had come from a girl of sixteen and wanted to thank the mother, which I did through the Red Cross.” Millie added. “Though the donor agencies don’t like the donor and recipient to meet, we managed to write and

having got acquainted that way decided to meet. I discovered that since the double transplant, I started liking beer, which I never touched before. Also from being a carnivore, I became a strict vegetarian.”

“At our first meeting, I told Millie,” Connie filled the gap, “that Audrey loved beer and was a vegetarian. Over the next few years, I saw a lot of my daughter in Millie. A strong chemistry developed between us and we became friends. We now even take joint


“So there you are.” I said to Marie. “Now you know that I miss the scalpel like the smoker who misses the cigarette between his fingers. In trying to cure me of my withdrawal symptoms, we heard a very poignant story.”

“Something, I am sure you will share with your readers.” Marie replied.

After having drunk a toast to Audrey and to the fast reviving tourism in Kenya, we moved to the dining room, where we had dinner. The theme was African Night and we enjoyed some irio and ugali to the

tune of Malaika.