Imagine you’re 12 years old and goes without saying, as playful as a kitten. Amongst your peers, your teachers and colleagues consider you the most active. The doctor almost diagnosed you with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder when your elder sister who is in medical school read of ADHD and pegged it on you. Talk of the danger of little knowledge. Your friends love to come to your home after school and over the weekends to play with you because you’re always fun and creative with the games!
One day you decide to compete to see who can climb the guava tree in your homestead the fastest. Being the proactive one and the most playful, you decide to go last because you know for sure you shall win. The excitement and adrenaline rush as you climb the tree for the umpteenth time, at this point you could climb it with your eyes closed, you get over excited and one arm slips. You almost fall. You can feel your heart pumping so hard in your ribcage that you can no longer hear the shrill screams of your friends as they gasp at your loss of balance. Your little sister cries out for you to come down but you do not heed her advice. You climb higher up than the rest of your friends did because after all, haven’t you done this numerous times before without maim?
Suddenly you hear a crack, the branch supporting all of your weight suddenly gives way. Your heart is pumping so fast that you cannot hear the horrifying screams of your friends as the stand there helplessly not knowing what to do. You feel yourself become light and then heavy as you fall at a neck breaking speed which you do not realize at first since all you can see are the leaves brushing on your skin and the branches blunt impact on your tiny body. Your arms are flailing and there’s nada to grab onto.
Few seconds after impact, you now hear the terrified screams of your friends that terrify you too but you feel fine. No pain. Nada. Your mind wanders why they’re horrified. You quickly jump to your feet and as you turn to face them, you can see their jaws drop and their faces turn pale as if they just saw a ghost. Your little sister faints. Confusion sets in. You stare around frantically thinking there may be a monster behind you but there’s none. That’s when you feel a sharp pain in your right arm. You turn suddenly as you try to hold the place where the pain seems to be originating. You freeze. When your little arm should be, you feel something slimy and underneath you feel something hard and sharp. You freeze again still scared to look down. You take one deep breathe and take a look.
Everything goes black.
‘Your son has an open right humerus fracture,” the doctor calmly tells your mother.
‘He is going to need immediate surgery,’ he adds.
Your mother nods. Her face is wary and has exhaustion written all over it.
Reduction is done and you’re sent home. You can no longer play as much as you used to because your arm is in pain and your mother’s insists that you should limit its movement to promote faster healing. You’re just a child so you cannot put a name to the emotions you’re having. You’re feeling miserable and incapacitated. Is there a worse feeling?
Few days later the smile that’s ever planted on your round face starts to return and you’re restless as you cannot wait to play with your camaraderie again but alas! You suddenly start to lose sensation in your arm. You do not notice this until during your bath when your mother accidentally knocks your wrist against the open tap and you do not even flinch. She stares at you bewildered and probes further.
‘Your son has developed compartment syndrome in the same arm the surgery was done on,’ the doctor says
‘Hio ndio nini? (What is that?),’ your mother poses.
“the operation is called fasciotomy whereby we shall release the pressure in his arm. ‘ the doctor adds.
You wake up feeling groggy and disoriented and panic immediately when you see people in white coats and ill looking people around you. You’re in the ward. Your mother calms your anxiety and assures you that soon, you’ll be able to go back home. You smile tired and doze off into a deep sleep and the anaesthesia medication used intraoperatively, is still wearing off.
You wake up to find your bed surrounded by numerous people. You notice one of them looks like daktari mkubwa (consultant) and the rest are in lab coats and some in that uniform you’ve heard is worn by sisters. You cringe inwardly and cannot hide your terror. You sense a pungent smell and move as if in recoil but you notice the stench isn’t dissipating. Your eyes wander looking for what could be the source until they settle on your now larger than left arm that’s draped in gauzes. You wonder why your arm has increased in size and now stinks. You search for your mother’s reassuring face in vain. You start to sob. The consultant gently places his palm on the nape of your neck and strokes you as if to calm you. This works temporarily until your mother arrives and later on informs you with tears in her eyes that you’re going to have to go under the knife again. This time you let it all out and forget what they say about ‘men who cry not being men’ (ukilia we si mwanaume). This time you howl. You howl because all this is scary. The white walls, ill people, the white coats; they all make you want to jib the operation but you’re not an adult yet therefore none of these is upto you. What is being done to you is not upto you. It’s what your mother and the doctor think is best that will be done. You cry your lungs out and soon you’re out.
You wake to a feeling of emptiness where your right arm should be. You try to reach for the sheet that’s slightly left your knee to the stinging cold of the morning with no success. You cannot feel your arm. You remember vaguely being wheeled into the operating room because you remember the bright lights and being moved and people in what appeared to be a uniform of some sort.
You turn slowly and lie on your left side and this time, you stare down at where your arm should be as you try to support yourself by the elbow.
You stare down again and stay frozen with your eyes threatening to pop out of their sockets.
Out of denial, you force yourself to stare at where your arm should be. There is nothing. Zilch. You instead see dressing on what appears to be the stump.
Your right arm was amputated.
Your eyes suddenly meet your mother’s as you see her rush to you from the corridor in panic and tear filled eyes.
You feel your muscles give way. Everything goes black.
In summation, ANY amputation is traumatizing to the amputee. A child losing their arm in their early years is one of the most incapacitating things that can happen to them since play is an essential part of a child life. The unawareness of the effects of amputation by children at that age can fuel the psychological trauma in such a child and impair their holistic growth which may result in development of personality disorders and depression later in life therefore these children and all other victims of amputation need our support and care because healing goes beyond the medical bit as ones psychological well-being being is intricately related to the physical well-being.
They can ultimately procure prosthetic arms albeit they can cost an arm and a leg. This helps improve their quality of life and enable them leave as close to normal lives as their peers.