Little Miss Sunshine and the End of the Kenya Doctors Strike

By Jason Brotherton and Ree'l Street on March 22, 2017

After 100 days, the strike has been “called off.” That doesn’t mean everyone has reported back to their posts, it only means that a verbal truce has been called to placate those in front of cameras frustrated and tired with the situation.

Waiting for our interns to return, I have spent some time reflecting on this season of life. Anger, disappointment, fatigue, and sadness were common feelings. Daily, families brought loved ones from hours away, passing countless numbers of closed government facilities to reach us. Many times, the story was the same. The loved one had been ill for days, but being unable to raise funds for the matatu (think 15 passenger minivan) ride, they waited. When they finally did arrive, overwhelming sepsis with multiple organ failure frequently placed them out of reach of our limited therapeutic modalities. If I never pronounce another baby, child or adult dead, it will be too soon.

However, digging through the rubble of what has likely been the darkest and most trying time in our hospital’s recent past, there were many rays of light. Our little health care community quickly banded together to provide the best possible care for our patients. Despite our hospital being under-staffed and under-resourced BEFORE the strike, not one of the nurses, clinical officers or ancillary staff complained about the added work or extra shifts they incurred thereafter.

The ethos of community spread beyond the employees to the patients themselves. Recognizing the horrific patient to nurse ratio (at times 30:1), it became commonplace for those on the mend to get out of their beds and attend to the needs of others. Escorting a fellow image bearer to the bathroom, feeding another unable to feed him/herself or spending time with someone whose family had yet to visit during their prolonged stay were beautiful examples of what community can and should look like. Another instance was when a group of mothers joined together to provide clothes to another severely malnourished boy (3 years old and weighed only 22 lbs) who had none of his own. People with almost nothing, recognizing the needs of others and giving sacrificially. Parables of the Son became real life occurrences in our overcrowded hospital. “For I was hungry and you fed me. I needed clothes and you clothed me. I was sick and you looked after me…Whatever you did for one of the least of these you did for me.”

The brightest light beamed from our NBU (i.e. NICU). Shortly after the strike began, a 17-year-old girl 24 weeks pregnant arrived in active labor. Not having much time to do anything other than prepare to receive the baby, and prepare the mother for the impending poor outcome, we turned on the warmer and prayed. Mom delivered a 900-gram (1.9 lbs) baby girl. Feisty from the start, Little Miss Sunshine came out breathing spontaneously, giving us a chance to care for her (surfactant and mechanical ventilation are non-existent in our facility). Word about this tiny baby spread throughout the hospital, and with each passing day, the hope of her making it home became a little greater. As the strike dragged on, rounding on her was an encouraging reminder that there was something greater going on.

Care for her quickly became care for the whole family. I failed to mention that when mom and dad came in, neither of them owned shoes. Neither of them had much more than each other, but now they had this tiny, delicate, yet ferociously feisty, baby girl. The hospital community again rallied together to provide for this family. Nurses and staff came to provide food and clothing for the teenage parents, and diapers for the little fighter. Day after day, the hospital community provided selfless, holistic care for a high-risk baby, and a high-risk family.

After meticulous fluid calculations, tireless nursing, persistent growth and an 80-day hospitalization, she is now a chubby-cheeked 2 kg (4.4 lbs) baby ready for discharge. The final act of communal kindness occurred just prior to discharge, when the hospital forgave the family of all costs incurred during their nearly three-month hospitalization. Our hospital, who has had tremendous financial difficulties, to the point of not being able to pay staff for months, absorbed the debt of another.

Martin Luther King, Jr said it well when he said, “darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that.” In a few weeks, we will remember when the fullness of darkness was poured out on One to forgive the debt of all. The recent events here in our little community have been a beautiful reminder that no amount of darkness can keep light from shining.

Jason Brotherton and Ree'l Street

About Jason Brotherton and Ree'l Street

Jason and Ree’L grew up together in Appalachia and both attended East Tennessee State University. Following undergraduate studies, they pursued master’s degrees (M.S. in Biomedical Sciences at Texas Tech for Jason and an M.B.A. at Georgia Tech for Ree’L). From 2005-09, Jason attended Medical School at the University of Tennessee, where God used a trip to Sudan and leaders at an inner-city clinic to point him to a life of mission. Simultaneously, Ree’L started a career in business consulting. In 2007, the two finally tied the knot. The now live and serve with the son Sylis in Chogoria, Kenya.