Avoiding the frustrations and desperations of force-feeding her six-year-old daughter, Njeri Mundi, one day allowed her to sleep without taking dinner. She woke to a motionless child on the floor
Betty Muindi @BettyMuindi
One day during dinner, Njeri Mundi’s six-year-old daughter, Ellanie Wanjiru adamantly, refused to eat. “She just took one look at the ugali and milk set before her and she automatically got into a foul mood. She plainly stated that she won’t eat, mind you, it was her favourite meal,” says Njeri.
Knowing her daughter’s epic tantrums, she did not want to go through the frustration and desperation of having to force her to eat. “Ellanie has always been a poor feeder, and most times during dinner my action plan was to micromanage, bribe, beg, threaten, punish, distract, and join the screaming myself, to get her to eat, bite by bite.
At the end of mealtimes, we would end up tired, angry and emotionally tortured,” she narrates. However, this one evening, Njeri was not ready for the power struggles, so she told her if she did not want to eat, she would have her food for breakfast the following morning. This did not move her, she readily agreed to that plan and she went off to sleep.
Chapter closed. But the following morning, Njeri woke up to a shocker that served as a lesson she will never forget. “I woke up at around 8am and left my daughter in bed, still asleep.
But as I finished cooking tea for breakfast, I went back to the bedroom to pick something only to find my daughter laying motionless on the floor,” she remembers. Panicking, she called her. Her response was weak and feeble. She barely opened her eyes, her fingers and feet were cold and her heartbeat was hard and fast.
“I was distraught. I nearly collapsed in anguish and fright. But I had to gather all the energy I had left to save my daughter’s life.
I thank God for calm and the ability to immediately recognise and diagnose what was ailing my daughter,” says Njeri, a non-communicable disease clinical mentor with a Belgium-based firm, Medicines San Frontieres in Embu.
She quickly rushed to the kitchen and poured a half cup of the tea she had just prepared, added three tablespoons of sugar and made her drink it all.
She started coming back up on completion of the tea. She made some more and within five minutes, her daughter started responding. She opened her eyes and whispered that she was hungry.
Ellanie recovered fully after 20 minutes in which time, Njeri had made some eggs and bread; the ugali, now long forgotten. It turned out, Njeri’s daughter was suffering from a low blood sugar condition known as hypoglycemia in medical terms. It is where the level of glucose in your blood drops too low.
Often rare in children, Njeri did not imagine that her daughter would one day fall victim. But it was a lesson well leant. “This event made me realise why feeding, even force-feeding is sometimes crucial to poor feeders,” she says. She says poor feeders may suffer low blood sugars if left to their ways, and it can be fatal.
“I learnt the hard way. Now my daughter always remembers that day. She dares not play with food or sleep hungry. Her feeding has somewhat improved, I thank God,” Njeri reminisces.
There are three levels of hypoglycemia, depending on how the patient presents; glucose alert level, clinically relevant hypoglycemia and severe hypoglycemia. In glucose alert level and clinically relevant hypoglycemia, one can easily drink or eat something to recover. But severe hypoglycemia requires external assistance to recover.
Its symptoms include; not being aware of one’s surrounding or unconsciousness. The ideal management would be intravenous glucose in a hospital setting. Trying to feed a person in this sate would be fatal because it can cause choking or aspiration.
“I was lucky my daughter could somewhat make it to sip tea. Fluids are best in such a scenario,” she says. She advises parents that if their child complains of severe hunger, and has the obvious symptoms such as tremors, shivering, sweating, dizziness, but fully aware and awake, then the best treatment would be to give her a ripe banana right away.