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Of unpaid hospital bills and floor bed

I have little idea where you grew up but my childhood was spent in some wind-swept estate in Nakuru. In those days, we obeyed our parents without question. Yes, without question. I know child rights activists will cringe at this but it is the plain truth.

If your mother decreed that you spend the afternoon at home washing dishes, you did precisely that. And if she found you listening to the radio before homework was done, she pinched your thighs so hard that for a few days they were sore.

This was not an issue, since it was replicated with little variation in virtually every home. Some clever parents whose children erred frequently acquired some whips, which were stashed away under mattresses. The clever devils usually found these and threw them away, which earned even more beatings.

I am not saying my mother did this but I know of a few mean-faced parents who did not hesitate to reach for the lashes at the hour of need. And the hour of need turned to be when you were sent to the shops to buy kerosene for, say, Sh 20 (a lot in those days) but you decided to buy Sh18 worth so that you saved Sh 2 for andazi, kaimati, kashata and other sweet pastries whose sight made our mouths water.

It was in moments such as those, when your name was called in a dangerous, abrupt fashion that you knew you were in trouble. I developed a keen sixth sense for sniffing that type of tone of voice. And I would promptly sneak under a bed and remain holed up for hours as she agonised about where I had vanished to.

By the time I emerged, the anger would have subsided somewhat, and the punishment would be merely verbal. For some strange reason, it was customary to store shoes under beds but that is a story for another day. I hear some folks still do this, which would appear to me so medieval. It is prehistoric.

These memories came flooding back last week when I learnt that some folks, who have been treated and discharged from some wards at Kenyatta National Hospital are spending nights under other patients’ beds. No, they were not taking part in some drama production.

They have nowhere to sleep. If you are puzzled, I was dumbfounded. And still am. You see, after the Almighty smiled at these folks and handed them another chance at life, they run up some bills, which they are unable to pay. The hospital management, in its wisdom decides that these poor folks must be detained at the hospital until they pay. So, the guys remain there, running more bills.

I am unable to decide what is wiser: Letting such folks go home without paying up their bills or detaining them and incurring even more costs. You can now start to fathom the realities of sleeping under a bed at a hospital, without the benefit of a blanket or (floor)sheet. Not bed sheet this time round.

And please ignore such minor irritations as the guy above you snoring. Think of the guy being a bedwetter. Chances of being woken up by a warm, torrent of pee bang on your forehead are as real as the sun rising in the east. Alternatively, the luckier bloke above you might be a sleeptalker.

He might just start a nocturnal conversation with you and jolt you awake at the hour of the witch, which is what 3.00 am is called. Think also of the confusion when you wake up in the morning, assuming you slept at all on that cold floor, and instead of stepping down and lifting your head, you have to slide sideways and rise from the floor, like a genie in some Arabian nights movie.

Even scarier is the prospect of getting a visitor just when you have retired to your “bed” on the floor. Where do the other patients say you are? They have to kick you awake and who knows where the kick will land?

From where I sit, I reckon next time you fall sick and end up at KNH, you better alert your folks that if they can not pay the bill, they better bring you some beddings, mattress and all.

If you are endowed with these, you could even choose to “sleep” next to the door, and act as the doorman. You will need skills in using your foot to turn the door handle. Or how will you spend the nights awake? Have a sleep-filled week, folks! The writer is Special Projects editor, People Daily

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