Caring for a sick spouse: 12 years at his bedside

In sickness and in health. Margaret and Patrick Nkuyahaga had been together for eight years and had three children when he was paralysed, after suffering a stroke. At the time, the 35-year-old Patrick was the District Entomologist and HIVAids Focal Person of Kalangala District. Margaret spoke to Gillian Nantume about going through the ordeal.

How did you meet?
We met through a friend in 1994. One of his friends was dating my colleague, so she asked me to join them for an outing at the zoo in Entebbe.

What made him stand out?
Nothing. I was not looking for a relationship I was still in school. There were three men in the group and I noticed that they were energetic. It was my first outing and I was bored, but I noticed that Patrick was close to me throughout the day. He escorted me home and introduced himself to my aunt. When my mother fell ill, I returned to Rwanda to take care of her and almost forgot about him.

What made you change your mind?
He was persistent, kind, and I liked his open-mindedness. Our cultures are similar and he was learned. Besides, my friend assured me that he was a good man. By the time I got pregnant, I was confident in the relationship. He wanted to visit my parents immediately because he wanted to start a family with me.

So all went smoothly?
Not really. He had applied for a Master’s degree at Manchester University. He did not tell me about it and I only found out when he received the confirmation. I broke down. Here I was, pregnant, unmarried, and my fiancé was going abroad to study. He tried to comfort me but this just made me angrier. That night I went into labour, and there was some joy when our son was born. Three weeks later, he left.

How did you keep the relationship alive?
I trusted him. My father was skeptical, though he thought Patrick would not return. But we stayed in touch through emails, with a friend of his who had an email address as a go-between. Every month, I sent a picture of our son, and when he returned a year later, in 1998, he came to Rwanda and paid my dowry.

Any upsets in the ceremony?
There was some insecurity, so we travelled in an army convoy. A friend forgot our cameras at the hotel so we have no pictures of the ceremony.

So, what happened on that fateful night?
On May 17, 2003, my husband was a healthy man who regularly worked out. He watched a football match and after supper, he said he was going to bed. I went to the kitchen to tidy up. He was standing in front of the TV holding the remote. I later heard noise and thought he was hitting something with his sandal. It was only later that I realised he was staggering, trying to reach me. I sensed his nearness, turned, and asked him if he was okay. He just collapsed. His eyes were wide open. I started screaming. Eventually, one woman, and our landlord showed up, and together, they put him in a car.
The landlord helped me pack what I would need in the hospital. The children slept through the ordeal and I thank God that they never saw their father in that state. At the clinic, the doctor told us Patrick had suffered a stroke and paralysis to the right side of his body. It was like a death knell. I was hysterical. I had never heard of a young person suffering a stroke. We transferred him to Nsambya hospital, where a scan confirmed the diagnosis. Patrick could see us but he did not know what was happening. The stroke was inoperable he would either heal gradually or die. There was a clot in his brain so his speech too was gone.

How were your emotions at the time?
I kept asking myself how I would handle life afterwards. My only comfort came when the doctor said he would not die. I vowed to see my husband through this situation. We were given medication and aised to go for physiotherapy immediately.

How was life back home?
In the hospital, I had nurses to help me but at home, I was on my own. He was immobile and I had to do everything for him. I had no maid but my father-in-law, Frank Nkuyahaga, came through for us. He took the older children with him and left me with the baby. Six months later, when my husband had regained a little motion, his cousin put a car at our disposal to transport him for physiotherapy sessions.

Did you explain to the children?
They knew daddy was sick but they never asked. It was only two years ago when my youngest asked why daddy is the way he is. I was surprised because I thought she knew that he had once been healthy.

Weren’t you ever tempted to leave?
It never occurred to me. I loved this man. My father died in 2000 and my mother in 2001. Patrick had been there for me. By the time he got the stroke in 2003 I had become born-again. I had nowhere to go. Our children were young and we had made plans. Suddenly everything stopped.

Were you bitter with God?
I grumbled and complained but God was all I had. I cried. I hurt. But I was never bitter with God.

Twelve years on, how have you coped?
We did not have enough savings but his best friend made sure that we never lacked. He followed up on his salary and benefits, the children’s education and rent. Even today, God is still using him to help us, with another friend, who lives abroad.
Patrick’s father stood with us just his presence is enough. He is the only one who loves Patrick as much as I do. People fall away when the illness is a long one, but I thank God that as others left, others came. I am grateful to everyone who has helped in any way.

Do you take time off for yourself?
I once spent three days on Prayer Mountain and when I came down, I was rejuvenated. I have a cousin who is like a mother to me. She often calls me to her office, just to make me laugh so that I can lose the stress for a few minutes. I also have friends who always find a reason to laugh with me, so I visit them often.
My pastors, Laban Jjumba and Charles Odonga and the entire Deliverance Church-Kansanga have been there spiritually. Although my people love me, they live in Rwanda, the church is now like family. My landlord has been like a father since that terrible night. He understands our situation.

What has been your greatest achievement?
Educating my children. I never wanted Patrick to become frustrated by their education, so I took on lowly jobs to make ends meet. There are things that only your parents or husband can solve. I have no one but God has always met my needs.

What has marriage taught you?
Happiness is a choice and I choose to be happy. I made a commitment to my husband so our love is strengthened by the care I give him. He can now walk on his own, although he cannot talk much. Marriage has taught me patience.

SOURCE: Daily Monitor

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