By: Prossy Nyafono
Probably you haven’t met the acronym T.A.P; it translates into Temporally Abled Person. This is exactly what happened to Noah Mukhwana who got a life changing accident in 2006 after his S.6 examinations. A hit and run motorist left Noah for dead and when he awoke 3 weeks later, he was told his spinal cord was completely shattered and his 100% disability would leave him in a wheel chair for life. Noah spoke to LinkmeUg’s Prossy Nyafono about his 9 months ordeal at Mulago Hospital and life thereafter.
Noah: After my last paper in 2006, I left the school compound to make a call to my father to come pick me up. I was at Uphill College, Mbuya in Kampala. There was a phone booth on the pavement. While I made the call, a driver lost control and terribly run me over.
Life in Mulago hospital
Noah: I am told the UPDF ambulance rushed me to Mulago but I was unconscious for 3 weeks. My spinal cord was shattered at lumbar bone 2 so my arms move but my legs can’t move or feel. For the nine months I was in Mulago, my family and former school mates took very good care of me.
How the accident changed my life.
Noah: Spinal injuries are terrible, your body losses control of some functions like control of urine. Without a catheter or training to control urine you are a mess. I couldn’t do anything for myself, I had to be bathed. This is not something a young man is expecting, I felt ashamed and helpless; I remember crying all day for many months on my bed. To make worse, my mother died while I was in hospital but I couldn’t bury her; this broke my will to live.
The 9 months in Mulago.
Noah: I couldn’t stand or sit, I got bed sores. [Wounds that long term bed ridden patients get because they are unable to shift position] They start like small boils but grow bigger until they burst. My attendants were advised to turn me 5 times a day and apply honey or some creams. Luckily my father could afford them.
I underwent a 5 hour surgery to reconstruct my spinal cord; a few metals help me sit. After my operation, I was trained to sit using a gadget that holds the bones together but it would be another 2 months before I succeeded.
Most of my time was spent rehabilitating, I had to learn how to sit in my new condition, surprisingly even using a wheel chair is not instant; it takes so much time that able bodied people cannot comprehend the difficulty.
Unforgettable experience in Mulago Hospital.
Noah: The worst and most unforgettable of all was when fire gutted the ward. Remember most patients in the spinal ward can’t move. There was a short circuit on the electricity wires in the ward and the room went ablaze. I can’t find the right words to paint the picture.
But imagine people who can’t move, watching the flames approach where they are. It was chaos as the attendants carried us out of our beds to safety. My schoolmates and other attendants were running back and forth and in the race against time, some patients had to go through the windows. Thankfully we all survived.
Counseling and returning to school
Noah: I spent my entire vacation in hospital and when the results were released, I qualified for government sponsorship but I didn’t want to. I was not willing to take my complications to the university. However, a lady called Angella Balaba from Uganda Spinal Injuries Association deploys a team of people in our condition to different hospitals. It’s only someone in my shoes who could convince me to go back to school and after one dead year, I garnered the courage to face reality.
Life at the university
Noah: My dream was to be a lawyer but the government offered me urban planning and regional development. It is field work oriented and given my state I couldn’t deliver. Sadly, Makerere University doesn’t have lifts or ramps on most of its buildings and when I went to request change of programs, I had a rough experience with the head of the geography department who insisted I be carried to his office on the 4th floor.
I couldn’t believe how insensitive he was and I scolded him for it. Later he recommended I be transferred to kyambogo University.
Life at Kyambogo
Noah: Kyambogo has PWD friendly accommodation but not classes, I couldn’t access the computer classes, and most of the lecture rooms were on 3rd or 4th floor. My friends had to carry me for the 3 years I studied procurement and logistics. It was very hectic, and greatly affected my performance. There is a time my 3 friends and I fell down the stairs, Life at the university was really hard.
Challenge of Persons with disability.
Noah: Beside the challenge in the hospital and bed sores which kill some patients, inaccessible buildings, expensive wheel chairs and other equipment affects us so much. An averagely good wheelchair goes for 500,000/= locally made ones go for 200,000/= but they are so manual and for a student who has to traverse these large universities, the wear and tear of the chairs is great.
When I joined Kyambogo, Professor Omollo Ndiege donated wheel chairs to us and even introduced 4 seater motorized wheel chairs. Although my form of disability couldn’t allow me use them I was glad they were used by others.
What able bodied persons may not know is that wheelchairs break down so fast. I have used about 12 wheel chairs since 2006; as we move, screws, bolts and other parts loosen and fall out. So imagine 500,000/= each year for a new wheel chair. It’s very expensive.
Life after University
Noah: I have benefitted from Spinal injuries Association, I write proposals with them. About work, employers find it hard to employ us because we come with extra costs such as the need to construct ramps or hire a guide. I have not been in official employment but my internship was with Uganda Wildlife Authority.
Currently I volunteer with PWD related organizations; I am a member of Spinal Injuries Association and the director of advocacy and human rights with STEP Ug – Support Transformation Efforts.
I am also the chairman of PWDs in Bugolobi parish – Kampala and thus a politician. I encourage PWDs to access funds by starting businesses and CBOs like I did in Nakawa. In 2014, I formed Spinal injuries association sports group in Nakawa; we play chess, wheelchair sports like racing and basket ball.
We are currently diversifying into business; concrete bricks, interlocking bricks and blocks are what we are looking at. Funding is still a challenge but we shall get there.
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