by Nicholas Pfosi
Samwell Mosota Omaiyo sits up in his bed on Sunday afternoon at the Texas Cancer Centre in-patient facility in Nairobi, Kenya on Sunday, Aug. 23, 2015. He was recently diagnosed with late-stage mandible cancer and is extremely sick. The nurses who take care of him here at the Centre are trained in palliative care and tend to over a dozen patients around the clock in this small medical building on the outskirts of the city.
Although Samwell’s cancer is severe, he has been marginally improving over the past few days. After a visit, his family was relieved to find their 52-year-old relative had been experiencing more moments of lucidity.
Due to a lack of diagnostic technology and a stigma around cancer in Kenya, patients like Samwell often are not diagnosed until their illnesses become terminal.
At the Centre, all the nurses work exclusively with patients who have life-limiting illnesses. Part of what separates palliative care from other forms of patient care is the holistic approach to treatment. This includes caring for the patient's emotional and psychological well being as well as their physical needs, and working with their families.
Samwell, whose family visits him regularly, has his pain constantly managed through multiple high dosage opioids such as morphine. Since his cancer attacked his jaw, Samwell is unable to eat, drink or talk, receiving nutrients through an I.V. He is one of the few Kenyans who is able to receive pain management treatment.
The majority of medical professionals throughout Kenya -- and throughout much of the developing world -- are not trained in palliative care and pain management. Nurses in Kenya, unlike their Ugandan counterparts, are legally barred from dispensing morphine and other opioids to patients in need. They stand on the front lines of a national struggle with rising cancer diagnoses, HIV-related complications, and other life-limiting illnesses, but without many of the tools necessary to treat their patients' pain.
On Wednesday, Aug. 26, 2015, Samwell Mosota Omaiyo passed away due to organ failure early in the evening. He died peacefully.
A palliative care nurse, Carren Asembo, attended to him in his final moments. When his wife called to see how her husband was improving after a particularly lucid visit earlier that day, Carren had the responsibility of informing her of Samwell’s death. When asked about how she felt having to deliver the news, Carren said, “Nursing is not a job, it's a calling. Those who can't adjust and handle caring for others come, but they soon leave.”