, NAIROBI, Kenya, Feb 7 – Reggae music streams out of the ward. On the other side of the glass, a young man peers out at Mike – my cameraman – and I not bothering to hide his curiosity. All we see is his head.
At the far end of the ward a nurse turns over a patient, exposing his back side, as she changes his dressing.
But unlike the young man, she has her back turned to us and is therefore oblivious to our presence and the camera Mike holds in his hands.
Air blows in through an open window on the far left side of the hallway, in which we stand, bringing with it a rank smell.
I fail to overpower the urge to crinkle up my nose.
“After you’ve been out in the fresh air the smell really hits you but you must understand that most of these patients are confined to their beds,” Godfrey says to me as he walks up to us.
Godfrey is from the Kenyatta National Hospital’s Corporate Affairs Department and is careful not to give us his second name. I suppose he’s wary of it appearing in a news story.
He’d gone to inform the nurse-in-charge of Ward 6A, the orthopaedics unit, of our presence and having received her blessing we’re now free to venture in.
We’re looking for Stephen Mwangi and as it turns out he’s the first young man we meet on our way in, the one who’d been doing the not-so-subtle staring.
You see, his is one of those cases that the referral hospital alerts the media to; one of those not so common, desperate conditions that could make the papers and generate some good publicity for the hospital.
In Stephen’s case it’s brittle bones disease; a little slip, trip, shove and leap – all of which have been the case – and his bones break.
At 19, he’s broken his bones nine times and spent a fair amount of his life wasting away on a hospital bed – which explains why he’s only in his second year of high school.
And he could stay hospitalised for much longer unless he, or more accurately his mother, can rustle up Sh1.5 million for two artificial hips; not exactly the kind of surgery you’d expect a teenager to need.
But his foot got caught in a depression in the ground on December 27, 2013 and so one month, seven days later, here he lies and here we are.
Even now, without the glass between us, his head is most prominent. Looking at the bed cover it’s hard to imagine there are legs under there.