When she was a secondary school student, Prisca Mwingira, now a teacher, used to experience sharp pains in her waist during her menstruation period. She resorted to pain killers. However, little did she know that her endeavours to relieve the pain would later mean that she was slowly killing her kidneys.
“The pain was almost unbearable. My periods were like hell. So, I turned to anti-pains. I used them for so long. I stopped taking them when I was at college,” she tells Your Health.
Prisca, now aged 31, narrates her story when it’s almost a year since she underwent successful kidney transplant surgery at Muhimbili National Hospital (MNH); becoming the first Tanzanian to have undergone the procedure at a local hospital.
Learning the hard way
Having talked to many doctors, Prisca now believes that the cause of her kidney failure was long-term use of painkillers.
“Now, I cannot take any medication without consulting my doctor at Muhimbili,’’ she says, revealing what it now takes to live a life after kidney transplant.
“We must be cautious with medications. I know many people who are doing what I used to do before I got into such trouble…each time people feel they have a headache; they simply swallow tablets without the advice of a doctor. People rarely go to hospital for checkup until they fall ill. I have learnt lessons.”
New lease of life
Prisca, who lives in Morogoro town, has since then resumed her daily routines after a transplant surgery. Her young brother, Batholomeo Mwingira (28), donated a kidney to her.
She teaches at Nanenane Secondary School, however, memories haven’t faded of how she struggled to come to terms with the reality that her kidneys had failed.
“I didn’t realise that I could have such a problem until August 2016. My legs started swelling. I could breathe with difficulty, even when I sat. On one of the days, I decided to go to hospital. That’s when doctors diagnosed me and said I had kidney failure.”
“I was told that I would undergo dialysis because my kidneys were at a critical stage of failure. I didn’t know what they meant by dialysis,’’ she recalls.
“They took me straight to a room where I began dialysis. At first, I thought I would have been put on a machine and get healed,” she recounts further.
“I didn’t know I would be on that treatment for the rest of my life. I got surprised when the schedule was read to me: once a week, then twice a week and then thrice a week.”
“At that stage, even my mother could not really understand what it meant to be on dialysis. She tried to ask the doctors and that’s when they said that I would have to live like that until I would get a fresh kidney.”
“That day when I got my first dialysis, I was taken into a theater. Nurse injected me with a drug to kill off my pain/ sensation. After that, I went out, walking but I felt numb. My back was heavy. It was so hard for me to come to terms with what was happening to me.”
Prisca, who is a teacher at Nanenane Secondary School in Morogoro Town, says what was hard for her was to live with a cannula [kanyula as written in Swahili] on her neck.
“I will never forget one Sunday, in May last year, when I was still on a dialysis machine and then got the bad news that my mother had died.”
“So, I got out of the machine while I was still feeling dizzy. I traveled to Morogoro for her burial. On Monday, the following day, I returned to Dar es Salaam, where I went back on the machine.”
What it takes to undergo dialysis
Prisca recalls how doctors inserted what is known as a cannula, a tube that can be placed into the body, often for the delivery or removal of fluid.
“As I came to learn” she says, “A person who undergoes dialysis must have a cannula fitted and after three months can be replaced by what doctors said is a fistula on the hand. To me, fistula did not fit. So, I had to use the cannula throughout those months.”
“At one moment I couldn’t even sleep, I couldn’t move freely. I was not supposed to temper with the cannula or even let water to reach it. I was told there was a risk of causing an infection and fever.”
“I tried as much as possible to avoid water from touching it… even when I went to bed; I tried to keep the cannula from getting unfitted and allowing blood to flow out.”
“Staying on the dialysis machine is not an easy task. Once you get out of the machine, you feel dizzy even on the following day and when the body starts relaxing you get back on the machine.”
“I used not to get a moment to interact with people enough. I always struggled with the cannula all the time. I was out of teaching for 15 months.”
“I was not able to eat food properly. So, I was so weak…my kidneys had failed so, most of the foods weren’t good for me, I had to eat too much filtered foods and there was a time I could never eat some foods.”
“What I was supposed to do was to reduce poison from my body by not eating chips, bananas of any kind, cattle meat and others of this kind,”
Body feels a ‘strange’ organ
“For now I thank God that I’m so well, despite the fact that I’m still on medication. I’m using another person’s body part-I mean the kidney that my brother donated to me.”
“So, I have to take medications so that the strange organ can continue getting used to me.”
“I am not supposed to do hard work. It could cause some problems on where I was sutured during the operation.”
“Now I know. Canned food can cause such problems. People should refrain from them. We are advised to use the sunflower oil, boiled foods, greens and fruits.”
The hurdles ahead of her, the chalk dust
Prisca has recovered, and as she resumed her teaching role, she realised that one of her teaching tool—the chalk—was not favourable to her health.
Yet, she lives far away from her husband…so it makes it difficult to meet her schedule for medication.
“I really appreciate the government’s effort for putting me where I am today. But I believe I can be more productive and safe if I am relocated to another role, not teaching per se but still in education,” she appealed.
Her colleague, a Nanenane Secondary School teacher Rose Chabalipo says that Prisca gets troubled with chalk dust as she sometimes feels feverish when she inhales the dust. “I think she needs some more help,” says Chabalipo.
The head of the school, Sarah Madabi, says she is aware of Prisca’s predicament.
“I would suggest that the government relocates her to another position within the education sector. In teaching she uses pieces of chalk, which is a problem to her,” Madabi advises.