Friday 22nd September will be remembered as a day that brought in a lot of mixed feelings at our surgical ward, especially for Vicky [not real name], the mother of Kaka [not real name], a 14-year-old boy from Apaa whose identity we cannot disclose because of the sensitivity of the matter. Apaa is a hotly contested area between the Acholi and Madi people of northern Uganda that has resulted in sporadic loss of lives. The specific name of the village is also withheld.
On this particular day, Vicky had a sense of relief because after nearly two months of hospital stay, Kaka is finally going back home. His hospital bill has been waived off by the administration and the mother, who was under immense stress is beginning to relax. But there was also sadness because Kaka was still unable to do anything on his own and is still being fed by a tube inserted from the neck. A lot of questions still remain unanswered, even for the doctors.
Vicky is a single mother of two who survives by selling food crops in the local market. Her woes begun on the 4th of August 2023. That afternoon when Kaka and his sister were coming back from school, they passed by their mother’s stall in the market to report an incident that had happened earlier. Some unknown men were chasing them with machetes. Aware of the danger that engulfs this village, Vicky warns them not to be moving alone and gives them food to go and prepare for the evening.
Vicky had to stay a little longer in the market because she didn’t sell much that day. Upon her return in the night at around 8 pm, Vicky couldn’t sense the presence of her children. On opening the door, she found Kaka’s sister lying by the door side. Unhappy with the situation, she called out, asking why the young girl was lying by the door.
Seeing that the girl is not responding to her, she decided to grab her. It was then that she realised that her daughter is lying in a pool of blood. “I started screaming and in no time, people gathered,” Vicky recalls.
Vicky’s daughter had been deeply cut in the head. She didn’t survive. Kaka too was hacked in the head and pierced in the throat. He was left for dead on his mother’s bed. What is surprising is that no one in the entire village witnessed the killing or saw anyone come to Vicky’s home. Everyone was in shock and fear. Killing is not a new phenomenon in Apaa due to the land conflict in the area, but what sets this one apart is the stealthy maneuvers employed.
Kaka was rushed to Lacor Hospital through the night. He stayed in ICU for 25 days before being transferred to Surgery II ward. In those days, his sister was laid to rest. No one knows who the killers were or where they came from. But from the attack launched on the village the following day, it is believed that the attackers who came from across the neighbouring community are the very people who killed Kaka’s sister. Two men were badly injured and rushed to Lacor as well.
On the 22nd of September 2023, the doctors recommended Kaka for discharge following some improvements but there was one problem – their bill is nearly $200. Vicky couldn’t afford. This bill is already highly subsidised. Nowhere in the country can one stay in the ICU for 25 days and walk away with such a low bill and yet it is still out of grasp for Vicky.
Vicky buried her head in her hands and begun to cry. Stunned by this sight, Sr. Paula, the In-charge Surgery II ward, informed Anthony Odur from Finance Department about the situation. After careful examination, Mr. Odur lobbied the administration for a waiver, a request which was instantly granted.
Because of its mission to provide affordable, quality and sustainable healthcare to the needy in witness of the Church’s concern for all, such situations are not uncommon at Lacor Hospital. The administration is well aware and is ever ready to offer waivers or exemptions.
But that only solved one problem for Vicky. She must now figure out how to feed Kaka. At the hospital, his food is first blended then fed to him via the tube. Kaka is unable to sit, walk or talk. He soils his clothes from time to time and if left unattended to, he might fall down from the bed.
Vicky is fully aware of what awaits her. Her greatest strength is a mother’s love. She’s determined not to lose all her children in the hands of death. She won’t go back to the same house her daughter was killed in but she’ll go back to her mother’s house and together, they’ll face the future.
Lacor Hospital has a long history of dealing with conflicts and victims of war. In 1979 when Idi Amin was disposed, Amin’s retreating army found the hospital on the escape route and the hospital was ransacked by the escaping soldiers in the days leading up to the arrival of the Tanzanians in Gulu. For three months, while the Tanzanian army slowly moved north, the hospital was cut off from the rest of the world. Dr Lucille was the only surgeon in a vast area capable of doing complicated war surgery; most cases were Amin’s soldiers who had wounded one another.
An officer of the Tanzanian army stated that Lacor was the first hospital they had found open and operative since they had entered Southern Uganda several months earlier. This trend continued during the wars waged by Alice Lakwena and Joseph Kony in northern Uganda. Lacor Hospital never closed its doors but paid the price by being looted, staff members abducted and Dr Lucille ultimately losing her life after contracting HIV while operating on the soldiers.