Part 2: Mariam Walusimbi, 65, the former assistant commissioner in charge of the nursing division in Mulago hospital, (now retired) recalls her experience of handling the victims of the July 11, 2010 bombing attacks that took place respectively at Kyadondo rugby grounds and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala, writes Esther Oluka
It is now eight years since the July 11, 2010 bombings that occurred at Kyadondo rugby grounds and Ethiopian Village Restaurant in Kabalagala, Kampala.
The terrible incident claimed 76 lives, mostly, soccer fans who had been at the respective venues watching the World Cup finals between Spain and Netherlands. Islamist militia rebel group al-Shabaab later took responsibility for the incident.
That night, during the attack, Mariam Walusimbi, 65, the former assistant commissioner in charge of the nursing division in Mulago hospital (now retired) had returned to her home in Kasanga, a city suburb after a long day at work.
Since part of her duties included heading all the nursing activity at the hospital, her phone number had to be available 24 hours a day, even while out of office.
“When you hold such a high position, you are a key person and are never expected to switch off the phone,” Walusimbi says.
And just as she was headed to bed, she received a phone call from a staff member informing her of the bombings that had transpired and that there were some victims in the hospital.
“Upon receiving the news, I did not leave home, rather, I kept making back and forth phone calls to the night shift team on how the issue should be handled ” she says.
The following day, July 12, Walusimbi arrived at the hospital at about 6am. Immediately, she went straight to the general casualty ward, where medical personnel concentrated on treating a number of victims who had sustained different injuries from the bombing attacks.
“The night team had done an incredible job on attending to victims. I found when they had already attended to the patients. Some had broken limbs, head injuries, while others were unconscious,” she says, “I do not exactly remember though how many patients from the bombings we admitted. The number must have been in 30s.”
Walusimbi was then given a full report from the night team on how the cases of victims were handled by the different medical personnel on duty.
“I then went straight to my boss, the hospital executive director, (Dr Byarugaba Baterana), whom I brought up to speed about the condition of the victims,” she says.
Later, Walusimbi and Baterana both went to evaluate the progress of the patients. Then, throughout the course of the day, Walusimbi held several meetings with other medical personnel, including doctors, surgeons and other nurses to strategise and see how to best manage the condition of patients.
“The consultative meetings were held as we attended to the patients,” she says.
The biggest challenge on the job
As regards to what the biggest issue was that day after the bombings, Walusimbi says at some point they were overwhelmed with the number of patients at the hospital.
“It was too much! We were handling bombing victims as well as other patients who were admitted for other ailments. You can, therefore, imagine how we were all over the place handling different cases,” she says.
The number of patients that day had been more than expected. The problem was eventually resolved when a hospital disaster preparedness team was called to give a hand.
“For instance, the nurses who were off-duty that day were all called back to give whatever assistance they could avail,” she says.
On whether the incident left her traumatised, Walusimbi says she was not affected in any way.
“I was mentally strong as I cared for the patients because of the earlier training I received as a nurse to cater to critically ill-patients, some of who are the verge of death,” she says.
The atmosphere at the hospital
The atmosphere at the hospital, a day after the bombings, was busy as the medical team kept running around the facility attending to the patients.
While some patients responded to treatment, there was a small section that remained unconscious. Meanwhile, caretakers remained hopeful that the patients would improve and later get discharged.
Overall, the discussion around the hospital remained heavily centered on the bombings.
One particular patient, a 25-year-old son of Walusimbi’s driver, who sustained a head injury at Kyadondo rugby grounds developed a close friendship with her during his course of treatment.
“He regained consciousness a few days after the attack and hardly had an idea of his location or what happened. He cried as I narrated the bombings to him. It was also during our interaction that he found out his immediate neighbour, the one who sat next to him that day, passed away at the scene,” she says.
In the days that followed, Walusimbi says she was not only treating him but also consoling and counselling the patient, like the numerous others who were admitted to the hospital.
Most patients were discharged within the same month but kept going back for reviews and counselling sessions. Walusimbi says no patient passed away during the course of treatment at the hospital.
Eight years down the road, she is pleased that a number of people are now more mindful of their security and surroundings.
In addition, Walusimbi is also glad that a number of entertainment places have put up strict security measures.
The mother of five retired in 2013 after working in the position for five years.
Victims. A total of 76 soccer fans who were watching the World Cups finals were killed when bombs went off at Kyadondo Rugby Club and the Ethiopian Village Restaurant.
Terror attack: The terrorists targeted soccer fans who had gathered at Kyadondo Rugby Club, Ethiopian Village Restaurant and Makindye House to watch the World Cup final game between Spain and Holland.
The bombs placed at Kyadondo Rugby Club and Ethiopian Village Restaurant were detonated, killing 76 people.
The bomb planted at Makindye House in the city suburb of Makindye, failed to go off. It was rigged to explode when the phone rang but it malfunctioned. It was recovered the next day.
Prosecution of suspects
In May 2016, five people convicted of terrorism over the 2010 bomb attacks in Kampala, which killed 76 people, were given life sentences.
Among them was Isa Ahmed Luyima, the mastermind of the attacks claimed by militant Islamist group al-Shabab.
Two others also found guilty of terrorism were given 50 years in jail.
Handing down the sentences, Justice Alfonse Owiny-Dollo said he did not believe that the death sentence would act as a deterrent.
Five other men also standing trial were acquitted of terror and murder charges and another man was convicted of a lesser accessory charge.
Tomorrow in part 3, we analyse the security at several public places.