Every morning, afternoon and evening, my mother would dutifully open the medicine cabinet and dispense my iron and food supplements, as well as my vitamins. While she performed this daily ritual, I would obediently remove one sachet from the 'assorted-flavours liquid-food supplement' box and empty the contents into a glass.
I always resented how the packaging of the food supplement marketed the flavours as 'new and improved' and 'delicious', because every single time my tongue touched the grainy liquid, I almost threw up (and at my current weight that would have been completely counterproductive). However, I stomached the daily intake of medication despite the fact that it seemed ineffective.
At this point, I was abnormally underweight, and the medication that was being doled out at each doctor's appointment – surprisingly, down to only once a week – was simply a waste of money. Being in a constant state of undiagnosed medical uncertainty not only results in mental distress and anxiety for an entire family, but also undoubtedly leads to financial strain.
My father had always kept money affairs extremely private, and my siblings and I were never given insight into the financial affairs of our parents. But I knew that as each consultation passed, my despondency grew larger and my father's bank account smaller. My mother began to carefully scrutinise doctors I was taken to before paying their exorbitant consultation fees.
I always thought of my parents as the perfect, balanced pair. My father had always been the breadwinner and my mother had always brought the actual bread home. She was my confidant, and now she was my anchor during this awful period in my life.
I had considered my medical condition as something that was happening to me, and me alone. I didn't really take the time to think what my mother, who had given up her life to take care of us, was going through while witnessing her daughter wither away. During the times I used to take a shower, my mother would often be 'busy' around the bathroom and make sure that the door wasn't locked in case I felt weak or faint.
'Kiara, is everything all right?' my mom called out, like she usually did.
The sound was drowned out while I was shampooing my hair, which was still falling out in clumps. My mother entered the bathroom and peered over nervously, expecting to see me on the shower floor, then closed the door, relieved that it wasn't the case. Instead, she had seen a figure that didn't resemble her child. As much as I felt like a failure for not being able to fight this illness, after seeing my mom that night, I knew the feeling was mutual.
* This extract was taken from Youth Revolution (Penguin Random House) by Kiara Nirghin, a 16-year-old high-school student from Johannesburg, who overcame severe health obstacles to win the grand prize at the 2016 International Google Science Fair for her unique and innovative solution to worldwide drought.