Archive: In Sickness and in Death

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In Sickness and in Death

To launch my fundraising page on justgiving, I have battled with the idea of posting this or not. This is the true story, and one of the real motivations behind my running efforts and sponsorship campaign.

Please Note: This post was originally posted on my personal blogs in August 2008.

“A few days in we woke and tried to make it out to the Well digging site but Martin fell ill. Putting it down to a change of water we went home and rested but his sickness worsened and vomiting picked up and he started to lose a lot of fluid. I made up some rehydration liquid but he couldn’t keep it down and I started to get a bit worried. Then he began vomiting blood and I quickly took to ‘A travellers self health guide’ and read the whole dam thing looking for a cause and when he began vomiting large amounts of blood I conceded we needed to get to the clinic.

I grew angry with one taxi drivers 15 minute intervals of “I’m coming, I’m coming” so I ran out the compound onto the street looking for help. I got to the governor’s residence and his men commissioned his 4×4 vehicle to rush us to the hospital which it did with great prestige and speed. We made our way into the hospital, old ladies sat on mats outside and it wasn’t long before we saw a doctor. I showed him photo evidence of the bloody vomit and he instantly asked what he had eaten for dinner last night…… “oh sheeeesh, the eggs”. I hadn’t even thought of that, Ive been living off them for months. “Food poisoning” he said and lead us to the male nurse who would take care of us. We were lead through the hospital rooms a distinct lack of machinery or technology, passing sick person after sick person the situation was just plain grim. Mart was put on a rickety old bed and hooked up to a drip to get some fluid back inside him and given medication for the next 5 days.

An old lady lay on a bed opposite and had an influx of religious visitors. She could barely move and at one point her lack of movement caused a flood of excretion to come flooding out from under the bed. On another two beds two women lay with their children, desperately quiet, fanning themselves with a hand fan. I couldn’t tell who was sick them or the child. Next to our bed lay a young toddler with no company who cried every time I looked away from her, she wanted attention. Past her lay a groaning man. He groaned so dull and low in tone that at times I couldn’t tell if he was in pain or praying in a language I couldn’t understand.  Beyond him lay quietly another young girl that an old lady, a hospital helper, was attending to. Mart tried to rest, I was left sat there silently looking around the grim room deep in thought. Hospitals seem sad places but with the prospect that my brother was going to be just fine they seemed like one big miracle. I was struck with some sense of pride at those who work in such an important, worthy and often life saving environment. I was struck by the strength of people to pull through illness and struck by the strength of humans to come together.

I suddenly thought ‘what was I doing volunteering in Education for a year? I should have been volunteering in health’. But then the young male nurse came along speaking perfect English and explaining in a calm and intelligent manner the details of his food poisoning and that it was a simple illness and explained how often to take his prescribed medicine and suddenly I felt slightly at ease and reflected on the education that man must have had to put him in such a vital position in society……

Mart couldn’t keep down the medicine so they injected his drip with another drug that also sent him into a twitchy sleep that alone got me worried. I looked at the rusting drip stand that’s wheels hardly rolled. I noticed the stains on the sheets and the rusting feet of the little girls bed next to me. This place and the people working here truly was a miracle. But somehow seeing my brother lying there in pain twitching in a medicine induced sleep as his bloody vomit sat in a rusting pan next to me a thousand miles from home, stuck in ‘West Africa’ I couldn’t help but have concern.

Then I recognised a face approaching and greet me. It was one of the ladies from the Kabakama Women’s group surprised to see me, her face switched to horror when she saw martin lying in bed, then another of the Women and another, they seem to come flooding into the room and one after the other they stood shocked and concerned and I felt touched by the kindness and concern they themselves where showing. There were worse people off in this room, we didn’t deserve the concern but they were ashamed this could happen to a visitor. Then the lady president of the group arrived and her eyes almost popped out of her head. I explained food poisoning and her jaw dropped and she gasped and I burst into tears. Somehow I could take the hospital and the sickness and the situation but I couldn’t handle these kind humble women showing me and my family so much love and concern. I just couldn’t help but cry and I couldn’t explain myself through the tears. I tried to explain the tears were for their kindness and that I was soon to leave The Gambia but I could hardly speak.

The ladies forced me to go and get food for Mart to eat and I’m glad they did because it helped him. They stood their taking it in turns cooling him with the hand fan and when they finally left one told me she would return to sleep here for the night to keep us company. Then I reflected it’s probably a good job I didn’t volunteer in health I would have spent the whole year crying. Crying at kindness, crying at human strength, crying at sickness and recovery, crying at life and crying at death.

After some rest and with some bread and banana inside him Martin got back some colour and sat up to take his medicine. I looked across the room, the male nurse was performing some strange medical operation on the young girl with no company. He held her upright and had just put cotton wool in her ears and was now forcing her legs firmly down on the bed and was rapping her in a local cloth. She must really be ill. He was now wrapping her so much it was as though he was embalming her. Then I was hit with realisation. I looked down at my feet hoping Martin wouldn’t look but he did and turned to me…. “Is she Dead?”. “Yes” I said and burst back into tears.

Later I took a quiet moment to speak to the male nurse about the young girl. She was two years old named Kadjatou Kanteh from a local village. Her mother was the second wife and the father was out of the country for work. At the bottom of the page it was scribbled, “Sadly passed away on the 5th August 6:00pm. Cause of death: Dehydration and Malnutrition. RIP”.

Dehydration and Malnutrition. That’s criminal.

Kadjatou Kanteh May you forever Rest In Peace.


Please Note: This post was originally posted on my personal blogs in August 2008.

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