A New Lease on Life
On Saturday morning, I was driving on a well-travelled road outside of Nairobi to Naivasha, a play ground for Nairobians looking to get out of town for the weekend. It’s where you go for walking safaris with giraffes, camping, and hanging out on the lake. We were four adults and four kids–all four sitting in the back, having fun and looking out the back window.
About five minutes outside of Naivasha town, on the highway, our jeep was banged into by a massive lorry (truck) that was free wheeling down the hill. As we swerved off the road to the ditch, we hit a smaller truck which rolled out of view. In a state of shock, we panicked as we noticed that another white lorry was heading directly our way. By some miracle, he missed us. My first impulse when we turned was to check on the kids. Save some glass in the face and arms, they were ok. A lesson for parents out there: Car seats matter!! The baby was fast asleep in his car seat and only opened his eyes to our screaming.
A crowd of around fifty people from town gathered to help us out of the car and attend to the screaming kids. Standing around in a state of shock, we were just trying to figure out what to do with the child who ended up with some cuts. How would we get to the hospital. As we pondered this question.. a scene out of a freak movie occurred. A blue truck lost control of his vehicle and swerved directly into the crowd, right where we were standing. Another miracle occurred, all of us ran out of the way. But we were the only lucky ones. I witnessed several people run in the wrong direction and we were soon surrounded by death and injury. By my best estimation, 5-10 must have died on the spot. My most vivid memory is of a man with his head split open, being carried away to safety.
The gentlemen who offered us a ride to the hospital were freaked out and shoved us into the car to get away from the “black spot”. We got to the hospital only to find that it was empty… no doctors, no nurses, just plenty of waiting patients. We were lucky enough to have our guardian angels drive us back to Nairobi for medical care, but there were far too many who wouldn’t get that chance.
As we drove past the scene of the accident, I was in shock. Our jeep was finished, it was truly bizarre that we all got away scott free. About forty minutes had passed and there was no sign of any police (despite the fact that the station was a mere fifteen minutes away, and the accident had been reported both in-person and by phone). I had no idea how any injured person would get to the empty hospital. By matatu (bus)? The same matatus whose reckless driving is one of the leading cause of death in Kenya?
I also wonder about all of us, my closest friends and kids who I couldn’t love more if they were my family. If any of us incurred a head injury, we’d have to drive two hours to the nearest facility with equipment to treat us. Only three hospitals in Kenya are equipped to deal with head trauma. And the whole country only has 5000 registered doctors. But you can only be treated if you can get there in time and if they are there.
I think about how I spent my entire life in the Developing World, Pakistan, China, Oman … and am so blessed I never had to experience that. Even with all my privilege, what would I do if I were caught in a similar situation, away from a hospital?
Pakistani law states that accident cases can only be taken to Jinnah Hospital.. So in a city of over 20 million people, only one hospital is authorized to treat trauma.
Driving past the scene, I was reminded of how privileged and lucky I am. The question is, what do we do with this privilege we’ve been given? I have never thought much about health issues in the developing world, that is until I took Karen Grepin’s Health Econ class. But to live out the findings of endless reports on healthcare and doctor abesenteeism felt surreal.
I am still in shock from the whole experience and also a bit loopy from the muscle relaxants for my whip lash! But I know that this experience has changed me and refocused my energies on the issues that are so important in development.