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Saturday, 26 February 2011

Life on a thread

I bounced along in the back of the car, the wheezing boy in my lap. Rajesh and Kebby at their best With every breath I prayed that he would be ok. With every breath I had visions of him dying right there in my arms; of trying to perform CPR while the car juddered over the rain rutted road. CPR training I might add that I had long ago learnt during my days in secondary school and I prayed to God that if it came to it, I would still remember all that I was supposed to do. I kept my left arm under his head and my hand on his chest. I had momentary panic attacks before I felt his chest rise again. My right hand held onto the open window to keep me (and therefore him) from bouncing all over the back of the car. Occasionally I could hear his shallow wheezing breath over the roar of the tyres on the road.

Just 30 minutes before finding myself in the back of the car, I had been happily making beads for Yvone. Bead craft is a new skill for me but I enjoyed it right away. We had only just started though when Yvone got the phone call from a family in the middle of the bush. The mans son had collapsed and was unable to breath. Yvone looked worried when she hung up. Ten minutes later Gian Pedro and I were in the car and driving through the dark. We turned off the ‘main road’ and were soon driving through grass that was taller than the bonnet of the car. When I say bush, I mean bush! We found the boy lying outside the family house on the cold concrete with the family milling around. I got in the back of the Yvones single cabin car and Gian handed the boy into me. Next his mother/aunt/relative climbed in and finally someone handed her a little suitcase with his stuff. Soon we were reversing out of the compound and then back through the tall grass, around the large puddles and back onto the aforementioned rutted main road.

The family live about 12 minutes drive from Chikuni and its hospital. When we splashed through the fast flowing river and up the other side I knew we were not far away. Soon we passed through the gates of the main entrance to Chikuni and the lights from the boys secondary school were casting shadows across the boys tired and frightened face. Finally we arrived in front of the hospital and Gian was taking the boy into his arms and I could finally breath again. Annoyingly, the nurses took their time to see to the boy and I could have kicked them squarely in the ass if I wasn’t so upset. When they eventually sauntered out of the office, they had forms and a blood pressure device with them. The river crossing before reaching ChikuniI’m not a doctor but the first thing I would have been doing is getting this boy on oxygen! I sat outside in the entranceway where there are a couple of benches. The cool night air was lovely and I could feel the tears coming. I didn’t stop them but I also didn’t let it get out of control. Even now, four days later I wonder why I cried? Is it the mental strain of being here? Was it the unspoken connection built during the short journey to the hospital? Was it the reliving of old memories about an asthmatic girlfriend of mine? I can’t tell you right now but I hope to find some clarity along the way…

What I wanted to illustrate here is the fragility of life I feel exists in Chikuni and I suppose remote Africa in general. Mukanzubo puppies!There are few doctors here, no ambulances and therefore little hope if you fall seriously ill. This boy could have died if it weren’t for Yvonne and her car, just like that little girl died back in January. Maybe it’s also all the HIV positive people I meet on a weekly basis. These people are usually fit and healthy yet they live with the knowledge than sooner rather than later their immune systems will go down and if the anti-retrovirals don’t work, something as simple as a common cold will kill them.

Thankfully this time the boy was ok and was discharged the following evening with a course of tablets. There’s no such thing as an inhaler here though… so it will always be cure rather than prevention.

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