It was a close call. And an eye-opener. Daniel nearly died of heat stroke. He had walked the few dusty blocks to the main road in the heat of the day and returned in a taxi to collapse just inside our front gate. Fortunately, Bob was sitting at his desk with a view of the courtyard and saw him fall to the ground.
For two hours we scrambled to save our housemate Dan’s life. Jeremy, Jay, Allison and I were home. We moved Daniel to his bed and Bob and Allison sat on either side of him, packing ice cubes into his armpits and soothing him with their kind words as he struggled with the fight of his life. His cries of pain sounded like a death rattle to me. He was barely conscious, his eyes slightly open and unseeing. I watched in horror as he appeared to stop breathing. “How’s your CPR?” Bob asked Allison.
Outside the room, Jeremy was on the phone to Eric calling for transport. Jay ran upstairs to mix up a re-hydration solution of water, salt and sugar and I took off down the street find a doctor.
I stopped at the house two doors down where my friend’s doctor lives. I was hoping he was home and would make a house call. “Ago, ago!” I called out, banging on the slightly open gate. A man stood down at the corner of the yard urinating. He turned his head towards me slightly. I waited a minute for him to finish and respond to my knock. “Ago, Ago!” I called out again. He left the wall and without looking in my direction, disappeared behind the house.
On I went. On the next block over lives another doctor that Bob and I met while walking through the neighborhood. It was a long shot that he might be home, but I had to try. When we met he had said, “I’m a doctor and if you ever need help, I will come to your house.” I stood at the gate waiting for the watchman to saunter over as two enormous dogs lunged at me over the compound wall, barking furiously and snapping their thick jaws. The watchman said, “The doctor is traveling.”
I returned to see Daniel still writhing in pain, crying out, hyperventilating, every muscle taunt, his hands in fists, fingernails digging into his palms. Allison was rubbing ice cubes on Dan’s chest while Bob dabbed the salt and sugar water on Dan’s lips in an attempt to get some liquid into his mouth.
Feeling helpless, I stepped outside and dialed “193” for an ambulance. The person on the other end said hello in a soft voice. “Is this the ambulance?” I asked, “Yes.” “I need an ambulance, my friend is dying!” “Where are you?” I gave the address. They didn’t respond. I asked if they knew where that was. No response. “Do you speak English?” I asked. They handed the phone to another person. She asked for my address in an annoyed voice. I gave it again. Again, no response. I’m thinking she will tell me they will come or ask what is wrong with my friend. I began to tell her that my friend had already stopped breathing twice and that he seemed to be dying. She hung up on me. Still, I dared to hope but no ambulance came.
As I was running around the neighborhood seeking help, I had called two of my friends. Both had recommended a hospital not far from our house with a very good doctor. By now we had a car and driver standing by outside our gate but didn’t feel capable of moving Dan in his rigid state. So Jay and I took off on foot to find another taxi to take us to the hospital so we could scope it out. By now, Eric’s wife Linda, who is a nurse was also on her way. As we walked, I called our neighbor Jackson who drives a cab, found out he was close by and asked him to meet us at Dimples store.
On our way to the hospital, Jackson stopped at another Doctor’s house. “This is the doctor who owns the hospital,” he said. By now it was after 5:00 so there was a good chance this doctor was home. The watchman confirmed out hope and went to get him. The doctor’s wife came to the gate in his place. “Please,” I said, slapping the back of my cupped right hand with the palm of my left in the local begging gesture, “My friend is dying.” She said that the doctor was eating his dinner and couldn’t do anything for him here. We should take him to the hospital, she said and he would meet us there.
Back we went to the house to relay this information. By now, Daniel had opened his eyes, was able to sit up and was sipping the re-hydration solution. Linda and Bob eased Daniel out of bed and across the lawn and courtyard to the cab. At the hospital, two nurses sat behind the desk chatting with each other. When approached, they sold Bob an 10 cedi ID card for Daniel. And went back to chatting with each other.
So Bob, Linda and Daniel sat in the lobby, waiting for the doctor. When asked, they said they had no way to contact the doctor to make sure he was coming. And they turned their backs again. Neither nurse left their office to take look at Dan. Linda’s impatience sent her back to the window to interrupt the nurses. She asked for a thermometer and took Daniel’s temperature.
After thirty minutes or so, Bob decided to take Dan back home. We would care for him ourselves. We felt that the worst was over. We made sure he had water and food and left him to recover. The next morning he was much better, with a killer headache, a heat stroke hangover, if you will.
When someone meets their maker in Ghana, they call their death a “home call” as in God has called them home. Everyone in our house feels very lucky that we postponed Dan’s home call. And our eyes are opened. Human life is not that important here. House calls may be promised, but finding a doctor at home willing to leave his dinner isn’t so easy. And don’t count on the ambulance or hospitals to save you if you forget to drink enough water.