I Never Thought to be Thankful for Ambulances

You always hear people saying that you never know what you have until it is gone. This is the real reason why our moms all told us about the starving children in Africa when we are refusing to eat something she prepared. The idea is that, if you were living in a place where you did not have enough food, you would even be thankful for split-pea soup. It is a principle that I have learned is true since moving to rural Cameroon. There are the little things that you miss, and wish you had previously been thankful for, like movie theaters, easily accessible cheese, and microwaves. And then there are ambulances. Have you ever thought to be thankful for ambulances?The other day my neighbor Patrice came to the house looking concerned. He said that he had just received the news that his brother, Julian, had been in a motorcycle accident. He believed that he had been taken to the hospital in Doumé, a town about 30 minutes away, and wanted to know if I could give him a ride. Around mid-way there we saw the motorcycle, smashed on the side of the road. We stopped to throw it up on top of my vehicle and were told that they actually took him to our town. So, we turned around and headed for the Catholic clinic that is only a 2-minute drive from our house.

When we arrived, things were frantic. People were running around yelling, apparently unable to stop the bleeding. It is a small clinic, and they were not equipped to deal with his injuries. Before I knew it, an unconscious and tattered man was in the back seat of my car, with Patrice trying to keep his younger brother’s head still as we bounced up the road to the nearest hospital. We drove for 45 minutes in near silence, all listening to Julian’s rough breathing. We passed quickly through the police stop as I explained the urgency, and into the bustling world of Bertoua. There was no neck brace, no IV, no paddles in case his heart stopped. He could not even be laying down.

We got to the hospital around 8pm and they put him on a stretcher. I have never been in a hospital here during an emergency situation, and I am not sure that they are all the same, but it was nuts. Before they could even take him to the operating room, I had to go with Patrice to buy sutures, IV fluid bags, and latex gloves. We ran to the pharmacy on the other side of the hospital, we rushed back to find the medical staff just standing and waiting for us. When they finally got him into the OR, we were told that we had to find some sheets to cover him because they had to cut off his clothes. We were far from home, and all the stores were closed, I had no idea what to do. Patrice ended up calling a brother from the Bertoua church and we drove to his house to borrow some sheets.

Arriving back at the hospital we were told they needed more things from the hospital pharmacy so we ran over and bought them. After about two hours, and two more trips to the pharmacy, we were informed that Julian was finally “out of the danger zone.” This led to a brief calm in the storm, which gave me a moment to notice the families of the other patients lying on mats outside the hospital. For those like us that came from the village, they sleep on the sidewalk outside the hospital rooms. I heard at least woman weeping loudly, at what, I can only imagine. In talking with his family during this time, I learned a bit more about Julian’s situation. Turns out that he was actually returning from the hospital in Doumé where he was visiting his mother-in-law, when he skidded after taking a corner too fast. Julian’s wife received a phone call during this conversation, learning that her mother had died.

The doctor came out and said he needed a few more things to complete the surgery. The hospital pharmacy was out of some of the items so we had to drive to another pharmacy in town to get them. Sleepy and flustered, Patrice returned to the hospital and I went home at about 11pm.

Overall, I felt like my debut as an ambulance driver went pretty well and was happy to have been able to help this man. Until the next day, when I got the call that Julian had died. Patrice asked me to return to the hospital so that I could drive his body back to Dimako. A herse is apparently something else I have taken for granted. It did not work out and they ended up sending the body back on a motorcycle. But overall, it has been a tough couple of days. And I wonder, if they did have ambulances that could come down to our town, would he have survived? Should I have tried to stop the bleeding before we drove to Bertoua? I wondered if real ambulance drivers struggle with these feelings when someone dies, too.

So, the last few days have been filled with funeral rituals for Julian. The family sleeps on the ground next to the grave for six nights after he is buried, and spends the daytime talking, or singing and dancing. Our pastor, Boris, went on Friday and shared the Gospel with the 80-100 people, warning them that life is short. Julian leaves behind his wife and six children. He was 31 years old. Just days before his death Boris told me that he talked with Julian about the need to be reconciled with God, but there is no reason to believe he was.

Looking back, I so wish that there had been an ambulance, and trained EMTs. I wish he had been wearing a helmet, and driving more safely. It makes me remember all the times I had to go to the ER as a child, the broken arms gently placed in casts, and the stitches. I am so thankful for the graces I had. I am grateful for this reminder.

But it also makes me realize that you do not have to wait for something to be gone to thank God for it. And so, tonight, I thank God for my brother, Jon, who for now, I can text and tell him I love him. Perhaps you too can take a moment and ask God to open your eyes to see what you may be taking for granted. And thank him, knowing that we worship a God whose blessings are so abundant that we sometimes miss them.


Author: David M. Hare

Dave is a husband, father of four Africans, and is currently helping the Kwakum people do Oral Bible Storying and Bible translation in Cameroon, Africa.