Friday, December 15, 2006

A Motorcycle Accident

I woke early in Kumba this morning, with plans to pick up Pastor Solomon and travel to Buea for a meeting of pastors there, before returning to Yaounde. I was supposed to be in front of Solomon’s church at 6:30 am.

We arrived in front of the church right on time, and pulled over to the curb on the right side of the broad, main Kumba road. A few seconds later, the car was hit from behind with a loud thump!

I looked back immediately, but couldn’t see a car through the rear window. That’s when a sickening thought occurred to me – we’d been hit by a motorcycle taxi. I waited to see the driver get up … but saw nothing.

My driver, Mr. Djibril, got out of the car quickly. I froze in my seat, afraid that something terrible had just happened. Solomon ran up and confirmed that a lone motorcyclist had hit us – and that he didn’t look good. He told me he though the man had a chest wound. And there was lots of blood.

We quickly decided that he needed to be taken to a hospital. The small crowd that had gathered around helped us put the man onto the floor of the back seat of the Mission car. His body was awkwardly sprawled across the floor; he was motionless. We could also smell that he had been extremely drunk …

We hurried the man to the government hospital. I ran in the “emergency” entrance, looking for help. A lone nurse was arranging beds. When I ran in and announced that we had a serious injury, she looked nonplussed, even agitated that I was bothering her work. Solomon, who was right behind me, asked her, “Is there a doctor here?” She said, “No.”

“Well, where is he? We have a motorcycle injury in the car,” he said.

She began to pat her pockets, looking for her cellphone. “I’ll have to call him,” she said.

Solomon turned to me and said, “This is no good. Let’s go to the private hospital – they will have a doctor.”

We rushed back across town to the other hospital. Now the man was conscious, and he began to moan in the back. Every pothole and ditch caused him to cry a little louder.

When we arrived at the hospital, he received some immediate attention. Before he could be removed from the car, a doctor determined that he was not in imminent life-and-death danger. Instead, it appeared that he had at least one serious fracture. The doctor recommended that we take him to yet another place – an orthopedic clinic, which specialized in this type of injury.

Off we went again. Again, no doctor was present. The woman who met us at the door told us that she would only call the doctor after we paid a deposit of 50,000 francs ($100). We told her that the situation was urgent, paid her the money, and helped her get the man on a stretcher and into the clinic. Once we were assured the doctor was on his way, we returned quickly to the police station to file a report.

As you may well guess, this was not a simple or easy process.
Both Mr. Djibril and Solomon had to make official declarations of what happened. We also had to return to the scene of the accident, where the fallen motorcycle still lay on the ground. The investigator and his assistant took careful notes, measured the precise spot on the road where the bike fell, and listened to the story again.

While reporting to the police, we were reprimanded for taking the victim to the hospital! In Cameroonian road rules, apparently, nothing and no-one is to be removed from a site until the police have been notified. We responded by saying that the man’s health was at risk – he needed to receive immediate care, and we needed to do the loving, Christian thing!

Then we drove to the clinic to check on the motorcyclist himself. The doctor met us at the door and told us that the man had a compound fracture in his lower right leg, and some facial cuts. Otherwise, he was going to be fine.

However, the doctor then went on to say that the surgery would cost more than the 50,000 francs we had already deposited. We replied that we didn’t know the man – his family would have to be notified first! To which he responded, “You are the ones who brought him in, so he’s your responsibility.”

Fortunately, we were with the police investigator at the time, and he was in a hurry to get back to the office …

Two hours later, we were finished. I asked Solomon if we ought to get some coffee and collect ourselves. Instead, he warned us to get on the road immediately, before troublemakers recognized our car and tried to accuse Mr. Djibril of causing the accident.

And with that, we did indeed hit the road.

I am sitting safely at home now, exhausted after all the emotion and the hard ride. As I reflect on my day, of course, I am grateful and thankful to God that the man is alive and that we are all safe.

But I am also reminded of the terribly harsh reality of life here. Medical care, especially in urgent situations, is suspect at best. There are no guarantees that you will get life-saving help when you need it, much less care of a specialized nature. And medical care costs money – those who don’t have, don’t get the attention they need.

Money drives everything here. We had to pay the police officers for their “help” in filing the report and making the investigation. We had to pay the nurse to call the doctor. And so on …

I asked Solomon to visit and counsel this young man, to provide him with true care and the love of Christ. Please pray with me that the man will recover quickly, and that the Methodists of Kumba will be a witness of compassion and love to him.