To be honest, i think Suicide is scary. Mainly because It is fearless. It pushes people to the extreme, their absolute worst. It literally shoves you off the edge of life. It can force you to slit your own wrists. The delicate skin, hair and fat, the pain nerve endings blunted, all meaningless, under the will of suicide. It can grab you when you’re at the supposed pinnacle of life and shove you so Deep- into the darkest, coldest hole, you feel yourself slip away , suffocated by the pain, welcoming death.
This thought revisited me when I saw the events of my recent Thursday night call unfold before my eyes.
It was the classic township dramatic entrance (nothing like the greys anatomy one. ) A lifeless corpse with a brown blanket covering his head( always a bad sign), was offloaded from a taxi at the gate forcing the relatives to carry the corpse to the assessment room and panted while they shouted for help.
I ran after them like a headless chicken while I heard the taxi screech away with the deafening music, masking our screams.
Someone was (is) dying (dead).
I arrived and the first thing that struck me was the smell. I gagged.
Petrol. The pungent smell quickly filled up the room and my nasal passages causing my eyes to tear and burn. The stench was so unbearable. I choked as I spoke.
I quickly asked what happened and the brother relayed the story. This young man, barely over 20 , was found in his room with a 5L petrol bucket , unconscious and unresponsive. They assumed he had drank it and they had assumed well.
No one knows why. No one knows when.
I assured them i would do my best and sprang into action. I jumped on the bed and began cutting his shirt off and discarding the stenched items.
Thankfully, he had a strong pulse and great blood pressure but his oxygen saturation was in the boots. He was breathing at 50 percent. Aspiration. Probably because there was petrol in his lungs.
My heart began to skip and I could feel my bladder filling up. I was in trouble.
“GET THE EMERGENCY TROLLY AND ENDOTRACHEAL TUBE PLEASE” I screamed. I began connecting the suction and waited for any turn of luck.
I opened his mouth and inserted the laryngoscope , a pool of petrol collected, obstructing my view. He is drowning in petrol. I suctioned and attempted to see the golden vocal chords once more.
As fate, Murphy, Zuma, Eskom, the Guptas , and South Africa would have it- I felt the entire room go dark as I searched for the golden vocal cords…
My bladder reached capacity and my mind was racing. I broke out into a cold sweat.
Load shedding. A south african nightmare. And It could not have come at a worse time.
I waited patiently for the back up generator to kick in as I kept providing oxygen. 5 long seconds passed and nothing.
Dogs barking, frogs croaking and thunder banging. That’s all that was heard.
The darkness stayed. I began huffing as sweat dripped down my neck.
I heard the nurses shuffle for their cellphone lights so i could continue intubating the man. I assumed the back up generator had failed due to the storm, and i began praying incessantly.
“Please God,…” That’s all I managed to think or say.
With the help of 2 cell phone flash lights i began intubating him again. more petrol poured out as I attempted to place the tube. There i saw it…Success was finally in sight.
The vocal cords however doused in petrol, an absolutely beautiful and delicate sight. My heart was hopeful. The tiny opening of life.. I smiled to myself as I pushed the tube into the cords.
I almost began celebrating, when i was interrupted by a gush of petrol which exploded onto my face. Lucky my visor was intact, protecting my eyes. My hair was wet,my scrubs were soaked and my shoes were slippery.
Petrol exploded out of this tiny tube like a fountain of water. It came out with such force, it completely immersed us and the nearby surrounds which included the emergency machinery. I quickly connected the tube to the suction when i realized that due to no power , it wasn’t working.
The flow of petrol kept coming and we attempted to shuffle in the dark. By now we had all been soaked In petrol and the floor was a potential hazard that no amounts of linen savers could contain.
But the oxygen saturation was 99 percent, so we all breathed a sigh of relief.
We all flinched as the over head lights crackled and the surge of power was heard. Finally, The electricity had been restored. We secured the tube and connected the oxygen. I ran for the phone and dialed the ambulance frantically.
For a moment, there was organised chaos. The floor was cleaned, the patient was covered, the monitors flashed and everyone was at peace. I couldn’t help but admire how well we had managed. I waited as the phone rang.
Its like Murphy had smelled my sense of victory and spat on it, because Out of the corner of my eye, i felt an unfamiliar source of heat. I looked up and saw a stream of smoke coming from a plug point. I ran.
The petrol had soaked the plug point and the surge of the returning power had somehow triggered a flame.
I moved the patient out carefully but with urgency as i knew he was soaked in the flammable substance. I returned to the plug and puzzled by what to do because I had petrol all over me as well.
I opened a bottle of sterile saline fluid and tossed it on the small flame , wrapped my hands in a linen saver and switched all the plugs off and hoped for the best.
I watched the plugs carefully, hoping not to see any rogue flames. I didn’t.
I began to feel exhausted and my humanly needs began to creep in. The pangs of hunger, the heaviness of my eyes and the urge to urinate.
I stumbled and slipped out the emergency room leaving a petrol trail behind me.
The relatives looked at me with sympathy as i explained what had happened. They were glad to know he was doing better, but i knew he was not out of the woods yet.
I worried about his lungs marinating in petrol. I felt sorry for his insides being corroded by the juice.
I stepped into nurses home and decided to shower to rid myself of the petrol whiff. The stench was over powering my senses and I began to feel nauseas.
I stood in the shower and felt the heat of the water wash over me, my heart still pounding and racing.
I quickly dressed up and went to check on the patient. I saw his brother in the hall way who screamed for me,
“Petrol head is awake, he wants to pee ”
I couldn’t help myself , i laughed. Petrol head!
I ran to his side to find the tube out and him fully conscious. He coughed vigorously. A great sign.
I looked at him and felt a sweet sense of sadness. He was blissfully unaware of the happenings of the past 2 hours.
He looked wounded and sad , disappointed to have been saved. He spat out more petrol and requested to rest.
I worked through the night and rejoiced when the sun rose. The sight of light after a heavy night is always welcomed.
I went home slightly defeated. We won , we saved his life this time, but is it really worth it if he didn’t want to live?