Yesterday’s Hajj tragedy made me reflect upon an incident that happened when I was working in Saudi Arabia in 1999. I was the NUM of a 12 bed ICU and 8 Bed CCU when we were called to assist in the Emergency room. This is a story that has resonated with me since it occurred and has given me many periods of reflection.
When I went to the ER I could see the Trauma team working on a young man in western clothes, This was unusual as usually the Saudi patients would be in a thobe and guttra, There seemed to be no one else hurt but a young western man was sitting in a chair in the ER close by to where the other young man was receiving CPR. I went to speak with this young man and in fact I ended up spending the whole day with him until late in the night when his parents arrived from Riyadh. The young man was dishevelled and distressed, clearly in shock and desperate.It transpired the young man being worked on was his brother, we could hear directions from the head of the trauma team being shouted out. I was cringing at what this young man was hearing but it soon became apparent to me that he was not hearing what I was hearing. When I heard the Dr say, “well try a chest tube just in case “ the young man heard that as a sign they were doing everything they could for his brother.
As the story unfolded the tragedy of that drive through the Saudi desert became apparent. They had been driving from diving on the Red Sea Coast to Riyadh, because they were not Muslim they had to take the road around Mecca and they hit a camel, The younger brother recalled being thrown about in the car as the car rolled and came to a stop. The brother who was driving was unconscious and his younger brother tried his hardest to care for him, somehow they got an ambulance but when it arrived the ambulance men ( they are not paramedics ) would not assist the brother in trying to save the young man, they kept saying “hallas”, “hallas “ he’s finished , he’s finished.
The brother tried to give CPR to his injured brother by himself. In fact, he tried to do this for four hours , by himself , in the heat, no-one to help him. When the ambulance arrived it would not take this injured young man to the hospital in Mecca because he was not Muslim, so they brought him to the hospital in Jeddah, many miles from the accident site. After about ½ hour it became apparent there was nothing that could be done to save this young man and they called the code off. I saw the best of humanity that day, and I saw the worst. The worst is not an indictment of this country, it’s just the way it is. The young Saudi interpreter brought clean scrubs for the surviving brother and gave him his shoes. The head surgeon from the trauma team came and sat with the surviving brother and told him all what they had done. The boys’ father was a Scandinavian Ambassador to Riyadh and once this was found out the Governor of Mecca arrived and arrangements were made to bring the mother and father from Riyadh. I stayed with the surviving brother all day until his parents could get there and the bravery and the tragedy of that day has stayed with me ever since. I became very aware that patients ( or relatives ) don’t hear what we hear, that not all countries have highly trained and skilled paramedics, that situations ( such as the Mecca dividing lines ) do exist in some countries. That an innocent and spectacular diving excursion into one of the most stunning places in the world can end in a day of profound terror.
When I was in Saudi, it was mostly an experience of fun and adventure, I worked side by side with young Saudi people who were generous and kind and very hospitable. It makes me very angry to hear the damage that ISIS has done to the Muslim name, as this was not the experience that I had. The Saudi Drs and other staff that helped this young man and his family that day were just as distraught as I was at what had happened to this guest in their country. The parents arrived in the early evening to kiss their son goodbye in the Morgue. It was a day I will never forget.