This morning we set out in the dark at 0530hrs in a long convoy of Mercy Ships Landrovers. We looked like we were ready to ambush the city of Freetown, Sierra Leone. Today was screening day for our outreach of 2011.
One the way to the National Stadium where screening day would take place, the convoy of landrovers travelled up quite a hill at a slow pace. The landrover three in front of the one I was travelling in, stopped on the hill and had trouble restarting up the hill. We were in a hurry, there were about 9 other people in the car and it was a manual, so watching the car rolling back down the hill was nerve-racking to watch. After 3 attempts at hill-starts I was so encouraged to see an African man coming out of the darkness to lay a huge rock behind the back wheel of the car. The driver was immediately able to start up the hill and the man picked up the rock out of the way for the rest of us and waved as we drove passed. My only thought was, God, I love Africa!
Arriving at the National Stadium whilst still in darkness, a sea of blue Mercy Ships scrubs, moved chairs and tables to set up for the coming day. As the sun rose it was apparent there were already at least one thousand people waiting to be seen. The waiting line was on the outside gates of the stadium and not visible to those working inside the arena.
After some instructions, the pre-screeners and I paired up, one to screen, the other to support and keep statistics to make sure we weren’t missing common complaints from the people. Some people complained of back pain, chest/oesophageal pain, painful knees, infections and unhealed wounds. We are not able to help any of these complaints so we asked them if they’d like prayer for healing and sent them with an escort to the prayer team. It was so difficult to see their faces fall in despair, realising we weren’t going to help them. The smaller percentage of those we saw we could help and we joyfully gave them a card to present to the registration table.
After some time our team leader called us all over and asked us to speed up the process as the crowd waiting were getting impatient and restless. The line had curled into itself now and the people at the end of the line were now also the beginning causing frustration for those who’d been waiting in the hot sun for hours and who still hadn’t been let inside. One of my friends seeing the crowd from a height guessed the number to be around 15,000 people.
As I watched and listened to Laura screening our patient right next to me, I was distracted by shouting at the gate entry about 50m in front of us. As I looked up, the people waiting in the line outside had turned into an unruly mob and began to storm the entry gate. So desperate to be seen and get in they began climbing up each other to get over the high fence. People started clambering and pulling themselves over the fence while the police and our Mercy Ships security team tried to keep them calm and on the other side. The desperation in the crowd was so intense it brought me to tears. The next thing we knew, a crew member came running over telling us to drop what we were doing and come to build a human chain as we let through some people to try to settle them down. As the single gate opened, the crowds pushed, shoved and trampled, causing carnage. Before we knew it we had Africans hauling in casualties from those trampled right outside the gates. 13 people were carried in some crying, collapsed, unconscious, not breathing, needing immediate attention. The human barricade was broken as we were called to attend to the wounded. I ran straight to a 20 something year old woman, lying unconscious on the ground with a bloody nose and graze on her cheek. Rolling her into the recovery position, I checked her pulse and tried to straighten her to settle her respiratory rate. I had two African men from the line outside who had carried her in sitting with me, trying to cool her down by pouring water all over her. Her mama was calling her name and trying to pull her up, so we repeatedly had to tell her to let go and let her daughter rest. As I asked these guys what had happened they explained that she had fallen or been pushed and people had walked all over her in their desperation. As I sat there waiting for her to regain consciousness I looked at the chaos around me. There were nurses, Drs, translators and people everywhere! Behind me was a man laying on the ground with an oral airway in place, surrounded by nurses and a portable suction machine. Another sitting nearby drinking water, who had a large gaping wound in his foot that was old but obviously the reason he’d come to screening this day. Over underneath the overhang of the stadium I could see a team doing CPR on a man. God, what has happened? These people are so desperate that they have walked over each other to get help!
My patient began to fling her arms and legs around. I asked one of the guys with me to ask her to squeeze his hand if she could hear him. She could but she would not speak to us to tell us if she had pain or even to assess her GCS. The longer she lay there the more agitated and distressed she became, thrashing around on the gravelled concrete. It took four of us to hold her and keep her from throwing her head on the ground.
Drs and nurses were everywhere, a sea of blue scrubs bringing help. One came and told me we were taking casualties to the hospital. We picked this lady up off the ground carrying her closer to the landrover and put her on a stretcher. It was impossible to get a blood pressure or even strap her onto the stretcher because she was thrashing so much. As we put her into the back of the Mercy Ships landrover and pulled her off the stretcher another nurse jumped in the back asking me if I was coming. “Where are we going? Which hospital are we going to?” “I don’t know!” “Someone, tell me where we are going!” “Connaught, the local hospital.” I jumped into the back, perching on my heals with the other nurse by my side, my patient thrashing about with the two guys who’d been helping me holding her down and her mama by her side. The drive to Connaught was crazy, driving all over the road with a moaning patient still not speaking to us or opening her eyes. After a desperate prayer with the other nurse and some tears of unbelief of the situation we had just found ourselves in, we arrived at the hospital and a couple of guys grabbed her out of the car and we stood there while she disappeared around the corner. There were two more teams of Mercy Ships nurses at the hospital who had also brought patients, one whom had passed away at the stadium. Not long after another landrover appeared with more casualties and after dropping them off, we piled in and headed back to the stadium.
Once back at the stadium I walked around for a minute like a lost soul, wondering in the idst of the busyness what to do next. The people were all up the stairs of the stadium, still waiting with the police and our security. This time our screeners were just saying yes or no and sorting the people out. I stood up to the line and began the job again but this time making the decisions and without a translator. Only 10 mins passed before I heard the call out, “We’ve got to get out! We’ve got 2 mins! Go!” The people waiting had broken through the line and our security team had managed to get out of the way of the crushing crowd in only seconds! We literally dropped what we were doing and started moving towards the rest of the Mercy Ships team where the landrovers were waiting. We hurriedly packed the supplies and piled as many people into each vehicle as possible and left the stadium. A whole fleet of landrovers drove straight back to the ship but there were too many of us to make such a long journey many times in a short time period. I jumped in the back of a truck with about 15 others and was taken to the Mercy Ships team house. There we waited for the rest of the team still waiting at the stadium to be brought back and then finally transported back to the safe haven on the Africa Mercy.
Tonight our hearts are troubled and sad. We come to bring hope and healing and today that didn’t happen. Please be praying!