Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Doha Diaries, no 8: Blood on My Hands

A welcome visitor came last week! My uncle, who is a technical writer for GE, will be working in Abu Dhabi for three weeks, and he hopped on a plane to Doha last Thursday for a short weekend visit. I hadn't seen him since last June, and that was during a family reunion and just after Amelia was born. Needless to say, we didn't get to chat much. We gave him the usual tour of Doha: a local grocery store, the family park, Education City and our University's building, Villagio Mall, and Souq Wakif. On our way home from the Moroccan restaurant in the Souk, barely a half mile from our house, on what I'd always thought of as a safe, straight-shot road, we were one of the first vehicles to arrive on the scene of a head-on collision between two cars.

What I saw immediately was a body lying on the ground next to the passenger-side door. The body seemed small, like I child, so I put the van in park and got out to see if I could help. I know CPR and first aid, and I couldn't see anyone helping this person. As I rushed to the body, the men standing around said something to the effect of "Help the ladies." It hit me in that moment that none of the people there--all men--could or would help the person lying at my feet because she was a Qatari girl. In addition to the hesitancy many people have about helping others for fear of causing more harm, there are restrictions on men touching women, especially if they are not family members. Added to this was the fact that none of the men on the scene were Qatari, but rather South Asians, most of whom would be considered workers or labouring-class. The only man in a thobe appeared to be the driver of the vehicle that the girl was lying next to.

I immediately smelled gas in the air. I looked down at her face to find a bloody mouth, her eyes barely open, and a pool of blood underneath her long, curly black hair. She was in an abaaya, groaning in pain, and staring right at me. I asked her for permission to help her, and she agreed. Given the gas fumes, I knew we had to move her. I tried to carry her by myself, but I didn't have the strength. Nobody was helping me, so I shouted at them to lift her legs. She asked me to put her down, so I did my best to explain why she had to be moved. She screamed in pain as we moved to the other side of the road.

I think someone had already called for an ambulance because one of the men handed a phone to me, and the 999 operator was on the line. I gave them directions and an estimate of how many people were hurt. I asked the girl her name; it was Fatima. I told her mine, and I said that I would stay with her, everything would be okay, and that the ambulance was on its way. I checked her breathing, which was fine. I asked her about her neck (if it was in pain) and I had her move each of her limbs. Though she could move it, her right leg was either broken or fractured. I looked for bleeding, but her pants were black, making it hard to see in the dim light we had available. I remember some women from a nearby house bringing a pitcher of water, but I couldn't give it to Fatima. Her teeth had impacted her upper lip, and there was a chunk of bloody flesh dangling there. I could tell that Fatima was trying to gauge her condition by the look on my face. I tried not to let anything show. She kept touching her lip, looking at the blood on her hands, and asking, "Is it so much?" No matter how many times I told her it wasn't much, it would be fixed easily, she continued to ask.

I worried about a concussion, so I gently lifted her head to see if I could find the source of the blood. Her hair was so thick. It was wet with blood and sweat, and in the black tangled mass I couldn't see clearly. She had nothing to lay on but the sandy, gravel-covered road. I was wearing a camisole underneath my blouse, so I ripped it off with one hand, folded it, and placed it underneath her head. All I could do now was wait, pray, and keep her awake.

She kept trying to touch her lip, and she was shaking with cold and shock by the time the ambulance got there. The EMT asked me a few questions, then shoved a stabilizing board underneath her. I wanted to cry for her as she shrieked out in pain, not knowing when he would move her, strap her in, or put the brace around her neck. I held her hand and stroked her forehead. When they put her in the ambulance, he instructed me to sit with her. Then, I saw the other girl.

Shit! Fuck! I didn't even think to look for other victims! The other car had rolled off the road, into a drop-off area, and I hadn't thought to look at the other side of the car on the road to check for other girls. The other girl, also draped in an abaaya, was unconscious. The blood streamed out of her mouth. Later, Hubby would tell me that he saw her but didn't point her out to me because she seemed like she was "beyond help." As they loaded her into the ambulance, she was motionless, and I felt like shit for not realizing she'd been there the whole time, that she'd needed attention even more than the girl I'd helped.

The man in the thobe thanked me as they closed the ambulance doors. I took my bloodied shirt, draped it to cover my shoulders, and walked back to the minivan where Hubby, my uncle, and my daughters were waiting. I was shaking with adrenaline when Hubby asked, "Do you have blood on your hands?"

I looked down and saw that they were covered. It didn't bother me at all. The girls (the oldest two) were scared. They had seen her body on the ground and they had a thousand questions about what happened. I tried to answer them, but it was clear that they'd both been shaken by what they saw. Hannah was particularly sad, crying for both girls the rest of the way home. While I washed my hands, I looked in the mirror and saw the blood on my arms, my neck, my chest...I saw the water run pink. I held up my shirt, which was soaked with blood. Hubby suggested I throw it out, that it was ruined. Since the blood was fresh, I knew it would come out, so I treated it with stain remover and put it in the sink to soak in cold water.

It took me a long time to go to sleep that night. The image of Fatima's face, eyes wide open at times, full of terror, pain, and bewilderment, haunted my dreams. It was still there the next morning. I wondered if the other girl made it. I wondered how long it took for their families to be contacted and arrive at the hospital to comfort them. I was sorry I couldn't have done more. I was sorry that I didn't know Arabic so that I might have consoled them in their native tongue. I was sorry my girls had to witness the scene, and I was incredibly angry at the utter lack of bedside manners the EMT displayed, as well as the incompetence of the police who couldn't even keep traffic diverted. I realized that no road is safe and that if my family were in an accident, it is most likely that nobody would help myself or my daughters. I did what I would want anyone else to do for my family if we had been in that situation, but this sort of thinking doesn't seem to count for much amidst so many restrictions based on class, gender, and nationality.

I hugged each of my girls tighter than night. I prayed for the girls and the others injured in the wreck. I asked God to keep my family safe as we continue to travel these roads. I don't feel safe though, not when I'm driving here. I decided to get a first-aid kit to keep in the minivan, along with a few other supplies. I just hope they're never needed.


Anonymous said...

Bless you for helping! What a traumatic thing for you, in addition to the trauma of those girls. You were clearly in the right place with the right skills at the right time.

Lisa Dunick said...

wow. I can't imagine what that must have been like for you and your girls. What a f$cked up culture that will leave someone to suffer because they aren't the right class or gender. They're lucky you were there.

Anonymous said...

haha~ funny! thank you for your share~ ........................................

Intlxpatr said...

So many blessings - that you happened by at that moment when you were needed, that you were able to give comfort to Fatima, that your girls were able to see their mother courageously take action, and do what she could to help. Those little eyes are watching and learning all the time, and they just learned a valuable life lesson from you.

You can't beat yourself up over the other girl. You can't be responsible for what you didn't know. You were doing all you could do.

You are right; there is a serious lack of emergency help available in this country.