It takes immense courage to be there when an accident occurs. I have seen first responders give their all as they save lives on Kenya’s killer highway. I write this story to share a journalistic experience that has left my heart broken.
If there was a year I witnessed accidents in their worst form, 2017 was it.
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I recall, new years eve. Every single detail of bodies strewn on the road. Clothes, shoes, leftover food items. There were bags too. I recall a pink sweat top by the road and the mangled wreckage of the vehicle just beside it.
You cannot forget the smell of death. It is overwhelming at best. My heart, beating with the hope that every single cry on the wreckage could be salvaged. I looked around, lost. Sometimes, the life of a journalist ends where there is a big story. This one, I wrestled with words, life and it’s meaning. I wondered how I could weave words to explain this horror that left me bankrupt inside. There is no helpless feeling to express it.
I am at a place now to write this. To share this journey because, in it, I have seen the relentless giver of time and hope. Kenya’s first responders might not be names you come across often. You might not even know many of them besides the colour of their clothes when we journalists invade their space.
I recall on the day of the accident, how traffic officers, first aid workers removed body after body. 30 people on the count at the accident scene.
This accident occurred at a place that is a known taker of life. Migaa blackspot is supposed to awaken the awareness of any driver who takes on Nakuru Eldoret highway.
I saw volunteers from the Kenya Red Cross Society and St John’s Ambulance rush to the scene.
It was my first time to see them break. They are human too, in case we forget.
“This is the worst accident I have probably witnessed. Having 30 mutilated bodies removed from a wreckage one by one? It was bad,” the Rift valley Kenya Red Cross Society Micheal Ayabei later told me.
Solomon Bii, a volunteer with St John’s Ambulance was among first responders to arrive at the scene.
He wept for the mother crying for help as she remained trapped in the wreckage and the children who looked up to him to save them.
Agonizing. He was shaken, as he took turns in taking each person delicately to safety.
“Survivors were trapped between bodies of the dead. There was blood everywhere. I watched people breathe their last,” he recalls.
“it was difficult to tell who was alive. I stepped on dead bodies as I reached out to the ones who had survived”.
The accident attracted the locals. Unlike in the past when they helped, they kept a safe distance. Trauma has a face. I saw it that day.
Encourage A First Responder
“Each moment we retrieved a body, there were screams from the crowd that had gathered. I think it is because they were badly mutilated,” Bii tells me.
The accident was reported at around 3 am, but by around 8 am approximately 6 hours, bodies were still being retrieved from the wreckage.
There are many other Biis who bare the face of courage even when they are dying inside. Road carnage is slowly becoming the norm. There were accidents at Ngata Bridge, Teachers area, Sobea, Salgaa, Sachangwan and Kamara among other black spots.
Bii says, “It has been bad. These days, eating is a problem. I taste human blood in meals, drinking water.”
His sentiments are shared by Caroline Cheroitich a trained first aider with four years experience. She was among the dedicated responders.
She believes first aid is a higher calling because it tests you to your limit.
“You have to develop courage because accident survivors depend on you. Sometimes survivors breathe their last at your watch. It still makes me numb even with my experience. You always want to save a life,”.
She adds “It is not about gender. It does not need muscle. I hate seeing women widowed and children orphaned because of accidents. This is why I decided to join a group of first responders expecting nothing in return,”
I seek to know what happens after their traumatic experiences. Are there debriefs offered for instance? Apparently, they only have each other.
It is a challenge when they need professional intervention to walk them through the motions of their trauma.
As first responders mandated with the precarious task of saving lives, sometimes they have no ambulance to rush survivors to hospital. There is one now that was offered by Kenya Red Cross and is stationed at Salgaa. The county government ambulances are in Nakuru and Molo hospitals. At times, it can take hours before they arrive at an accident scene.
Some of the survivors she explains require urgent blood transfusion after excessive bleeding but due to delayed medical attention, they die as they wait.
“Yes we provide first aid but then survivors require examination follow-up and treatment that can only be done in hospital but they delay because of lack of an ambulance,”
At times it is the generosity of motorists that saves the day.
When you think you have had a bad day at work, think about first responders who, after doing their ultimate best, may not be able to save a life because they are ill-equipped to do so.
For me, I am hoping that I do not keep returning to the killer road to tell depressing stories of carnage. 2017 was enough.
2018 is a year we should aim to tame road accidents.