My Sikh taxi driver had a small heart attack while driving me and Eddie home from soccer practice this week. It was Guru Nanak Jayanti, a festive holiday for the Sikh community and a government holiday in India – yet still, he was working. I could tell the driver was tired, but he dutifully drove us half-an-hour across town to a local school where Eddie’s league plays and agreed to wait for us. It was dark and chilly 90-minutes later when we left.
About half way home the driver struggled to loosen his seat belt. His breathing was heavy and he fumbled for nitroglycerine pills on his dashboard. He said that he was ill and that today was his “last day in this world”. The sweat on his brow glistened in the headlights of the on-coming traffic.
The car slowed and I asked him to pull to the side of the road. He stopped the engine.
The driver was clearly in trauma. He mumbled and swayed his body forward and back.
What’s most important to know at this point in the story is that he survived despite few reliable ambulances or other emergency help in Delhi. Ambulances here work best when you pre-order them for an event, like a soccer tournament. But wait for one on the side of the road and you wait forever, if you live that long.
For my taxi driver, Mr. Singh, there were good Samaritans willing to help, including the police. (Surprise!) I still hear a young man calming the driver, calling him “uncle”… so caring and genuine. A flurry of Hindi led to phone calls: Mr. Singh’s doctor; his son. The son appeared in the crowd Star Trek fast. Sometimes it seems that time bends when it has to.
Son drove father to the hospital. Mr. Singh had already survived open-heart surgery and this episode was related to his weakened heart. When I checked on him at the taxi stand a few days later, he said something about fluid, an infection. I couldn’t understand everything he tried to share.
How to handle a medical emergency in Delhi worries me, just as it did in Beijing.
In China, ambulances were unreliable and under-equipped. When Eddie had a seizure in the middle of the night, I drove alone, 18 minutes to the hospital. I sang through my tears to keep him awake and to keep my mind focused. (Jim was out-of-town.)
Ask Jim about the time he ate a plate of bees and ended up in the ER of a local hospital in Kunming. (He forgot that he was allergic!) The staff would have let him rot in the corner had Jim’s friend not threatened his way into the Communist Party wing of the hospital to save my man’s life.
Lala too, ended up in the ER in Beijing in the middle of the night. With controlled panic in her voice she wheezed at me as I was flipping out because she couldn’t breathe: “I have to concentrate.” She had a nasty form of pneumonia.
There was also the harrowing drive to the hospital with the mother of a boy who drowned in our neighborhood pool. A lifeguard and a friend of mine performed CPR on his little body in the back seat of my car while I drove. The mother sat next to me in shock. To keep her from watching her son being pumped and pushed, I gave her my shirt and told her to hold it out of the window like a flag. Somehow, the traffic parted between that flag and my beeping. The child was meant to live – he survived.
Dare I write that in Delhi, my emergency contingencies have not been tested? God willing, we have at least six months of good health and safety here and continued blessings in our next adventure.
Mr. Singh, the other day was not your last. Yet even when you thought it was, you showed concern for me and my son: you wanted someone in the crowd to make sure that we got home safely. Thank you.
I wish for you many, many more days filled with peace (and less traffic and good fares)…
And may you afford to retire soon.
Our annual trip to the Ganges: