Wailing is one of the ways we Africans express our grief. Whenever I hear a wail at the Casualty, the message is always clear, someone has passed on. The wails however vary from community to community. Let me say with the deepest conviction that Luhya wails are the loudest and the most interesting. I can defend this in a court of law by the way. One time you would think they are laughing, another time they would roll on the ground and cry with mouths wide open but no tears and no signs of tears ever coming out of their eyes. We will get back to this wailing in a short while.
It was one of those Fridays at the casualty. The casualty was busier than usual. You know Friday is that day of the week that doctors dread the most. A serious case will come just when you are about to leave to go unwind. Often times you would hear the doctors cursing why they got into medicine whenever such situations arise. Some would even try so hard to have the patient fall in the next shift but only after stabilizing them and removing them out of danger.
The Nairobi County Police Land-cruiser halted with a massive screech at the casualty entrance. The screech was so sharp that I felt it in my teeth. Out came two police men who seemingly had no single minute to waste, probably they were in a hurry to get back to the road to collect their dues. I know of a police officer who keeps on foregoing ranks to remain on the road as a traffic police. Damn it! Of what use is a rank when one can earn twice as much standing by the road side?
The policemen had brought in a man who was severely injured and needed immediate medical attention. The man was unconscious. He was drenched in sweat, blood, alcohol, sewage and anything that can run on a drunkard lying on the streets. This combination gave a torrid stench that would be part of us till our shift ends. Poor us!
We took the guy to resuscitation room B and started him on intravenous drips, put him on oxygen and drew some blood for our investigations. The policemen left without any notice and so the patient was ours, we were the relatives and the care providers. This happens more often than not. after all this is a public hospital for heaven’s sake.
Just then, a wail emanated from outside. It was the typical wail I had mentioned before. It was very loud, so it had to be a Luhya wail. It rose to a deafening crescendo and then silence, only to emerge again at another corner of the casualty. It was a feminine wail but a strong one. It was an afternoon, most probably obusuma was doing the magic, adding strength to the wail. Hungry luhyas wail for a short time by the way, and a hungry wail too can be recognized. It is often sharp and sometimes cut in the middle of wailing. It is like when you want to say Oliver, then you say Oli.. and then hunger bites you so hard that you stop it at that. Mid way.
When another relative joined the wailing, the casualty went into a mess. It was like a wailing spree yet only two people were wailing. In those moments of frenzy, our patient woke up, and remember he could not wake up before to give us a history. Actually the police had thought he was going to die in the next few minutes and was brought into the hospital to die. To me this was like a resurrection. He managed to open his mouth and asked, “Wameenda?…”