Imagine that you are walking in town one Saturday afternoon. Either alone or with a friend in tow. Let’s assume the second option – you are strolling in town with a friend, W. You talk about the weather and how it’s been behaving. How the week was at work and at home. You talk about everything that you can possibly talk with your friend. Then, suddenly, in the middle of that you start feeling ill. At that moment you realize that there is something terribly wrong with your body and you cannot really figure it out. You assume and keep on talking. Suddenly your friend realizes there’s something terribly wrong, but they too are clueless. Things happen so fast that you start losing your sensory abilities – you cannot feel the spoon that’s in your hand and you fail to coordinate the digits on your hand but nothing. Before you know it, a sharp migraine fills your entire head causing you to slump on the table, weak and helpless.
Across the table your friend looks at you, helpless. Prodding with questions.
“How are you feeling?” W asks.
“Pins and needles,” you respond. Google that if you don’t know.
“You were just okay,” W says, confused. “What is up? Do you have anyone I can call?”
“I have to think,” you respond, gasping under the intense pain clouding your head.
Then you realize that you almost have nobody in your “In case of Emergency (ICE)” list. Then the wildest thoughts start swarming your head.
“What if I was alone and I collapsed in town?” A thought crosses your head.
The People in Our Lives
That’s what happened to me a few months ago. A small incident that shook me a lot. It made me think about the people I could reach out in case something goes awry and I needed someone to be there for me when I couldn’t help myself.
I was shaken because things went from good to bad then ugly in a matter of minutes and lasted about four hours. I was hanging in there – in a body that was caving in to what felt like nervous failure and a headache from hell. Yeah, that’s what happens when you overwork yourself for almost three straight weeks.
I was also shaken because, had I been alone in town, the experience would have been unimaginable, or so I thought. I would be alone in this city where expression of concern is considered rare.
Before I go on, I happen to be on W’s ICE and that is why we were in town in the first place. W had landed herself in a technical mess the previous evening and I knew the right person who could fix her problem. People who watch movies on their laptops while tucked in bed need prayers.
Back to this moment when my nervous system has decided that I will feel nothing and do nothing.
“Here’s my phone,” I groaned. “Unlock it and call E”
E was not in Nairobi. He called his brother who was closer. As close as Rongai! How close! I was in CBD. How helpful!
“Who else can I call?” W, who is also my partner in crime asked.
“Try my cousin, C,” I said. “He works around here and he can be of help.”
“He says he’s away upcountry,” W said.
“Okay,” I muttered. Trying to think and getting the sharp headache, needles and stings under control. “Call J, he’ll call a doctor for me.”
This is the part where everybody you need is away and you are almost alone.
In hindsight, I have learnt the importance of having people who know what to do when they get that call telling them that you are not okay.
It is very possible to have over 2000 friends and acquaintances on Facebook, 2000 followers on Twitter but zero people on your In Case of Emergency (ICE) list. It is a frightening thought to say the least. And by that, I exclude parents. No parent who is miles away wants to be told that their child collapsed in town while taking a walk. I am talking about friends who will immediately pause their lives and rush to where you are and see what they can do.
Interestingly, like on this particular day, ambulances also proved quite hard to come by. Dialled 1199. They took their sweet time. Called St Johns Ambulance. Nada. But that’s when that cab guy you befriended a while back shows up immediately and joins you, helping W to handle the emergency situation that I had become. All he asks is for you to tell him what hospital he can take you and not to worry about the cab fare. He coordinated with W in communicating with a doctor friend and eventually we settled on a hospital.
“W, you have to go home,” I said. “I am in good hands now”
“Weeee!,” W retorted. “Then what happens?”
“I can take it from here,” I responded, like when the CIA and FBI folks in movies tell the local cops.
“Cow!” I was told. I laughed quietly to myself. All this time popping in and out of hospital reception. A head scan here. Medication there. A doctor asking what’s stressing me up.
“I said a prayer for you in that waiting room,” W mentioned much later.
Buses, Lifts and Fires
Many weeks later, I have learnt the need to constantly evaluate the accessible people around me. Who knows where I live? Who needs to know where I am traveling to? Who needs to know where I am late at night especially when stranded? Not everyone. But people who I think matter and who will, in turn, make a difference should anything happen. Or just for the sake of knowing.
But then, I ask myself: Am I in anyone’s ICE list? Will I be able to stop my life to attend to a friend’s need till late in the night? It takes a handful of people to make a difference when all fails.
Buses have huge writings at the back glass window (is it a window really?): Emergency Door: In Case of Emergency Break Glass.
Lifts have stickers plastered: In Case of Emergency Call These Numbers 07XXX. Just in case you get stuck in a lift and you need the world to know where you are.
Some buildings have a fire alarm installation with a key: In Case of Fire Break Glass for Key. The key will always give you access to an emergency fire exit and you’ll be safe from the fire.
It is also a requirement in some of our workplaces for us to provide the details for next of kin. Same applies for life insurances and investment chamas and the likes. Just in case something happens to you at work and they need to know who your family is.
In case of emergency, I hope the 5 people in my ICE list will be the reason I will be in the ICE list of 5 other people.