I have no idea what title to give this post

I don’t know if it’s too soon to be writing about this, but maybe it will help us work through some of what we experienced yesterday (New Year’s Day) – as our day culminated in us frantically, but sadly, unsuccessfully trying to save a 5 year old Ugandan boy’s life. This is what happened.
Yesterday morning, we had decided to take the boys to Didi’s World (the local amusement park) later in the day when the water slides opened at 1pm, but until then we’d take what’s become our usual trip to go swimming at the ARA (American Recreation Association) since it’s so hot this time of year. As 2:30pm rolled around at the pool, we almost decided to skip the waterslides since we knew it would probably be busy and we were having a nice time at the pool.
But the boys had their hearts set and we had promised as long as the weather held out, which it did.
When we arrived, we paused at the ticket gate because we could see that the waterslide ‘pool’ was packed, the water was a disgusting gray color that was completely opaque, and only one waterslide was operating. Still, the boys were giddy with excitement so we decided to go, even if for just a little while. As we approached the pool, the only muzungu (white) woman there approached us with the warning that it was a crazy scene, with the small (maybe 20 feet square) pool full of 20-25 rambunctious kids of all ages (5-15) and another 25 or more coming down the slide, many times in groups of 6 or 8 and all landing on each other after the 4 foot drop into the 3 foot deep pool. She pointed out her 7-year old son at that moment coming out the slide with a group of 6 kids that landed in a ball of more flesh than water.
Alisha was disgusted with the appearance of the water, so I said I’d go up with the kids and she’d watch out from the bottom. Jonah took off up the stairs with a token glance back and quick shout to his parents, “Mom, I’m heading up!” Brodie was soon to follow, so I quickly got down to just my trunks and started up with Graysen – by that time Jonah was crashing into the pool already. When we got to the top of the 50-foot structure, there was no attendant so it was kind of a free for all. I stepped in the water, holding Graysen, and gave him a shove while blocking off the slide from anyone. I waited 10 seconds or so and then took off after him, only to come to a screeching halt about 30 feet later – the slope of the slide was too gradual for the low water flow, so I began to ‘scoot’ myself (it was clear to me then why the kids were coming out in ‘clumps’). Just as I reached Graysen (who had also stopped), I became a logjam for half a dozen Ugandan kids piling into the back of me. Graysen was scared and started crying because he didn’t want to get run over – I was glad I was between him and the group to prevent that, so I picked him up and we scooted the rest of the way down. When we got to the bottom I just threw him clear of the ‘drop zone’ towards the side.
When we got out of the pool, Graysen was crying because he was scared. But, we have a policy in our household – whenever possible, don’t end on a bad note. That is, I didn’t want Graysen to be afraid of waterslides forevermore, so I encouraged him to come up again with me one last time and that this time I’d hold him the whole way down. After a little resistance Alisha and I convinced him it would be ok – and it was, though I had to basically push us down the entire way. When we got to the pool, I threw him again, and was relieved to see him smiling and saying ‘that was fun’. Alisha was right there as well so we were both laughing at the 180-degree turn around he’d made after one ride. It was right at that moment that I noticed something alarming.
A young Ugandan boy of maybe 15 was holding up at the waist a prostrate, small child who was floating face down in the pool, partially submerged. All you could see of the small body was a small section of his waist as the gray water hid the rest. My first reaction was panic, but that was just for an instant as I quickly realized that they must be playing a joke since no once was reacting. But my eyes never broke the gaze of the 15 year old boy, as his face was almost void of expression except for his mouth hanging open. He very slow lifted the child out of the water, and I quickly realized that this was no joke. Still, the remarkable lack of a response from anyone nearby kept a lingering question in my mind – is this for real? Maybe 5 seconds had passed, but as he brought the young boy to the pool’s edge, I quickly began giving orders to him to turn him on his side and see if he’d cough up water. A small amount of liquid and white bile came out in a gurgling cough-like sound, so I thought this boy had a chance.
As a crowd formed, still no one came forward to do anything – no parent, no doctor, no park employee. So I shouted for Alisha (who hadn’t noticed what was going on yet) to come and do CPR since no one else was doing anything (I don’t know CPR, but I knew Alisha did). I shouted for a doctor but got blank stares. Alisha was shaking and half crying as she quickly moved into action, first untying her cloth wrap and wiping the boy’s face clear of the bile . I grabbed the waterslide attendant (we later learned his name was Michael) and told him to call security or first aid, but he came with me instead and began doing the mouth to mouth portion of the CPR while Alisha beat on his heart. He didn’t know CPR, so Alisha told him what to do.
Meanwhile, as about 15-20 seconds had passed, my attention turned to my kids. They were right there, front and center watching this all unfold, but starting to get blocked from my vision by the ever growing crowd. I immediately thought of the book ‘the Shack’ – where in a father’s haste to help in one disaster (his two older kids were in a capsized canoe on a lake), he inadvertently allows another one to occur as his younger daughter is abducted by an opportunistic predator. So I grabbed all three boys and sat them on a nearby bench. The muzungu woman who had greeted us when we came was right there joined now by her husband and their two kids, and offered to watch the boys for us. I didn’t know the woman, but the fact that it was a family and the only other white people in the park for some reason made me feel like it was OK (not because they were white, but because I knew I could find them easily).
So I shouted to Alisha, “Anything yet?” and her frantic, half crying shout back “No!” was disappointing – I thought that initial ‘cough’ had been a great sound and I was fully expecting him to come to after that.
I sprinted off, barefoot, to the nearby front gate and quietly told the person there that there had been an accident and he needed to call the police or an ambulance (I later regretted running barefoot since the park was littered with broken glass bottles no doubt from the night before – sure enough, I realized about 2 hours later that I’d sliced my foot a bit and had a piece glass stuck in it). He said ok, but the puzzled look on his face gave me no reassurance that he would. So I ran back to check, pushing my way to the front of the 100+ person crowd now gathered around – still ‘no signs of life’ according to Alisha, and after briefly asking around, no sign of any of the child’s family either.
I then ran to the main front gate which was quite a ways away, joined by an older Indian man who was the just the 4th person to get involved in some way, outside of Alisha, myself and Michael (Alisha later commented how she noticed as she looked up once for help how expressionless everyone’s face was in the crowd). We reached the front gate and I repeated my cry for help to the attendant. He pulled out his phone and asked, “Now who do you want me to call?” I said, “The police? Paramedics? Someone – a little boy is dying right now and might already be dead!” A nicely dressed woman nearby in a green business suit said, “You need the first aid place, I’ll show you.” And then she started walking down the ramp, the Indian man and I followed for about 2 seconds, before turning into a jog to hurry her along. When she kept walking, I just ditched both of them and sprinted back down into the park and just kept asking park attendants where first aid was until I saw it – which was maybe just 100 feet from the slide. When I got there though, I could see that the ambulance was there, so I went back over.
I arrived just in time to see the boy being carried into the ‘ambulance’ – a white minivan with a red cross on it but with nothing more inside to distinguish it from any other empty cargo minivan than an old, green gurney to load a patient onto in back. He was joined now by another young boy – his brother – (maybe 9) and an older girl in a dress – his cousin – (probably 16-18). A woman who appeared connected to the park asked me, “Where is CPR? You show me.” (Ugandan English for asking for the person who was performing CPR). Alisha looked at me and said, “No one has any idea what they are doing – you have to go with them.” I told her I too had no idea what I was doing, and that she should go and continue the CPR. I told her I’d get the kids and find her. I asked the driver where he was going and he said ‘Mulago’ – the biggest hospital here but also a 30-minute drive from the park. I told him there was no time for that, and that he should go to IHK (Internation Hospital of Kampala) which was only 7-10 minutes away. He said, ‘OK’, but as they pulled away I heard his assistant in the passenger’s seat say ‘Mulago’. So I chased it down and yelled at him, “Don’t go to Mulago – the boy will die. I’ll meet you at IHK.” He said he “didn’t know the place”, but Alisha chimed in from the back “I’ll direct you there” as her and Michael, who had jumped in, continued to work on the boy.
I went back and found our boys right where I’d left them with the couple, quickly thanked them, and the 4 of us headed for the car. On the 7-minute car ride to the hospital the boys were full of questions, and I could actually feel this as a defining moment of my parenthood. When they are 25, they’ll probably remember this day and what they were feeling and thinking. Brodie seemed the most impacted by the events, but they all wanted to know if the boy would be ok. This was a moment as a father that I felt totally ill-equipped to handle. I don’t know how you actually become equipped to handle it, but I just prayed that God would help me not botch this occasion too badly.
First, I decided to be honest and not sugar coat the situation. They’d see right through that if the worst case happened. Second, I tried to not have all the answers - again, they’d figure that out. Thirdly, I wanted to try to offer some measure of reassurance that they were safe, but fourthly, I wanted them to learn something too – even if only that life is both precious and fragile, and that at any instant it can be taken away from any one of us without warning. I explained to them that their Mom was a hero in this situation, and that though this little boy probably was going to die, Mom had done everything possible for him.
I have no idea if I botched my ‘moment’, but I tried my best. I prayed out loud, and when Brodie asked if the little boy had Jesus in his heart I told him that God will welcome all little children into heaven until they’re old enough to decide for themselves if they want to be there. I also told them that this situation is why their mom and I go to such great effort to keep them safe, that we never want to be in the position where one of them is in an ambulance fighting for life. I told them that this is why it is important to listen to mom and dad when we’re warning them, whether it’s crossing the street or at the swimming pool. Accidents happen, but there’s a huge element of preparedness and caution that enters in that can help prevent them.
Inside, I thought to myself if we’d been irresponsible to allow them on the waterslides that day, given the chaos. I thought about why one of my kids wasn’t the one in the ambulance – part of me recognized that it was due in part to our ‘preparedness’ of me going down the slides with them and Alisha watching at the bottom – but even though we increased our odds for safety, the bottom line is it still might’ve happened to us if just the wrong scenario had played out. That is scary.
We arrived at the hospital 2 minutes after the ambulance to find the brother and cousin crying in the waiting room. I passed an exhausted and stunned looking Michael as I went into the ER room and found 2 nurses and a doctor working on the boy, with Alisha bending over him nearby, crying. It was still way too calm for an emergency situation, but this was a common theme among the reaction we saw from the Ugandans involved. I went outside and hugged the little brother and prayed with him, and returned inside to find that they’d given up and Alisha was now consoling the cousin. The boys were sitting across the room from them and asked me if the little boy was ok. I told them no, that he had died. Jonah seemed especially surprised by that, he kept saying, “you mean he’s not going to live?” That night during our bedtime prayers, he even prayed that the little boy would come back to life. We didn’t say anything – who are we to question a little boy’s optimism, especially when it has to do with God and His miracles?
There’s no way to sum up what we’re feeling. To be so close to death is not something you can really describe, and I think it will take us a long time to really sort through what we’re thinking and feeling. Especially Alisha, who was the single person in charge in the whole affair – even at the hospital, the doctor and nurses seemed very unhurried (in their defense, the first thing they asked was how long ago it had happened, and when Alisha said maybe 20 minutes the looks on their faces showed that they had little hope of saving him). Alisha and I were the ones who told the brother and cousin that their loved one had died.
But what of the reaction we saw from the Ugandan people? Do they just not care about life as much as Americans? Why was there no reaction of panic when the little boy was discovered? Why was everyone seemingly reluctant to help? Why did the crowd of people seem to be waiting for the inevitable, with no hope or desire to try to do something about it. Or, are these all just our misperceptions of a culture that we just don’t understand? Why was this incident not treated as a bigger deal than it was – when we drove Clara (the cousin) and her brother back to the park to wait for the rest of their family to come pick them up, we noticed eerily that the waterslide was still operating the same as before, as if nothing had happened. In fact, the park had gotten much more crowded). We met briefly with the park director, who thanked us for helping. Alisha made a point of highlighting Michael’s help in the whole affair to hopefully help keep him from being the target of blame. As we were leaving, she asked me to ‘advise’ her whether or not I thought she should wait for the family there in the office or go meet them at the gate. She also asked Alisha to pray for her as this had ‘never happened before’ and she hoped to be able to ‘settle this’ with the family. Again, her concern for the family seemed to be somewhat second-tier to her concern about the park taking the blame? I guess I can understand that somewhat – losing your job here can end up being a matter of life and death for not only you but also your family.
I don’t mean to sound cynical about this - that is not my point at all. We are just trying to figure out all of the emotions we’re feeling. I recognize that the value of a life here in the minds of the people is not the same as it is for most Americans – that’s a sad fact. But honestly, there is a reason for that too. The mortality rate is so high here and the life expectancy is so low that someone dying, even a child, is not that uncommon. I don’t mean to imply that the family isn’t totally grieved just like we would be in their shoes – they’ve since called to thank us. But I think the public reaction was what it was because tragedy is a way of life here – everyone experiences it fairly regularly, so when you see someone else experience it it’s not such a big deal. It’s almost like at some level it’s expected, so when it happens no one panics and most people default to the belief that there’s nothing that can be done. It’s all a part of why developing countries need assistance, not just for the day to day needs, but more importantly, on a grander scale, to change the systems that are in place, to help prevent tragedies and create a culture where the highest possible value is placed on life. One of the things I told the boys during ‘the moment’ that clearly God put on my mind was this (as best as I can remember it): “You guys, this is the reason why we are here in Uganda - to help this country and these people. Back home, if this had happened, within seconds, a system would have been in place to immediately help that little boy. Paramedics from the first aid station would’ve been radioed and would’ve arrived in a minute or two. A doctor probably would have been within earshot in the crowd to come take over before they arrived. A fully-equipped ambulance would’ve taken the boy in and might have been able to save his life before he ever arrived to the hospital. You see, even though eMi just helps people build safer buildings, that’s the kind of help countries like Uganda need if they are ever going to be able to improve. But they don't just need engineers, they need doctors, nurses, accountants, lawyers, dentists and all sorts of people who have an expertise to come and help them develop so that the people here can have a better life.”
As I write this, I hear my 3 boys playing with their mom out in the yard with the hose. I know Alisha is still keenly aware of what she went through yesterday – it’s had a big impact on her – but the laughter and playful voices of the boys is just a stark contrast to the dark images and thoughts flashing in and out of my mind. I am happy that they seem to be Ok after witnessing at close-range such a traumatic event, but I can’t help thinking of little Buhdro (‘Boo-dro’), the 5 year old boy who lost his life right under our noses less than 24 hours ago. Doesn’t Buhdro deserve to grow up in a country where if his life is in danger, people will do whatever it takes to help him? Because the life expectancy is lower here, does that mean his death is any less tragic? I wish there was something more we could’ve done for him – specifically me, as Alisha did everything possible. She really was a hero. She doesn’t feel like it, questioning everything she did (‘Did I pump his heart the right number of times?’) and wondering if she should have done something else. I’ve reassured her that Buhdro was probably dead when he came out of the water (we have no idea how long he was underwater, and other than the initial regurgitation – which was probably gravity induced – he never made any movement, though food and bile continued to come out of his mouth and nose as they pumped his chest). If there was any chance of him surviving it would have happened only because she was right there doing everything possible for him. She wonders why God even wanted her there that day if He wasn’t going to use her to save that little boy. I don’t have an answer for that, but I hope Buhdro can look down from heaven and see that even though he died, he had an angel standing over him, trying to help him and caring and praying for him during his last few moments here on Earth.


berrytribe said…
My heart hurts, tears on my face- For Buhdro's family and for you, my precious family.
I can just imagine the "take action" of the both of you and that in itself is a testimony to the Ugandan people. Some muzungus are there to indeed help. You showed a love for the people that they may not have seen before by muzungus. That is important. Hug each other for us. Praying for a God's peace and a healing of your hearts. Loving you--shan
Anonymous said…
I love you am praying for you guys as you work through this experience --cousin trace
Scott said…
I'm sorry you guys had to go through that. What a difficult situation that must have been for you. We're encouraged by your spiritual maturity in your response to such a tragic situation. It should cause all of us to pause and consider the value of a human life and how that spurns us on to do the things we do. Thanks so much for sharing such a difficult situation, guys. -Scott & Laura
Wendy said…
Brad and Alisha, our heart goes out to you, your boys, Buhdro and his family. Brad, you truly have a gift to convey thought in all of us. There was a reason your family was at the park that day, although you may never totally understand why. We will be praying for you. Alisha...I can't begin to imagine (as a mother) how this has affected you. I pray God will heal your heart.
Love, Jeff and Wendy
Kelly said…
I am praying for you both, and wanted to share my finding on the dictionary definition of Hero- having little to do with the results. this is not surprisingly any different than walking by faith: GOING OUT IN THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, AND LEAVING THE RESULTS TO GOD. Alisha and Brad, you are both heroes in my book, and I'm so glad your 3 little guys have been blessed with you.

HERO definition-
1. a man (or woman) of distinguished courage or ability, admired for his brave deeds and noble qualities.
2. a person who, in the opinion of others, has heroic qualities or has performed a heroic act and is regarded as a model or ideal
Traci Morrow said…
Praying for you guys. As I read this, I just felt sick to my stomach and was so worried about Lish. I know God used you exactly for what he wanted to use you for, and you were faithful with what you were given.
Who knows who was given hope that day as they watched you two care to the point of tears, blood, time, effort, and selfless love. Some little kid who watched and thought "Thats how I want to be" or your own sons seeing your faith put into action and all that goes with that.

But when all is said and done, I know God smiled on you as He brought little Buhdro into eternity with two of the more caring people He's made. :) Seriously, it wouldnt be a bad thing at all to be escorted into heaven by you two. :)

WELL DONE, GOOD AND FAITHFUL SERVANTS. :) (until you hear it from the One you really desire to hear it from) :)
Love you guys - wish I could hug you!! :)
Oh I can't even begin to express my thoughts and prayers for you and your beautiful family right now! All I can say is that I firmly believe that God placed your family at that park for a reason. Even though many times you didn't want to go you were prompted to be there and though it's hard to stomach that incident was a part of God's plan. Please entend my love and prayers for Alisha she has always been a hero in my eyes as a mother but she showed her worldy heroicness.
Even though you may not feel it, you touch many lives that day and showed God's love to those that may not understand it. You will be blessed!
Jenn Hedgepeth
Wow! I am blown away by this event.

Please give Alisha the biggest hug you can for me. And Brad, I applaud you to be so calm and understanding during this. enough to keep Alisha strong and to teach your boys all at the same time.

I know, that our God, is pleased with your response and actions today!

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