Tuesday, November 11, 2008

An Accidental Attitude Towards Death

I was sort of involved in a car accident the other day. I think everyone is fine, but it was an experience to say the least.

Marlon, the national director was driving his pickup, Gunther in the front seat, Raul (assistant director) and I in the back. We had just finished a meeting with the architect and were a little bit into the two hour drive back to San Jorge, heading down the highway.

Raul and I were chatting when Marlon slammed on the brakes.

I saw someone in front of the truck.

I literally thought to myself "You know what? I don't need to see this. Plenty of people will see this. I do not need to see this today and then repeatedly in my mind over who knows how long."

I closed my eyes.

We stopped.

I opened them again and no one was there.

Marlon and Gunther got out of the truck and attended to the man now laying on the road in front of us. Raul and I stayed in the back and called the police and the Red Cross for an ambulance (two separate phone calls).

The taxi that had been next to us stopped until cars behind us started honking and people started yelling about 10 seconds later.

A crowd gathered, dispersed and gathered again as people came and went when they realized there was nothing much to see.

Because there actually wasn't much to see.

A man, incredibly drunk, had somehow managed to ride his bicycle long enough to arrive directly in front of us. He'd come up on the hood of the truck, hit the windshield, then slid back off landing several feet in front of us.

There was no blood.

The ambulance refused to take him since he was so inebriated and didn't appear to have any injuries.

The cops loaded him into their little car and we all met at the police station where Marlon and Gunther gave their statements. Marlon's car was impounded, but immediately released. The man threw up all over the floor.

The lady who was called to clean didn't look thrilled, but she did look very practiced.

We got in the pickup and rode home.

I've been here long enough, I can now see what they see. In the beginning, it would have been difficult to understand, but now I get it.

Vomit due to concussion or other head injury? Internal bleeding or other non-apparent wounds?

These issues simply do not occur to the majority of people. Those on the street are not highly educated. Those in the ambulance probably see too many of these situations with much worse results to think much of this one.

If a man who is regularly drunk dies a few days after a car accident, there is no finely performed autopsy to find the cause of death. Cause of death - alcoholism. It is a common cause of death here.

Yelling at someone to move their car because it's in your way even though they're right next to someone who has just been hit by a car? Well, you've got things to do, maybe they're stopped for nothing (because people do that here) and it's not like you won't be careful as you maneuver your car right past the man who has just been hit and is now lying in the road.

What I first saw was an indifference to potential death and when a major accident or death is in front of me, it bothers me. But death in the US happens too, it just generally happens in hospitals and nursing homes, not in front of everyone.

Death from a cause other than old age is also more common here. Infant mortality is almost 26 in every 1000 live births, as opposed to the US where it is 6.3 (still shockingly high for a developed country).

Young men (15-64 years) die at a higher rate than those in the US.

Life expectancy in Nicaragua is about 8 years less than in the US.

There is one more factor that is extremely important. Because of my faith in God, we are all members of a family. That's right. The whole world. That's one reason why I'm here in Nicaragua.

So when a member of this family dies, that bothers me.

The average joe sixpack Nicaraguan, like the average joe sixpack American is a little more select. His family is smaller than mine, mostly consisting of those who are his family, or friends, or religion or nationality.

So similar to Americans who haven't been upset nearly as much as Iraqi's about casualties of innocents in Iraq because of a lack of commonalities, or even domestic homicides within the US, Nicaraguans aren't cold when they don't react to deaths of others. They're just normal.

So what I first saw as a casual, unfeeling response towards potential death was in fact Nicaragua simply not having the resources to support a medical system to whisk the problem away from my eyes.

If anything, studies have shown that it is Latin Americans who feel that Anglo Americans have a lack of emotional response to topics of death.

I suppose being Anglo American and having analyzed this to the extent that you've read (if you've made it this far) without weeping or showing very much emotion at all, I may very well fall into that category.

1 comment:

Laura-Jane - Whimfield said...

That is a crazy story. And I wasn't expecting to see a visual at the end of it! Sometimes it takes those instances of close calls to make one ponder these questions...