By Sharmain Grainger
It is said that life is 10 percent what happens to us and 90 percent how we react to it. This notion
just might be true if we are to take into consideration the hand that life dealt Stieve Rafeek, and the outcome which was indeed dependent on how he reacted. His reaction entailed him allowing himself to be entirely dependent on others, much like a child, and willing himself to not give up.
Giving up in Rafeek’s case would have meant certain death. But he simply was not prepared to die and his Creator obviously was not ready to close the chapter on the life of this now 39–year-old.
THE JOURNEY BEGINS
Although he became a family man 13 years ago, Rafeek seemed incapable of shedding an aspect of his personality that drove him to be especially daring. He recalled that since his early days he had a passion, like many young men, for speed. As such he always found himself eagerly seeking after fast cars and bikes. In fact, it was an enthralling ride on a Ducati Monster bike that would essentially slow him down and take him to the brink of the great beyond.
February 11, 2017 started much like any normal day for Rafeek, but little did he know that this would be the day that the script to his fast-paced life would change.
It was a sunny Saturday morning and Rafeek decided to take the eastern end of Regent Street to head into the heart of the city after completing some accountancy business. However, by the time he reached the vicinity of Orange Walk, Bourda, he had collided with a motor car.
The collision caused Rafeek to fly head first into the front of the car before landing violently
on to the asphalted thoroughfare. So severe was the fall that he instantly lapsed into a state of unconsciousness. The last thing Rafeek remembered before falling into a black abyss was his head slamming against something very hard.
Although he was riding fast bikes for years, this was the first time that Rafeek was involved in an accident, and the outcome wasn’t good.
He regained consciousness and instantly felt pain and the heat of the road surface, and heard someone saying “he is not dead, he is not dead; this man is moving!”
Rafeek was facedown and bleeding profusely from his face.
RUSHED TO HOSPITAL
It was public-spirited citizens who rushed him to the Georgetown Public Hospital Corporation [GPHC]. During the trip to the hospital at the back of a pick-up, Rafeek was able to give the Good Samaritans a number to contact his wife Raksha.
“When I got to the hospital, there were a lot of doctors around me and the first thing they started to do was cut off my clothes, giving me injections and saline and asking me questions about what happened to me,” Rafeek recalled.
But soon after the doctors started their work, Rafeek again slipped into a state of unconsciousness. When he revived his older brother Neil was at his bedside in the Emergency Room of the hospital. Rafeek desperately wanted to know what had happened to him and pleaded with his brother to give him details.
Although he remembered clearly that he was in an accident, he simply didn’t know the extent of his injuries. He found that as much as he wanted to, his movements were restricted. Added to this, he remembered feeling a sharp pain in his left shoulder and was convinced his shoulder was broken. The pain started to become increasingly excruciating.
At this point the doctors too did not know the extent of Rafeek’s injuries, since an x-ray had not yet been done. “My brother said ‘relax the doctors are taking care of you,’” recalled Rafeek.
The first doctor he actually recognized since reaching the hospital was a young female doctor who identified herself as Dr. Latchman. Dr. Latchman, according to Rafeek, explained that the skin from his forehead was at the back of his head and she needed to stitch him up.
“She told me she would first have to wash my skull with saline and I will feel some pain and discomfort. I actually felt her raising up the skin and washing underneath to get rid of sand and other debris there. They had given me painkillers, but I was feeling everything,” he recounted.
As the doctor prepared to mend him, Rafeek’s wife entered the Emergency Room and was understandably alarmed to see the back of his eyes exposed because of the damaged skin.
They would later learn that this was the least of the injuries Rafeek suffered that day.
An x-ray was needed to help guide the efforts of the doctors. However, even after the x-ray was done, doctors were none the wiser about Rafeek’s injuries as nothing untoward was detected. However, they did observe that his head seemed rather unstable.
Since doctors attending to him wanted to be cautious, they outfitted Rafeek with a neck brace. An eye doctor was also called in to ascertain that there was no damage to Rafeek’s eyes before he was admitted and taken to a ward.
The following day he met another doctor who identified himself as Dr. Khan [an orthopedic specialist] whose first questions to Rafeek were if he could move his feet and hands and whether he had had bowel movement and urinated. While he could have moved, he hadn’t any need for the bathroom, perhaps because he hadn’t consumed anything since being hospitalized.
After a few days of being hospitalized though, Dr. Khan asked of Rafeek if he could sit-up. But Rafeek simply hadn’t tried, because of the constant pain he was feeling. An attempt was however made to assist him.
“When they tried to pull me up, my entire body started to tremble so much, it was like I was vibrating…I started to feel a terrible pain running through my back,” Rafeek recounted. He lost feelings in his left hand and before long his feet became numb.
“I started to cry, because I realized I couldn’t feel my legs and I didn’t know what was happening and the pain in the rest of my body was getting worse,” related Rafeek.
He was required to undergo a Magnetic Resonance Imaging [MRI] scan at a private hospital, where it was detected for the first time that Rafeek’s neck was fractured.
“THIS MUST BE A MIRACLE…”
Upon his return to the GPHC, Dr. Khan was tasked with physically finding the exact location of the fracture in Rafeek’s neck. This, he explained to Rafeek, entailed drilling a hole on either side of his head in order to secure a clamp.
“I saw him there with this DeWalt drill in his hand and I really couldn’t believe it,” recalled Rafeek, who was at the time near motionless and incapable of resisting even if he wanted to. He accepted his fate.
An ever-vigilant Dr. Khan swung into action after Rafeek’s head was injected with medication to ease the pain of the required drilling process. But according to Rafeek, “I was feeling this burning sensation in my head and at one point I felt like my head was going to pop, but at the same time my left arm started hurting so bad that I wasn’t even concentrating on the drilling.”
After the clamp was secured, a string was attached to it and from behind Dr. Khan applied some tension, which meant pulling the string attached to Rafeek’s head.
“I saw him wrap the string around his hand and then he started to pull from behind and my nerves started to bite in the worst way. But then I started to feel like he was pulling the pain out of my body, I really couldn’t believe it,” Rafeek shared. But when the doctor released the tension on the string, the pain came rushing back which immediately evoked a “please pull me again doc,” appeal from Rafeek.
This, however, helped Dr. Khan to determine exactly how Rafeek’s neck was fractured, and it was nothing that he had ever seen before. In fact, he concluded that there was no way that Rafeek should have been able to move all of his body parts in the first place with such an injury. “You are a miracle,” Rafeek remembered hearing Dr. Khan mutter in amazement.
The doctor went on to explain that Rafeek’s C7 disc, or the part of his neck bone that is connected to his spine, had completely slipped and dropped. This of course explained why Rafeek’s shoulders, since arriving at the hospital, seem incapable of supporting his head.
The only explanation given for Rafeek’s surviving his neck injury was his physical make-up. Rafeek said the doctors speculated that because he had an unusually short neck, cushioned by a lot of muscle tissues, it essentially saved his neck from popping during the impact of the accident.
With the information of his injury clear, the real work to restore Rafeek started. The clamp on Rafeek’s head remained intact for about 21 days to help set his neck back into position. Two intricate surgeries were later done to complete the process which entailed bones being removed from his hips and placed into his neck, secured by titanium screws.
It took several weeks of meticulous care from very compassionate doctors and nurses to help Rafeek, not only heal, but also to build his determination to walk again, which was initially thought to be impossible.
Starting the process of recovery was not easy, especially when he had to hear of at least three other patients arriving with injuries similar to his, leaving in body bags.
“The doctors and nurses who attended to me were amazing…they were so caring, even I couldn’t believe I was at the Georgetown Public Hospital. At first I was scared to be there because I’ve heard so many stories about people going there and being ill-treated and even dying because of neglect, but the way they treated me was simply amazing. The care was good, the food was good…it was more than I could’ve expected,” related Rafeek. But hospital officials were not prepared to sing their own praises when a comment was solicited. In fact, one official who requested anonymity said “we are simply doing our job.”
Aside from the support from the medical team and his family members and friends, Rafeek said that he developed a bond with the four other patients in the hospital ward which was essentially his home for several weeks. Though all immobile, they formed for themselves a support group which was characterized by them constantly encouraging each other to get better. This was particularly helpful on the days when recovery seemed to be a distant dream.
DAYS OF PRAYERS
During his fast-paced days, Rafeek didn’t have much time for family. In fact he intimated that he rarely had time to even say a prayer for himself. But being incapacitated and dependent on others to be fed and cleaned, and pretty much do everything to get through each day, brought to Rafeek an entirely new perspective of life.
“I was literally lying on a bed, unable to do anything for myself – helpless as a baby and the only thing I could have done was get close to God,” Rafeek said.
Many prayers were said on his behalf but, according to Rafeek, during his days in hospital it was perhaps then, for the first time that “I believed that there was something far more superior than any of us.”
“I had a lot of time to think about my life; I know I wasn’t perfect, but I used to think buying the gifts and taking my kids [Stephon 13 and, Stefani 9] on vacation was how to be a good father. I was not spending quality time with my family, but most importantly I never found time for God, and it took an accident to help me realize this,” confided Rafeek.
He came to the realization that his accident might have been God’s way of changing the path of his life. He thoughtfully considered that God in his supreme way must have said on the morning of February 11, 2017, “‘Stieve, if you are not going to make time for me, I’m going to make time for us’, and that is what He did…He took me so close to the edge and ensured that these good doctors and nurses at the GPHC were there to help bring me back.”
On Wednesday, April 5, 2017, Stieve Rafeek was discharged from hospital and returned to his Diamond, East Bank Demerara home. He has also since undergone several sessions of rehabilitation therapy at the Ministry of Public Health’s Rehabilitation Services Unit situated at the Brickdam, Georgetown Palms Geriatric Home.
To many, his recovery has been astonishing, but Rafeek has accepted the entire ordeal as a needed intervention to make him a better man. Although he hasn’t yet returned to his regular accountancy job, Rafeek has been driving each day from Diamond to La Penitence Market where he operates a grocery business.
He takes time every day to appreciate all those individuals who helped him to choose the path of recovery, even as he embraces his new lease on life with much gratitude and a better understanding of the importance of having family and prayers as priorities.
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