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Unknown African Male

Updated: Jun 1, 2020

It was the twenty seventh of December, 2008. We arrived at the main reception of the hospital tired, anxious and out of breath. We had barely slept for the past three nights as our son had mysteriously disappeared - causing us to search fervently for him. First stop — main reception.

‘Good afternoon,’ I began, ‘our son has been missing since the twenty fourth of December and we wanted to enquire if he had been brought here. He is a young gentleman, twenty one years old, about 5’8", dark, lean…’

‘His phone was traced to Haile Selassie avenue which was the last time it was on. We figured if something had happened to him, maybe he would have been brought here.’ His dad interrupted.

The gentleman at the reception looked worn down - even if it was just the middle of the day. There were like five other people talking to him at the same time. He seemed overwhelmed by all the requests. Eventually he got to us after what seemed like an eternity.

‘What is his name?’

‘*Don.’ We all said in unison. I was with my husband and my sister in law.

The records clerk perused through this mammoth book focusing on the patients that had been brought in on that day. I watched as his fingers moved quickly up and down on that page. I prayed for Don’s name to appear there; it felt like he was scanning through the book of life.

‘Sorry. There is no one by that name. However we have an unknown african male who was brought in on that day after a road traffic accident on that road. He is in ICU. You can check there.’

We sprinted there, glad to have finally found him but apprehensive about his state. Fortunately or unfortunately, he was not there. Had never been. There was no one there that fit his description. We went back to the overwhelmed records clerk; who then referred us to another desk right across the room.

‘Go check with that gentleman. He has the records of the people who were brought in but did not survive.’

Our momentum suddenly slowed. We took so long to reach that desk we might as well have been walking backwards. We got to his counter and found he had a large, hard-cover book written RIP boldly in red. I explained what we needed and he methodically went through his records. This clerk was slow. He moved across the wide page leisurely as if he was trying to reap meaning from the process.

‘No, not here. Go back to that counter.’

I sighed in relief. I would have rather queued ten times to check the book of life than experience another moment with the RIP book.

The clerk did not look happy to see us- a third time. We implored him to check again and this time he scrutinized the names one by one.

‘Angalia 5th floor. Ni kama “unknowns” walikuwa wengi hiyo siku.’ He switched to the local language.

I did not know how much more of this I could take. It had been five days since I last saw him. He had received an order to deliver some chicken to a customer. That was his new thing- poultry farming- and he loved it. We had been worried about him for a minute there. He had become indecisive about what he wanted to dowith himself, after completing his A levels. During this hiatus he had fallen into and out of bad company, into and out of alcoholism and had now settled after giving his life to Christ.

The evening after the delivery, he did not come home. He had mentioned that he was going to see some friends and we assumed that he was with them. But he didn’t call and attempts to reach him were futile. His phone was off. It was unsettling. Unknown to us, as he was waiting for a vehicle by the side of the road, he was hit on the back of his head by a matatu and he lost consciousness. A well wisher took his phone to call the last dialled number but before he could, it was confiscated by a policeman who proceeded to switch it off. He and the matatu driver then took him to the hospital and left him there- he was dubbed an unknown african male.

As he fell in and out of consciousness- we were told- he would call out my name or that of his dad. He tried to fight to leave this unfamiliar, cold place but was unable. His limbs refused to obey the instructions his brain gave them. Consequently because of his aggression, his legs were tied to the bed. We found him in that state on the 5th floor in one of the surgical wards. He was in a bed by the corner of the room- unresponsive,cold and stark naked; covered only by a blue bedcover. ‘Mom is finally here Don. We are here’. He was so badly off he could only respond by pressing our hands. I remember the distinctive smell of that ward. Cabbages. It smelled of cabbages, blood, urine and faeces.

The nurse at the front desk informed us, he needed an ICU bed but there was none. They were all occupied. A few hours later, after walking back and forth, a bed freed up in the acute room at the ER. Since there was a go slow at the hospital, we had to wheel him there ourselves. I remember pushing this heavy,metallic rusted bed through the corridors as the wheels made a squeaking sound. He shook as we moved, maybe because we were moving too fast. As we pushed it, I looked at my boy lying there helpless- an unknown african male. We got to the ICU pretty quick. I must have watched too many movies because I expected a welcoming team of doctors in blue scrubs to usher us in. We might as well have been part of the furniture. They allowed us in and asked us to transfer him to the bed. I remembered the little I had been taught about carrying critically ill patients. “Always support the spine.” So I stood by his head and carried him. It was then that I noticed a huge swelling at the back of his head.

I asked the doctor about it and heard him ask the accompanying nurse whether a CT scan had been done.

‘Not yet doc.’

‘It’s been four days surely. Was it not requested?’

‘It was but the go slow….’

I heard them speak about Don as I stood there in limbo as if they were discussing someone I didn’t know. An unknown african male. They quickly attached him to a ventilator machine, cleaned him and dressed him. They promised to run all the required tests. Confident that he was in good hands, we left and agreed that we would be back by 7 am the following morning.

28/12: 6:00 am

I woke up with a hymn on my lips- I surrender all to Jesus. We got ready and headed to the hospital. When we arrived at the parking lot, I couldn’t get out of the car. For some reason my feet were lead. Everytime I tried to step out, I felt like I couldn’t move. Something was not right. We had found him. He was in good hands. Why was I hesitant to go check on him? After a while I went in. My son was not in his bed.

I grabbed the nearest nurse by her scrub top.

‘Where is my son? I left him on that bed.’ My voice was shaking.

She was taken aback by my aggression. She pushed me away.

‘Go ask that doctor.’ He was not the same one we had left the previous day. She pointed to a middle aged gentleman in a white coat. He was attending to an unconscious patient hooked to one of those loud machines.

I walked towards him slowly, my heartbeat drowned by the sound of the beeping machines. I looked around at the depressing moribund state of the patients that lay in that ICU.

‘Excuse me doc, where is my patient? He was on that bed.’ I pointed at the bed that was now occupied by a strange face.

‘Kindly wait outside, I will attend to you.’

We lingered outside for about forty five minutes. Then I lost it. I couldn’t take it anymore - I went back in.

‘TELL ME NOW.’ I shouted at the doctor. ‘He is dead isn’t he? Just tell me instead of keeping us waiting. I know my Don is gone.’

‘You are right.’

In that moment, I felt it. A burning pain that started to bubble in my lower abdomen. I tried to contain it but I couldn’t. It rose inside me gathering momentum as it moved. As it rose, it called for reinforcement from my other organs-mostly my heart. When it came out, it was unmistakably the sound of a mother who had lost a child.

‘Where is he?’ I screamed.

‘In the morgue.’

‘What time did he die?’

‘Just after the CT scan at 2 am. He had a subdural hematoma. We tried to get theatre space to take him in to drain it, but theatre was backed up and eventually he succumbed.’

‘But why didn’t you call us?’ I asked in agony.

He responded but I didn’t hear a thing. All I could think of was how in five days I had left no stone unturned, looking for my son- yet all the while he was slowly dying, alone in this hospital. For five days while I did not lack for food or shelter my Don was an unknown african male- unclothed and unfed. For five days he moved from levels of consciousness to being unresponsive. Just another unknown african male. For five days he was tied to a bed, naked and in pain- an unknown african male. I wondered, was he neglected because he had no name?

You can accomplish a lot in five days. Study a short course and get certified, read a book from cover to cover, solve the rubik’s cube, learn basic skills of martial arts, master a song on a musical instrument, heck even become vegan if you wish. That is the amount of time my son Don, had spent in this hospital plagued by a series of unfortunate events. In five days I had lost my son.

A postmortem later revealed what was seen on the CT scan. A large subdural hematoma. He had no other injuries.

It’s been twelve years now. The wound may have healed, but the scar remains. The order of things was reversed- that a child should die before his parents; and in such a deplorable state. I had so many what if’s then. They are less now. You may ask, what is my happy ending?

Well, I have been there for mothers who have lost their children and they say when they see me,they have hope that they too will survive. I am not surviving though, I am living, loving and longing for the day we will meet again.

‘As narrated to me by Mama Don.


A subdural hematoma is a collection of blood under the tough outer covering of the brain, called the “dura”. An injury to the head causes most subdural hematomas. The most common causes of these injuries include: A car crash, a fall or a physical attack. There are 2 main types of subdural hematomas:

●Acute — This type happens in the first hours after a head injury. If the bleeding continues, the subdural hematoma can keep growing, days after the injury.

●Chronic — This type happens most often in older people whose brains have shrunk slightly due to age. In these people, a mild head injury causes bleeding on the brain’s surface. The injury can be so mild that the person doesn’t even notice it. The hematoma grows slowly, over several days or weeks.

Some people pass out after getting a serious head injury and a large, acute subdural hematoma. Other times, the symptoms appear later and can include:Headache, vomiting, weakness, numbness, trouble walking, slurred speech or being unable to speak, acting less than normal, confusion, sleepiness and seizures.

Tests include: MRI or CT scan that take pictures of your brain. They show the subdural hematoma and how big it is.

The treatment depends on the size of the hematoma and your symptoms. You might need surgery to drain the hematoma and relieve the pressure on your brain.

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