Hajj doctor Salim Parker pens his latest hajj story. Read more at hajjdoctor.co.za
‘What would you do if you get lost during Hajj?’ she asked her father. This conversation took place before he and her mother were to depart for Hajj. The couple were supposed to have performed the most important journey in the life of a Muslim the year before but his wife had a major medical problem literally weeks before they had to undertake the journey and had to postpone it.
She recovered remarkably well and, with the blessings of their Creator and a remarkably will and steely determination, they were fully prepared for the journey the second time around. The daughter the rest of the family were very aware of his love for making Duaa. When it was one of his children’s or grandchildren’s birthdays, he would gift them a prayer. A special present would be two prayers.
‘Dad, what are you going to do if you get lost during Hajj?’ she probably asked again. He replied that he would sit down somewhere and make Duaa. I did not know this and might have reacted very differently when I first met him.
Every Hajj group tries to orientate their Hujjaaj a few days before Hajj as to where all the different camps on Mina and Arafat are in relation to their current accommodation. It is reiterated to all that the crowds are vast, that vehicle transport may at times be difficult, and at other times impossible. It is emphasised to everyone to always keep their identification tags on them at all times. My group had two camps on Mina.
The first group were taken on an excursion to the camp after Fajr two days before Hajj commenced in order for them to familiarise them with the route from their base accommodation in Azizyah just outside Makkah and very close to Mina itself. Landmarks were pointed out and this could be used as a guide if pilgrims were lost. This first group set off very excitedly and, a few hours later, returned with markedly decreased levels of energy and with the harsh reality of the physical demands of the short walk having shaken them out of their romantic notions of undertaking the walking Hajj.
Hajj was in the heart of summer and the temperature was hovering in the high forties. It was humid and unpleasant. The first group realised that, even though there were no crowds, no traffic with its claustrophobically noxious emissions, and no army personnel forcing them to take detours that would add kilometres to their journey under the unforgivingly blazing sun, this short walk would drain them significantly.
Many who initially decided to walk realised that they would be much better off taking the provided transport. Yes they would probably be stuck in heavy traffic along some parts of their journey but at least they would be seated in air-conditioned comfort. They may even, at some stage, decide to get off their conveyance but at least would have some inkling as to their whereabouts and where to walk to.
The second group walked in the late afternoon when the temperature was supposed to be bearable after the afternoon zenith. Of course the reference to the heat is all relative. Bearable in relation to a furnace or hot oven would be an apt description.
A few hours earlier, capsules that I was carrying from hotel to another, melted a mere two minutes into my journey. I accompanied this second group from our hotel in Azizyah and we all ensured that we had adequate protection against the sun and enough hydrating fluids. We were all sweating before we even got to the main road. That road was only reached after climbing a number of steps. It then inclined significantly to lead to a tunnel through which we would reach Mina. The group leaders were spread from the front to the back of the increasingly lengthening line as the disparity in the levels of fitness and endurance ability of the walkers became increasingly evident.
I drifted up and down this group until we reached the tunnel which had a cooling system in it, a welcome reprieve from the oppressive heat despite the deafening noise of the turbines that rushed on the cooling air. Even though we were walking up an incline, the pace quickened, except for those lagging at the back.
This led to an even greater distance between the leaders and those bringing up the rear. I had already exited the tunnel when someone rushed up to me. ‘Please come look at this gentleman,’ he worriedly requested. I obliged and ran to a back to where a small group were surrounding a clearly unwell man. He was sweating profusely, unlike the rest of us in the tunnel with its cooling gusts. ‘He is not speaking,’ someone said. ‘I think he is having a stroke,’ someone else volunteered. The gentleman was not responding to any questions and sat on a low wall. He seemed to glance into the distance and seemed oblivious of his surroundings. I had a good idea of what was wrong with him.
I advised the others to join the rest of the group. We were very close to the end of the tunnel and right outside it was one of the best equipped hospitals that I have ever come across. A good friend of mine was working in the hospital at that very moment and it would have been easy for me to have him seen to if it was needed. I did a basic examination and found his power and strength to be normal. He was now following basic instructions such as lifting up his hands. A few minutes later he verbally confirmed his identity, which we have already established by as he was wearing a wrist band and two cards attached to a lanyard stating it. After another ten minutes he could easily communicate and could give me a full breakdown of all his medical conditions, even though it was in response to direct questions only.
He admitted to being an epileptic and indicated that he did not have any attacks for a few years. I explained that the stress of the walk probably precipitated this attack, even though he took his medication regularly. He refused admission to hospital and the two of us started to slowly walk back to his hotel. It was a downhill walk and he was responding more easily by now. He agreed not to walk during the days of Hajj. If it was forced on him to walk, such as when a bus broke down, he was stay with his group and proceed slowly. ‘Your health is important on this journey, and there is no rush for any of our rituals,’ I implored. I advised him to seek help as soon as he felt unwell. He could anticipate an attack and this is when he should indicate to someone that he was not feeling well. We reached his hotel after about thirty minutes and I examined him in more detail and then we parted ways.
That was my first and last encounter with him. I was not aware that he told his daughter that he’ll simply sit down somewhere and make Duaa if he were to get lost. In retrospect, when he felt unwell, he would have done the exactly the same thing, as in this instance. When on Hajj, millions are walking, sitting or sleeping everywhere. No one is going to ask anyone sitting somewhere whether they were feeling fine and if they needed help. It is only when someone collapses or has an evident problem that they would approach such a person. There are plenty of volunteers and officials who would help- if they were asked. Sadly, I did not know about his background. Could I have prevented what followed a few days later?
This story will continue in the next edition.