There I was, in all my dark skinned glory, layed up in a twin sized hospital bed on the night of December 31st, 2015. I clutched my chest whenever I inhaled, the phantom pressure around my heart squeezing down on it with a vice grip. The nausea was unbearable, the cold sweats and the bouts of shivering rattled me to the core. I was blanket-less in a secure military hospital, mere walking distance from the airport in Mogadishu, Somalia.
The soldiers in charge mumbled something about security procedures as they took my phone, they took my rolex; I looked at the brother and said “damn, what’s next?” I phased in and out of sleep, being kept awake by the constant din of Ugandan soldier/nurses carrying on in swahili, along with the other patients in the emergency room making the sounds associated with battling for one’s very life.
As the clock ticked down to midnight, I awoke with a start as the soldiers decided to pop bottles and simultaneously erupt with greetings of a Happy New Year! My nigga, some of the people in this room could very well be taking their last breaths and y’all couldn’t be bothered to take all that shit outside? Unfuckinbelievable.
I did my best to get some sleep under these oppressive conditions, but try as I might, sleep remained as elusive as the promise of a clean bill of health. Just a few days earlier, I went to a Turkish EKG specialist to help me understand these chest pains, centered directly atop where my heart should have been. They had been getting progressively worse for almost two months at this point, so I was in real fear of some undiagnosed congenital heart condition.
This eerily skinny Turkish technician did little to dispel the fears running amok inside of me, because he decided to point his finger to a particular part of the printout, at which point my heart did several somersaults. This dude had the audacity to look me in the eye and tell me that “this anomaly by itself isn’t necessarily cause for concern, but when combined with your symptoms, it could be very serious.”
What a biggity bitch, why would you even tell me that? People usually seek medical attention primarily for the peace of mind associated with knowing what affliction they’re suffering from, and how it can be treated. Now, all I could do was wonder what I did wrong in my life to warrant potential open heart surgery, and that’s how the guessing games began.
Here’s what you need to know about me: this highly imaginative mind that I was born with doesn’t know when to stop playing out scenarios in endless cycles. As soon as I develop a slight cough, it goes into overdrive mode by imagining every possible medical condition associated with my symptoms. If I get sick, my mind somehow turns the benign into a self-diagnosed death sentence. A routine infection is translated into early signs of diabetes, an unexplained recurring headache is seen as a possible indication of an oncoming brain aneurysm.
So at this point, I stopped paying attention to the word’s coming out of Slim Shady’s mouth. I was swiftly transported to an alternate dimension, a sort of sensory deprivation chamber that allowed my imagination to run as wild as a pack of untamed Mustangs in the American West.
What if the source of my heart pain is actually a clogged artery due to high cholesterol, because what healthy adult man in their late 20s thinks to get their cholesterol checked? Maybe all those years of rough living and endless nights that spilled over into the next day had finally caught up with me?
Perhaps all that medication, both self-prescribed and at the hands of so-called medical professionals, had finally taken its toll on me? Or could it be that the previous 6 months of working in a highly demanding job, under extremely stressful conditions, had aged me well beyond my years?
Could it be that going to sleep every night, not sure if you would wake up the next day because your house happened to be in the line of mortar fire intended for the foreign embassy down the street, was the reason for all my newfound gray hairs? Needless to say, a nigga was rattled, to borrow a colloquial saying from my west coast upbringing.
This was the start to my 2016, a hellish year that had no shortage of nightmare situations and near death experiences. I lived in Mogadishu for almost half of this last year, working as a logistician and learning to talk my way through military “checkpoints” that were really just money making schemes for underpaid soldiers. When you haven’t seen a salary in 6 months and you have kids to feed, you’re gonna hustle the hell out of everyone who comes past your checkpoint, especially if you know that they work for a well known company in the region.
I became so used to the sound of heavy gunfire (sometimes from anti-aircraft weapons) being exchanged in the distance that, when I moved to a much safer part of Somalia, I had a difficult time adjusting to the eery lack of violence.
I found that I couldn’t even walk down the street like a normal civilian any more, because I was constantly assessing every person in my immediate vicinity as a potential threat to my life. Living in such a stressful environment temporarily robbed me of my ability to relax, forced me to be on high alert internally while simultaneously depicting a cool facade externally.
In Mogadishu, you can’t show any sign of weakness or fear as you try to make a name for yourself in the working world. I was never trained as a soldier, and I’ve never picked up a gun in my life, but the nature of that city forces you to drastically alter your fundamental makeup as a human being just to survive.
Eventually, of course, I had to get the fuck up out of there for the sake of my sanity. My paranoia was at an all time high: I was convinced someone was poisoning my food because I kept having stomach viruses so often; I couldn’t even enjoy walks on the beach anymore without having a damn anxiety attack.
I wasn’t necessarily afraid of dying, mind you; it was more like I was suffering from the negative effects of constantly calling up and rescinding my fight or flight response. The human body was never meant to produce and flood itself with adrenaline hundreds of times a day, that’s just not tenable.
Despite everything that we convince ourselves of, we’re only human at the end of the day. This journey is entirely temporary in nature and our bodies are as fragile as a whisper in the wind. They have limits. 2016 was the year of pushing my body to it’s physical, emotional and psychological limits well beyond what I believed possible. I’m glad I survived it, although I can’t say the same for a lot of famous celebrities and musicians this year. That which doesn’t kill you, right?