For some reason, the following story is causing serious waves in Barbados. Earlier this year a man reportedly woke up in the morgue of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital in Bridgetown after suffering an epileptic fit. The story’s making the rounds of the cybersphere, and the Bajan government seems not to take kindly to the fact at all.
OK, as far as it goes. It’s not all that unusual; apocryphal stories abound in the Bahamian canon about people who were not dead but were almost buried nevertheless. My favourite two are quite different, but nevertheless render the story curious but commonplace. The first is the story, told by the late Pandora Gibson Gomez, about the man who died in Hatchet Bay, who was put in the coffin, and walked through the streets to the graveyard. In those days coffins were simple, made out of pine, carried on people’s shoulders and Hatchet Bay is small and narrow and hilly and as the coffin was carried around a corner it bumped into the building and the man woke up, banging on the coffin and demanding to be let out. Some years later, the man died again, and the pallbearers began the trek from the home to the graveyard. As they neared the blessed corner, the man’s wife yelled out:
“Y’all be careful there now, you hear? Remember what happen last time!!”
The other was the story, true as far as I know, and relatively recent too, told by the late Kayla Lockhart-Edwards about a woman who danced the quadrille at the Smithsonian Festival of the Americas. After we returned from Washington, many of the tradition bearers we took began to die (they were in their eighties when they went, so it’s not that surprising), and we became morose but prepared for more people to pass away. This woman, though, was one of the youngsters—in her sixties rather than her eighties, but word came that she died. So Kayla phoned the family to wish them well and offer condolences. The daughter answered and said, “Thanks, Mrs Edwards, but Mummy ain’t dead no more!” Like the Bajan man, this woman had woken up in the morgue.
(Now for some unrestrained ethnocentrism): Here, we laugh. Here, these stories don’t make it into the papers (our papers are far too fixated on politicians anyway. If it happened to one of them …) Here, the survivors are little miracles in themselves; they don’t get death threats.
But it seems as though the hospital and the government in Barbados are taking what seems to be a not-uncommon occurrence around the world a little seriously:
Nation News, 11/5/2009: No kicking bucket! The bizarre story of an apparent escape from a Barbados morgue has taken another turn. Mr. Scantlebury’s claim that he was put in a drawer in a cold room appears to be substantiated by the evidence. Regrettably after his ordeal, Mr. Scantlebury says he has received threats.
Scantlebury alleges that he woke up in a dark room that was “black and cold” after suffering an epileptic seizure, but was hazy as to the exact date. He claimed he kicked until whatever he was in slid out “like a drawer”. After this, he said, he walked out of the morgue and into the night wearing only a disposable diaper and pyjama bottoms. The hospital management on Monday initially denied in a radio broadcast that Scantlebury was ever in the hospital. However, chief executive officer Dr Dexter James in a later broadcast did say that Scantlebury was treated in the Accident & Emergency Department on (Sunday) September 20, 2009 and released the next day. Prescod, who had heard her friend was dead, was shocked when he turned up at her canteen on Tuesday, September 22, looking frail and worn, wearing a diaper and pyjama bottoms.
He added that since he went public with his claims, he had received threats and endured many sleepless nights.