Five years on ? His mercies never fail!
By Tsatsu Tsikata
Five years ago, on June 18, 2008, a judge, without any advance indication that she was going to deliver judgement, pronounced a sentence of five years imprisonment on me. I was taken that afternoon to the Nsawam Medium Security Prison to begin serving my sentence. Within five months of that day, however, I was out of prison and alive in circumstances that were nothing short of a miracle. I continue to thank God for that miracle.
The night of November 15, 2008, after the doors of the cell which I shared with 10 others had been locked, I had an asthmatic attack, probably the worst in my life ?I have been asthmatic from about age four. I could hardly breathe.
In that state it was not possible to lie down to sleep. I sat on a chair by my bed, breaking out into a sweat. The cell leader, Yaw, and one other cellmate, noticed there was something wrong. Each wanted to help. Could they fan me, for instance, seeing me sweating? Could they help in any way? I told them I would be okay. I was conscious that my condition would rather be worsened by any whipping up of alarm and anxiety around me. Only the grace of God kept me through those hours of the night of Saturday, November 15, 2008.
From the onset of the attack, around 10 p.m., there loomed before me the almost eight hours before the cell doors would be opened, before I could even expect to receive any medical help! The early hours were my regular times of prayer in prison,? very quiet times, indeed, through which I gained a precise understanding of the expression, ?watches of the night?. As I prayed through the watches of that night, I was certain God would see me through till morning.
Prior to the asthmatic attack, I had been casting my mind over a praise vigil which I knew was taking place at our church, organised by my wife, Esther. Every month, since June 18, 2008, she organised such a praise vigil to bring together family and friends to praise God.
At the praise vigil that day,? November 15,? 2008, as I later learnt, there had been in the air a particular sense of urgency as well as confidence in God?s power.
The passage that Rt. Reverend Paul Adu used for the exhortation that evening was in Acts of the Apostles, Chapter 16, from verse 23, where Paul and Silas were thrown into prison and were miraculously released.
Fervent prayers were offered, particularly by Reverend Adu and Pastor Albert Asante (?man on the sax?) for the prison gates to be flung open for my release, just as it happened with Paul and Silas. So, indeed, it happened!? While for Paul and Silas it was an earthquake that loosened their chains and flung the prison gates open, in my case it was my ?body quake?, as Esther aptly called it, which God used to bring me out of prison.
As soon as our cell doors were opened at around 5.30 a.m. Yaw, the cell leader, went out to report to the prison authorities about my condition. Soon, a medical assistant came to see me in the cell. On hearing me say I had to be taken to hospital, he remarked that it was a Sunday and that there was not likely to be help available at the hospital. I emphasised the need for me to be taken to hospital. Soon after the medical assistant left, word came back that I would be taken to hospital.
The Director at the Prison had decided that he would have me taken to the hospital. Without seeking any authorisation from his superiors, he had me conveyed in his official vehicle to the Nsawam Hospital ?not far from the prison gates. By the time I got to the hospital I could not even walk from the entrance to the ward. A wheelchair had to be brought to my aid.
The doctor at the hospital tried his best to stabilise my condition but it was soon clear the situation was beyond the capabilities of that hospital -even the oxygen tank that was wheeled to my side was short of oxygen! There was also no ambulance, either at the hospital or at the prison, to move me to a hospital in Accra.
By this time, Esther arrived at the hospital. Sundays were not visiting days at the prison but she would still come on Sundays, as she did every day during my imprisonment, to bring me home-cooked food. I would only be allowed on Sundays to go to the prison gate briefly to see her and receive the food.
On November 16, 2008, when she arrived at the gate, it did not take her long to sense that something was amiss. Upon learning that I was at the hospital she rushed there to find me on a hospital bed unable even to speak with her. Her arrival was timely as she now set about working with the hospital authorities to get an ambulance and arranging for the hospital in Accra where I would be sent.
An ambulance eventually came, from Koforidua, and it had oxygen in it!? I was moved to the 37 Military Hospital, first receiving attention in the emergency room and, then, in the Intensive Care Unit. Some time late afternoon, the doctor there decided that I had to be moved to the Intensive Care Unit at the Cardio-thoracic Centre of the Korle Bu Teaching hospital as there were more facilities there to take care of any eventuality.