Ten years after a motorcycle accident left Triston Griffith fighting for his life, he now walks the wards of the Georgetown Public Hospital hoping that he can repay the numerous chances he has been given by saving lives.
The newly-minted doctor is one of the 380 students to graduate from the Faculty of Health Sciences this year. Though Griffith, 27, has always been passionate about psychology, his desire to remain in Guyana has led him to clinical studies. He related to Sunday Stabroek News that at 18 he was advised by psychiatrist Dr Bhiro Harry to consider studying medicine. Harry told him the realities of Guyana might mean that psychology could not give him the quality of life he wished but “a man will always need somebody to look after his wound.”
Today, Griffith studies medicine as a means to an end. “I have always been interested in people and how they think, why they do what they do,” he said, while explaining that he became a medical doctor on his path to psychological studies: with a medical degree it is now more likely he’ll be a psychiatrist.
He also noted that his own experience as a patient has been invaluable to his practice of medicine. Having survived not just the motorcycle accident but another vehicular accident in 2015, Griffith is convinced there is a purpose to his life.
“I have been a patient, so I know the frustrations. I’ve been in the patient’s shoes and I understand it… but now I’m on the other side and I understand that too. There is a lot going on that a patient does not see,” he stressed.
With his prominent facial scars, it is clear that Griffith has been through a few things in life.
At 16, Griffith sought to escape Christmas cleaning by visiting friends but ended up with head injuries and the inability to ever eat KFC chicken or walnuts again. “I had just turned 16. It was Christmas time and I was preparing to write CXC. Mommy was cleaning and I didn’t want to clean, so I went to a friend’s house. We were eating KFC and walnuts and I haven’t eaten those two things since. One of my friends had just gotten a motorbike and I had ridden it two days before. I took a ride around the block and was coming in to park,” he recounted.
Beyond this, he does not remember what happened; everything that he knows about this time has been told to him by his friends, his mother and the nurses who treated him. Griffith has been told that instead of slowing down the dirt bike, he sped up and crashed head first into a concrete wall.
“I know I suffered an epidural hematoma (bleeding between the tough outer membrane covering the brain and the skull) which has a wax and wane period and I had to have a craniotomy,” he related.
He also shared how the doctor who performed his surgery was dismissed by the Guyana Medical Council because of the high mortality rate of his patients. “For a lot of medical practitioners, I’m the only patient of [his] who is known to have survived surgery,” he said.
One week later, he was back at school, Queen’s College, preparing for examinations. At this point, the concerned teaching staff asked that he take a year off.
“They felt that because I had had a head injury, I should not be stressed with an examination so soon but I saw no reason to pause,” he explained. Instead, the self-described “smart boy” managed to secure Grade I and II passes in all of his subjects, with the exception of French, for which he was awarded a Grade III.
“I’ve never had to really study before medical school. I went to Starter’s Nursery, St Margaret’s Primary and Queen’s College… I [also] did one year of biology before moving on to medical school and I found all of it to be relatively easy,” Griffith noted.
Medical school, however, taught him that discipline more than “smarts” is what he needed in his life.
“In medicine, you don’t need to be the smartest; you have to be the most disciplined,” he explained.
This is a lesson that was driven home to him when he had a second serious accident.
Speaking of the accident, he laughing revealed that though he had rounds that morning, he went to a late showing of Star Wars at the Giftland Mall and ended up following a junkie through a cemetery at 3 am.
“It was a long movie and it finished late. I was just
concentrating on getting home and getting ready for rounds. I had surgical. It had rained and the drains had been cleaned. You know the trucks does be fetching the goop and it falling all over the road but nobody looking back to remove it. The goop on the road, and the rain fall. I don’t know what happen, the jeep skid and tumble two or three times. Like around the second tumble, I had a moment of clarity in which I thought I can’t believe this happen again: I dead,” Griffith said.
In recounting the events which follow, Griffith is at times overcome by laughter. Hindsight, he said, has made him understand just how funny it is; it has also made him understand just how lucky he is.
“I ended up in the trench around Bel Air where all the lillies usually are but they just clean it so it nice and clear… so I in the jeep in the water up to my chest and I can’t swim,” he said, before describing his climb out the window and then a hop, jump, skip to the bank, which led to a cemetery.
It was 3 am and the only person on the road was an indigent, a junkie, who was willing to be Good Samaritan.
“The man jump in the water looking to see if anybody was in the jeep. I call out and tell he I on the bank and can’t swim. He walked around ’til by Sheriff Street and came through a crack, telling me to follow him. So, there I am walking through the burial ground at 3 something in the morning and I said to myself, ‘Triston, God ain’t ready for you to die, so you better use this time… stay home and study,” he laughed.
The vehicle was destroyed but Griffith walked away with a minor injury. A tiny fragment of the windscreen had pierced his skin; the wound was superficial and healed quickly. It, however, left him with another scar or, as he sees it now, another story to tell.
Despite all of this, Griffith related that for him his greatest achievement is not surviving but his feeling that he has made his mother happy and proud.
“My mother has supported me alone on a teacher’s salary. She bought the vehicle which crashed in 2015 and the one I drive now. She has built a house and built for me a life greater than the one she dreamed for herself and this is why I intend to stay in Guyana. I watched my mother prosper on a tiny salary, so I know I can do it. All it takes is discipline and contentment,” Griffith said.