Please Return After Your Funeral
On Tuesday last week at exactly 14:15 I was sitting next to my son at the magnificent Inkosi Albert Luthuli Central Hospital, surrounded by a crowd of almost a hundred people and trying not to draw my breath too often. I was failing dismally on the attempts to breathe less, especially considering I had been sitting there for precisely 147 minutes – and my breath was my saving grace. I had not been counting the minutes. That was the brilliant mathematics of the Indian Uncle seated to my right. See the Uncle made sure to update me of just how much time “we” had spent at this pharmacy waiting for our names to be called out through the loud speaker to collect our medication as prescribed. Sadly the very time-savvy Uncle here was the reason I wished to no longer feed from the surrounding air. I swear the air turned green every time he opened his mouth! I couldn’t decide whether he had swallowed venom and downed it with urine or his mouth was the final destination for Durban Solid Waste! Whatever it was, the man had not found his toothbrush since 1987…
The Uncle’s bad breath was however the least of my problems. I was visiting a hospital for the seventh time in six weeks. I was in pain and I wouldn’t deny any suggestion that I looked like shit! I think the third voice in my head was at this point repeatedly reminding me that “Call Desmond Dube dude, you need funeral cover!” and I couldn’t silence it. I was nowhere near death though, not on this day. I had in fact just recovered from a strenuous three weeks of hard suffering. There had been times when I would really consider that perhaps I should write a note instructing my mother to not allow my Ex to speak at my funeral – the bugger stutters incurably, he’d drag the procession till 3pm trying to say a simple farewell! Honestly though, it wasn’t that bad anymore. The only thing that amplified my pains and suffering was that I was being treated in a public health facility, yes - a state hospital!
I found myself in a state hospital because my pretty fancy ass doesn’t have medical aid anymore. See, state hospitals are set up in a way that when you are a Metropolitan English Twanging Educat like myself, you do not even feel the slightest inclination to “check in” and let known to your social network community that you were at Ngwelezane Hospital. No. And you can forget about taking photos; not only is there no good lighting, but there is no way you can avoid a semi-naked near death person covered in six stained sheets and all four of his weeping aunts photo-bombing your #CutenessAndSickness #EmergencyMedicine #DoctorsEverywhere moment. You just can’t! Even the white people who demand special treatment and expedition from the overworked medical staff are a strange encounter. Not quite the type you would ask for land.
My first visit was at the beginning of the month of June. I had been rushed to the Casualty department after I had convinced a very reluctant friend that if I spend one more hour at home, I’d be a very angry ancestor by the break of dawn. It was my kidneys again, a recurrent saga that’s always threatened to have me dead every March, June, August and almost all Decembers in the past few years. I have tried on various occasions to describe in word form, the extent of agony I go through. This time around, I would equate the pain to being dumped by your woman after you have paid R100 000 to her other boyfriend who posed as her uncle – kuvele kube buhlungu ngisho nobuso nje, ungakwazi nokukhuluma! So you can imagine how I had “rightfully” expected to receive emergency rescue and maybe a stick sweet and a hug.
Of course I was wrong, because ER is reserved for TV! Real life doctors will only see you after you have been violated, disrespected, discredited, scolded and distressed by a gum chewing nurse with curly hair and disco make-up. I was not spared the humiliation and discern by the nightingales either, what with my brilliant track record as a distinguished shit-magnet! By the time I saw a somewhat nervous Intern Doctor - my GPS lost signal somewhere in the Gulf of Tonkin when I tried to locate the origins of her English accent – I had refused to wash the communal urine pan without gloves, provide a urine sample whereas no tissue paper was provided or sit on a soiled chair. I had managed to upset my calm so much that even my pain was numbed by anger and all I wanted was to return home. By 01:00, I was informed that I have to be back at the hospital before 07:00 to consult a Urologist. Fortunately, by that time I was too exhausted to swear, I was just defeated.
That is how I found myself returning to that dreaded hall of impending death again, and again, and again, and again… I endured every possible torture, everything, including MakaBoh. That is, unfortunately a living being that the angels of Satan placed in a seat right next to me at the Urology Clinic one day. The ‘Boh’ portion in her title is reference to her unruly spawn. A midget with a sense of entitlement and a temper. I will not discuss his nappie and all that stuff. But, I would have liked to go into detail about how the kid looked like the mother must have indulged all her cravings for chillies, glycerine and an aloe salad – but I don’t like trolling babies. MakaBoh had enough confidence in her little prince to hand him a “Danone” (Black mothers, stop it already!) with a polite instruction not to spill. Now, I was wearing good cashmere and leather, so I started folding my legs and literally shrunk myself into a ball of beauty to increase the distance between me, the yoghurt and the little monster. Just as I release all my facial muscles from a disapproving frown; Boh swung his yoghurt all over the place. I was not spared! I was about to exorcise the little devil with a cold smack and thirty seconds of rattling when the ever so awesome third voice in my head reminded me “Bitch no! You are broke. Bail is expensive. Pull yourself towards yourself and breathe…” That is the very moment MakaBoh moved her Boh about two seats further – to clean seats – and whipped out tennis biscuits and juice. The trail of their snacking fest was left on four seats, causing me to not be able to move with the queue as it was shuffling forward. This invited the scorn of the nurses as expected. Queue marshalling is one activity they take seriously there. They can run out of medication, forget to answer the phone, bunk work at twelve, but, they can never allow a vacant seat between patients when the queue is moving! But MakaBoh was not intent on cleaning her child’s mess and was not about to sit on no yoghurt and crumbs. And nurses know their job descriptions off by heart and wiping chairs does not appear anywhere on that list. So voices were raised and luckily I was next in to consult…
After accidentally sitting on urine, waiting to do an X-ray for over an hour, and falling asleep another hour while waiting for an Ultra-sound, I was finally referred to book a CT scan. By this time I’d walked so much I was calling my friend telling her I think I am going to die! I was drained. I had spent more than five hours trying to hold it together. I was in pain. I was hopeless and I was missing Discovery Health. Then, I was told to return on the 28th of August for a scan, that is if by then the machine is fixed and serviceable. Right in front of me, was the dismantled machine, with two technicians hammering away at it. I knew I would not make it till the end of August. Not in the state I was in. I doubted I could make it to the gate… “28 Ogasti?” I ask. “Yebo, njengoba uwubona nje, ufile…” she says. “Ngizobe sengifile ngempela ngo 28 Ogasti! Ogasti?” I carped.
I had really thought the lady was saying it is I who is/would be dead. I was so confused and disappointed, I could not hear well. Where I was standing, the 28th was indeed an invitation to return after my funeral because I couldn’t possibly have survived that long without diagnosis and treatment.
Last week Tuesday, when I sat at the pharmacy, tears welled up in my eyes with every passing minute. I was too strong to cry in front of my son and just too sick to hold back tears. I had just realised that my reality is in fact that it takes two hours for your name to be called when you have a prescription and sometimes three months to get a scan, and some people do not live to see their next appointment.