Life as a doctor

2008-05-28 00:00

Rosamund Kendal, Durban-based doctor and author of Karma Suture, launched her debut novel at the Midlands Mall’s Exclusive Books last week and JANET VAN EERDEN spoke to her.

Karma Suture, a believable and compelling read, deals with the adventures of a young doctor, Sue Carey, who works as an intern in state hospitals in Cape Town. Sue seldom has time to eat a decent meal and often works double shifts. She faces an endless stream of patients, some of them drunk and abusive and many of them beyond her help. Her main concern, though, is that she is not giving those closest to her what they really need.

Speaking to Kendal after the launch I asked her how much Sue Carey’s experiences echoed her own.

“Sue Carey is quite different to me, probably far more lively and interesting,” she answers. “The medical experiences that she has, though, are based on my own. I write, very often, as a therapeutic process and this novel was my way of dealing with the rather emotionally harrowing experiences that I had had as an intern and a community service doctor. There is some of me in Sue, but I think the disguise is rather well-padded.”

Halfway through the novel, Sue Carey becomes very disillusioned with humanity and goes to philosophy classes to find some meaning in life. Kendal says that at one stage she was very disillusioned with humanity too.

“I think that it would be difficult to work in a government hospital, under the pressures that exist within the state medical system, and not be,” she explains. “There is a lot of money in the State healthcare system, more than ever previously, and South Africa actually spends a larger percentage of its GDP on health than the U.K. according to the 2000 World Health Report. So somewhere, something is going wrong. The situation in most state hospitals is dire. The biggest pressures are a lack of funds, or rather, a mismanagement of funds, and a shortage of staff.”

Kendal did not become completely disillusioned by the medical system, however. “Like Sue, I think that I came to realise that the good is there, although it is not always as glaringly obvious as the bad,” she says. “Now I find that I have at least one patient a day who inspires me in some way.”

Practising half-day in a busy family practice in Umhlanga and having a 10-month old baby as well leaves Kendal with little time to write her next novel. She says that Karma Suture was written before her son Matthew was born, as part of her masters in creative writing at the University of Cape Town. Kendal sees writing as an integral part of her life.

“I wrote a short story in standard three,” Kendal says. “And I decided then that I wanted to become an author. Likewise, I could never leave medicine. I really, really enjoy my job.”

• Karma Suture by Rosamund Kendal is published by Jacana and is on the Exclusive Books 2008 Homebru list.

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