When it was raining there were no trips to the hospital for the old folks, but it never ever rained on hospital days (which fell around month-end when much-needed tablet supplies had to be replenished), most of those days were blazing hot, as hot as hell. It seemed like the trips were mostly for the old but there were enough times when I was yanked from my childhood games and forced to tag along, the experience was as unpleasant as you’d think it was, if not worse, but a boy dragging his small feet slowly behind his mother is a fairly contented fellow if he is anything, a perfect time for drawing pictures in his mind.
My mother had her rituals like most old people did, she would boil some mielies (corn) until cooked and then scrape the mielies off the cob and put it all into a tin (an unused coffee tin if memory serves me well), which would sustain us when we got hungry, two oranges rounded off lunch at around 2 p.m. and not a minute too soon I Must say. The hospital was quite a distance away (as most hospitals often are) but we got there and it still remains ingrained in my memory the sight of the crowds come waddling in, dragging their feet holding their hips, being pushed in wheelchairs, groaning and sighing at the slightest move while all around groups formed as the all-too-familiar acquaintances’ found more and more familiar faces in the crowds and gathered around to discuss their latest health woes with regular awkward silences when news was relayed and heard concerning the loss of another fellow patient – if death knocks regularly on our door, it seemed to knock more regularly around here. But without exception someone would quickly make light conversation by going into great detail about her grandchildren, how well they were doing, how much they resembled their grandfather, how proud he would have been had he still been alive….all this greeted with approving mumbles and slow nodding of heads.
Everyone must register, there’s a long line that reminds people to do so - usually any child brought there is brought there so that the doctor or nurse can take a look at him/her too. A baby lays wailing loudly on her mother’s back, the blanket used to fasten and secure the child has come loose and the young mother battles to regain control, in no more than two moves my mother has the child in her arms, the young womanly knowingly bends forward and in two minutes the baby is so tightly wrapped on his mother’s back, he can’t move a muscle nor look around from left to right as babies love doing. We get to the front and the woman behind the counter fills in the blue forms for my mother, marking the dates of the last visit and adding another column for the current ones details asking questions as she did – before I knew it my mother had lifted me up to be level with the counter “And him, he needs to be X-rayed, every night without fail he keeps us up with the most terrible of coughing fits, TB we suspect”, the nurse took a long hard look at me, expressionless, a woman nudges my mother from the back, “You must steam him more often Shirley, gum tree, boil it and force him to sit it out inside the blanket where you’ll place the steaming pot, all too soon they wail to get out, hold him down firmly, that should take care of it”, Satisfied with this piece of advice (without doubt my mother would have liked to hear it from the nurse, still), we went to sit on one of the many many long, wooden benches lining the waiting area, which was right outside in the open blazing hot sun.. A few hours of waiting and growing increasingly restless a nurse came out shouting one name at a time, supposedly to check who was still there “GLAAAAAAADYS” she’d shout, Gladys would stand, she’d tick her name on the page she carried and then move on to the next name… “AAAAAAAAGnes”… etc etc It was late afternoon when we were finally summoned to see the nurse, the Doctor was not in, by then, nobody cared who told them what about their health, they knew all they wanted to know about their fellow patients and their relatives and the long trip home lay in wait.
“Stand on the scale”, I stood on the scale, she wrote something down , listened further to my mother’s health troubles and told us to stand in another line where we were each given seven or ten small bright yellow plastics filled with tablets of various shapes and sizes – we walked home quietly much relaxed and relieved that we’d seen the nurse and that we’d been looked at and given tablets to keep illness away and hopefully keep us in good health…until the following month when the cycle must be repeated….’these blood pressure pills look different this month” ma said, swallowing a hand full of pills we knew nothing about…no worries, the nurse knew better and at that place, at that time, that’s all that counted.
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