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Public hospitals in a sick state

10 September 2012, 19:54

So you’d think that waiting six months for the first available date to finally have minor surgery that will help sort out that which has been ailing you for months would bring some relief? Think again.

Generally I have a high level of patience for all things tedious, and whether it is standing in line at the post office, applying for social services, or in this case, “experiencing” public hospital, I’m not one to get impatient easily. Always able to find company within the waiting masses or amuse myself with my surroundings, I hardly ever “lose it” – until recently.

Back to what ails me, following the required protocol for my procedure, I checked in 24 hours ahead of my scheduled op, already a bit apprehensive as can be expected, but not nearly ready for the shocking state of public care that seemed to have flat-lined in the last twenty years.

From what I observed in my short, “uneventful” stint, I fear no amount of CPR could resuscitate this industry back to life.

This journey started six months earlier, when unbearable chronic pain more persistent than a telemarketer, forced me to see a doctor. From there, to a specialist and eventually, a much awaited date at the hospital to have the operation that should provide more definitive answers.

This angst-filled journey would have been much shorter and less traumatic had I been a member of a medical aid, which of course would have offered more “luxurious” options at ridiculously overpriced rates.

It sickens me that millions out there have to be subjected to this kind of humiliation daily, yet I am also acutely aware that whatever little is offered is the best that can be done with our overly stretched resources.

Although not too overwhelming, but ever present, the stench of urine and buzzing of flies greeted me when I arrived proceeded to the appointed ward for “check-in” only to be directed back to reception to get my own admission folder.

Patient as I may be, I could hardly contain myself as I noted that none of the toilets I had visited had any toilet paper, although some was available by request from the staff office.

Fortunately, this wee problem was something I had anticipated and brought my own.

In fact, I was startlingly prepared and had to begrudgingly (and proudly) admit that some of my mother’s organisational skills had rubbed off on me. The toilet paper was just one of many essentials that I had diligently packed in advance.

While this hospital may have lacked certain essentials and services, its unrivaled 360 degree view of the Atlantic Ocean, Table Mountain and the City, helped numbed some of the pain.

Home-cooked food brought to me by sister made it easy for me to refuse the meals offered. According to my roommates, it had been ground-beef for three days in a row, with an added “veggie” to make it appear different every day.

Also noting that the chicken soup was suspiciously “meaty” and jokingly speculating if it was due to the meat on the leftover-chicken bones from lunch.

These interactions with complete strangers, experiencing similar anxieties, offered some light relief and within just a few hours I felt less anxious for that was ahead. In fact, the support of my “roomies” and some of the staff went a long way in making me feel at ease.

During the night it was most unusual to find that coffee was being served at 02:00 in the morning and that although my “roomies” insisted they could not sleep at night, it was I, disturbed by their loud snoring that had trouble sleeping.

I slept well enough and was psyched for my operation when I awoke the next day, with two of my roomies off early for their “ops” and back within the hour.

However, by 1pm, the only thing that I had done was work out a nifty way of preventing a draft up my backless hospital gown.

By now, my anxiety levels had reached a peak and hunger pangs were becoming short stabbing pains as I had not eaten since 10pm the night before.

At 15:30, after six months and one day of waiting, I was told that my scheduled surgery had been canceled.

On hearing this news,all the anxiety, the waiting and the disappointment that had boiled up caused me to break down crying.

The staff, although sympathetic and apologetic could “do nothing” for me. 

It appeared that the more serious, emergency and terminal cases had taken precedence over my scheduled appointment.

After composing myself, I got dressed and all I wanted to do was “get the hell out of dodge” But I could not, until I was officially discharged by the Doctor (still caught up in surgery)

Eventually, the Doctor apologetically explained the nature of how I was moved further and further down the line as more and more emergency cases showed up.

No matter how outraged I may have been earlier, how could I “argue” with this explanation? Of course, others whose lives are at risk should receive preferential treatment.

I can only hope that I will be as patient waiting for my next operation date (in two months) and that until then keep my blood pressure at a reasonable level.

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