Memories of a different Dinuzulu

2014-02-09 17:25

Driving into Durban’s King Dinuzulu Hospital Complex this week, it was ­almost unrecognisable as the King George V Hospital in which I spent three months being treated for pulmonary TB in 1987.

Stanley Copley Drive, which leads to the hospital on the border of Durban’s Sydenham and Asherville suburbs, has been renamed RD Naidu Drive after a local community and sports ­activist.

The old single boom and gatehouse are gone, replaced by a four-lane, multiboom entrance that leads into the hospital complex. The complex was officially renamed last month by King Goodwill Zwelithini, the great-great-grandson of King Dinuzulu.

Like the King Dinuzulu Hospital ­today, in 1987, King George V Hospital was the province’s main TB treatment facility, and patients were referred there from clinics around Durban as well as from other major urban centres.

That’s where the resemblance ends. The hospital then consisted of a multistorey building housing the dental ward and a series of World War 2-era wards spread out over its grounds, which covered nearly 2km.

White patients were housed in the sparsely populated D Ward, connected to the rest of the bungalow-style hospital wards by walkways linking the various buildings.

Patients lived two to a room and the population in the ward did not go above 10 or 12 people in my entire time there.

For most of my time, I roomed with a disillusioned police riot unit member who smoked massive amounts of dagga to ward off the depression caused by ­being dumped by his fiancée.

Our meals – three courses at lunch and dinner – were eaten in the segregated facility but were cooked in the main kitchen. The hospital’s grounds were massive and the 900-odd beds were centralised, so a massive wooded area, full of monkeys, surrounded the hospital buildings, which even then were showing signs of deterioration.

Adjacent to D Ward, where, thanks to a starch and protein-rich diet I regained the more than 12kg I shed in less than two months of being infected, was F Ward, the psychiatric facility. This was another whites-only part of the hospital.

Above the administration area was the hospital’s black section. While my time at King George V predated the ­massive spike in TB cases that came with the HIV pandemic, the black section was full and patients there slept on ­mattresses.

The patient:nurse ratio was far higher in this part of the hospital and the patients’ sickness was way more visible.

My most harrowing memory of the hospital is, on the night of my admission, seeing two orderlies turn a stretcher with a corpse strapped to it on its axis to get it through a double door in the passageway leading to what I later learnt was the morgue.

My best is leaving after three months instead of the anticipated six, sick and tired of the daily injections in my gluteus maximus and a regimen of 13 pills a day.

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