‘Relax’, nurses tell amputee

2009-01-16 00:00

For 18 long days, Nathi Khanyile lay in a local hospital bed waiting for his lacerated fingers to be reattached.

The 35-year-old Pietermaritzburg resident accidentally cut off his index finger with a grinder early on Christmas Day while attempting to repair a neighbour’s stove. His two adjoining fingers were severely lacerated. “They were almost hanging by a thread,” said Khanyile.

A retired nurse from the neighbourhood packed the severed finger in ice, put it in a plastic bag and rushed him to Edendale Hospital for treatment.

Khanyile says he was scheduled for theatre on that day, but was not collected. When he asked staff why his procedure had been postponed, he was told to “relax”.

“My case should have been treated as an emergency, but I was told that my situation ‘was not a matter of life or death’,” he said, adding that it was only around four days later that he was given the news that his amputated finger would not be re-attached.

He also complained about being given conflicting information in this regard. “Some nurses said that the machines that do this [the re-attachment] are only available in the U.S., while others said the postponement was because they were waiting for a hand surgeon.”

After the procedure to repair the other lacerated fingers was postponed a further three times, Khanyile turned to The Witness in desperation on January 9.

On Monday, January 12, the procedure went ahead and Khanyile’s two severely injured fingers were repaired. “Up until then all I did was wait in bed, have my bandages changed and get injections for pain,” he said.

KZN Health Department spokesman Leon Mbangwa said there was no intention at any stage to re-attach Khanyile’s severed index finger. “The finger was not suitable for such surgery,” he said, adding that the delays in repairing the other fingers were due to “no operating time being available”.

“Only emergency cases are done during December,” said Mbangwa.

Dr Mahendra Daya is a private plastic surgeon and the deputy head of plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.

Commenting on the events at Edendale, Daya said he was not surprised that the operation could not be done in Pietermaritzburg.

“Few government hospitals will be able to perform this kind of surgery. But it could be done at Albert Luthuli in Durban. The problem, however, is not so much with the hospital, but rather with finding a surgeon who can do that kind of operation. In Durban I am one of only three surgeons who can do that surgery. This shortage of surgeons is countrywide.”

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