Marianne Thamm

Doctoring the issue

2007-04-12 09:20

Marianne Thamm

We arrive and pass the Porsche Targa, a number of hulking Land Rovers, a handful of Mercedes Benzes, a Lexus and a few Audis parked near the entrance.

We do not fail to notice, however, that it is the anaesthetists who reign supreme in the parking lot. In their demarcated bays - just a hop and a skip from the hospital portals - are parked the most expensive, flashy vehicles.

I thank my lucky stars that we're only here because of a severe tummy bug and that we will not be requiring their services.

Ask anyone who has had the misfortune of having to undergo surgery in a private hospital whose account is most likely to result in an instant embolism and they'll answer like a chorus of Blue Bulls supporters "the anaesthetist's".

So, there we were on a Tuesday morning, ordinary paying people, cruising the parking lot looking for an empty space.

Eventually I find one close to the highway that leads to the hospital and a considerable distance from the entrance. I'm grateful it's not raining and I'm not an 80-year-old visitor with a heart condition, an old Tango injury and a Zimmer frame.

The semiotics of the hospital parking lot had only struck me the day before when I had arrived for my shift at the cot-side of our six-month-old second daughter who had been struck by the stomach bug the previous Sunday.

We had sprinted into the emergency unit that night, me cradling my listless, desperately ill baby while a yellowish liquid trailed out of her recently-changed nappy onto my jeans. No one in the unit seemed overly concerned and the only thing the admissions clerk had been interested in was my credit card.

Unfortunately our daughter had not yet been registered as a beneficiary on our hospital insurance plan so I had to cough up around R1 000 just to get past "go".

Self help

My partner and I spent three days in hospital with our daughter. We supplied all her nappies and her milk formula. We changed her soiled sheets and nappies, made her bottles, fed and washed her.

We slept next to her in uncomfortable armchairs and responded to her needs during the night.

The doctor made twice-daily visits - about five minutes in the late morning and late afternoon. During those rounds he checked my daughter's vitals, the nose pipe feeding vital nutrients in to her little body and scribbled some notes in a file that hung on a string from one of the bars on her cot.

At one point a nurse breezed into the ward late on Monday afternoon, picked up a remote control and turned on the TV perched in a corner. She tuned it into an Afrikaans soapie and thumbed up the volume.

I requested her to turn it off as the paying patients in the ward were not in the mood for a loud soapie soundtrack. She sulked and left.

Of course the biggest shock was still awaiting us. On my daughter's discharge I was presented with a bill for close to R8 000.

Accustomed to making a profit

I understood for a brief moment what it must feel like to discover that an international crime syndicate has emptied your bank account's overdraft facility via the internet.

Now, while I am not against medical practitioners, medical aids or hospitals making money, it is the excessive profits that this industry rakes in that I find obscene, unjustified and indefensible.

This weekend, a major Sunday newspaper reported on the severe nursing shortage in private hospitals and that the quality of care - because of a migration of skilled staff - is so bad that it is being spoken of as a crisis.

The World Health Organisation has estimated that 37% of South African health professionals work overseas and that in 20 years there will be one doctor per 1 320 patients in this country.

The story reminded me of our ordeal in the private hospital where the caregivers and nurses who were on duty seemed worryingly unqualified.

The solution?

Perhaps if just a tiny percentage of the massive profits made by the private health industry could be poured into training and to ensure better pay for nurses - we might be able to recover.

But guess who'll end up paying for it?

You see once an industry has become accustomed to making excessive profits it is hardly going to agree to trimming down for the sake of others.

The alternative of course is quite unthinkable - a public hospital. In fact I think they should set the next series of Survivor in a South African public hospital, as there surely cannot be a more inhospitable environment in the universe.

In the meantime your only hope is to try and stay healthy.

Send your comments to Marianne.

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