‘I was so hungry and thirsty’ – 76-year-old woman on being tied to hospital’s bench overnight

Martha Marais. (Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images)
Martha Marais. (Photo: Getty Images/Gallo Images)

She was numb with cold as she lay on the floor, barely able to move, helpless and weeping. All around her were nurses and doctors but the great-grandmother’s pleas for help or even just a blanket to cover her cold body were ignored, she claims.

Martha Marais (76) alleges a security guard dragged her from her hospital room while she was making her way to the bathroom, shoved her to the floor and handcuffed her to the legs of a steel hospital bench. For hours the gogo begged for someone to set her free.

“Please, please, you’re hurting me,” she cried.

Martha’s ordeal at Mamelodi Hospital in Pretoria went viral after it was filmed and shared on social media, horrifying South Africans and highlighting the barbaric conditions patients are sometimes subjected to at state health facilities.

“I kept asking them to let me go. I said, ‘Please don’t tie my hands, please’. They were hurting me,” a still-traumatised Martha says in a soft voice, showing us her wrists.

“I prayed God would send my daughter to come and help me. I said, ‘God, please, I want to see my grandchild again’.”

At one point Martha feared she’d die on that cold floor.

“I begged for someone to bring me my blanket but no one would listen.”

Her prayers were eventually answered when her family arrived to visit her. Expecting to find her in the room she’d seen her in the night before, her daughter Stephnie Marais (53) walked right by her in the hospital corridor.

She entered her mother’s room and was surprised to find someone else in the bed, covered with Martha’s blanket which Stephnie had brought from home the day before.

“It was like my brain wouldn’t register what I’d just seen – that it was my mother on the floor. I turned back and realized it was her, and that was when it sunk in. My head wanted to explode. I was so angry and upset.”

A furious Stephnie can be seen in the video footage, screaming at staff.

“This is my mother! This is not a dog! Is this right for me to come and see my mother like this?

“Is this right, man, is this right? Isn’t there another method that you guys can use? It’s my mother, she is flippin’ 76 years old,” she shouts.

Stephnie says she and family members were told by a group of nurses that they “were busy” when they asked why Martha was cuffed and on the floor.

For more than 25 minutes Stephnie and her niece, Shalane Marais, battled to get Martha freed. Eventually a security guard was ordered by one of the nurses to release the old lady.

“He used a magnetic key to unlock the cuffs and set my mother free,” Stephnie says.

She begged to be taken home.

“They are going to kill me,” a deeply distressed Martha told her furious family.

“Please take me home.”

On the morning of 28 May she went to the Eersterust Clinic because she was experiencing severe stomach pain and couldn’t keep anything down, Martha tells DRUM when we visit her at her home in Eersterust, Pretoria.

A doctor at the clinic gave her a thorough examination, put her on a drip and referred her to Mamelodi Hospital for further treatment.

Martha’s caregiver, Esmeralda Cupido (40), says the doctor ordered an ambulance, which took them to the hospital that afternoon. Martha was taken for X-rays and when Esmeralda left her that evening, she was sitting in a wheelchair, covered with her blanket.

The next morning Esmeralda returned to the hospital and found Martha where she had left her, still in the wheelchair. Stephnie, on hearing that her mother hadn’t been given a bed, complained to the hospital and Martha was then taken to a room.

“They checked her blood pressure and tested her for diabetes and they put her on a drip. She was calm when I left the hospital at around 4.30pm,” Esmeralda recalls.

After she left, Martha told nurses the drip was hurting her and making her arm bleed, but they ignored her, she says.

She tried to remove it herself and eventually a nurse took it out. Next, Martha got out of bed to stretch her legs.

“I wanted to go to the bathroom. And that’s when the medical staff ordered the security to tie me up.”

Why they did this is a mystery to Martha and her family.

“My mother is not mentally ill,” Stephnie says. “And she is not a violent person. She is so fragile, she couldn’t harm a fly. She may be a little stubborn, but she doesn’t have the power to hurt anyone.”

“While I was on the floor I called out for someone to bring me water or food, but no one came,” Martha

recalls. “I was so hungry and thirsty.”

Martha cries when she talks about her ordeal and it’s shattered her confidence, Stephnie says.

“She’s scared all the time,” she adds. “We can’t leave her alone in her room for a minute.”

Martha is glad the video went viral.

“This should not happen to any other person. I told them, this is going to be on your conscience.”

After the video went viral, newly appointed Gauteng health MEC Dr Bandile Masuku visited Martha in hospital and demanded answers from the state facility. Martha subsequently received firstclass treatment and was discharged with medication on 1 June. But she’s battling to find it in her heart to forgive the people who hurt her.

“If I had to see them again, I’d tell them they really hurt me.

“I’m a Christian and maybe I will find it in my heart to forgive them later, but it will take time. God will heal me.”

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