South Africa--It was a cold Monday morning. Patients and nurses were bundled with warm clothes as they entered Tintswalo Hospital in South Africa at 6:10 a.m under the supervision of security guards. Most were headed to the Out Patient Department (OPD) with different illnesses. Patients placed their hospital cards in a metallic rectangular box and waited anxiously sitting on long benches.
At 10 a.m, it was visiting hour and teatime for the hospital staff. The consulting clinics’ door wasn’t open yet. The public service strike was still on. Nurses were gathered outside in the sun, chatting. “We are on go slow today,” said Mashego, a male nurse who refused to speed up even after the Chief executive Officer threatened the staff. “Other hospitals aren’t working. Why should we? We need to be taken seriously,” he said, advising his colleagues not to work themselves to death.
Masinga, a middle-aged man who was coughing while holding his chest and blowing his nose like a tornado, was impatient. “What the hell is going on here? He asked me. Masinga came to the hospital because he had chest pains and had been couching for more than two months. He suspected that he might have been infected with TB because he was coughing up yellowish bloody sputum and experiencing night sweats. “If they are still on strike, they should tell us,” the sick man said, picking his nose with his finger and rubbing it on a black double blazer.
Next to Masinga, Mapule from Tsakani village was at the hospital with her two boys for the second time. On her first attempt three days before, she found all the nurses gathered in a church, not working. “I had to ask for a day off at work,” she said feeding her granddaughter a bottle. “ I hope they won’t do the same thing today.” Before she could finish speaking, one of her sons accidentally kicked a carton of Mahewu owned by the old man who feared he had TB, spilling its contents all over his shinny leather shoes that looked like a policeman’s.
Mapule brought her two boys to the clinic because they both experienced pain in their gums, making it difficult for them to eat. The elder boy had two teeth where there should be one, while the other boy’s problem was caused by a guava seed that drilled a hole under his tooth.
While people were coughing, sneezing, gossiping, and giving each other advice, John, a clerk at the hospital came and instructed people to make space on the first four benches for people whose names would be called out by him to queue for their files. One old lady with a walking stick didn’t quite hear what John has said, and she didn’t move. John went straight to her and told her to move in a very unpleasant tone. “Didn’t you hear,” he said.
The old lady apologized and went straight to the toilet next to the chapel. She walked back and forth. When she finally returned for the forth time, she fell down the pavement steps and leaned against me and said, “Eish.” She sat down and held her leg up a little, rubbing it and making funny faces. “Grandma, please don’t move around so much,” I finally said, feeling sorry for the old lady. “You will break something in those old bones of yours.”
The clerk was still busy calling out names when two women arrived at OPD walking slower than a snail on a rainy winter’s day. One of then sat on the pavement steps while the other one approached John to ask him to quickly give her a file as she felt that her friend was too ill to wait for her turn to be called. John did not hesitate to give her a piece of his mind. “All these people who are here are also sick. Your friend will have to wait like everybody else.” He carried on like nothing unusual had happened.
People were so shocked by John’s behaviour that they began to complain. “He forgets that he gets paid because of us,” said Masinga, folding his arms on to his chest and shaking his shoes, which were still wet.
Before the woman could get back to her sick friend after being shamefully embarrassed by John, she saw her collapsing and banging her head on one of the benches at the back. We quickly turned our heads to the back to see what that noise was coming from. When we saw what had happened, our hearts were broken. A nurse who watched from a distance took a wheelchair straight to the sick woman and pushed her inside the casualty ward.