My 9 month-old son, Neo, was vomiting and had diarrhea. His problems began four nights before, and I took him to the nearby clinic the next day. For the next two days he was better, but then he become sick again. Neo’s body was limp, and his eyes could barely open. Dan, his father, was very quiet, and he looked like he wanted to cry as he held his son when he picked us up at home. I was very scared as Dan drove us to Tintswalo Hospital.
[Tintswalo Hospital is the district hospital situated in Acornhoek, in South Africa’s Northern Province. It serves a population of just over 300,000. According to the Friends of Tintswalo, an association formed in 2001 to assist the hospital with fundraising, there is “a shortage of medical personnel, particularly doctors and nurses.” The group adds that “the situation at Tintswalo hospital and the communities it serves stand in stark contrast to the abundance enjoyed by many in its immediate surroundings.”]
When we got to the hospital Dan drove away. Only mothers are allowed to stay with children.
I felt quite helpless.? This was the first time Neo had been that sick. As I was sitting in the waiting room, I prayed to God. I did not want to lose my baby. I kept on looking at his face and putting my hand on his chest to make sure he was breathing. At the Out Patients Department, the doctor was busy examining patients. Two patients were on beds. One was a pregnant lady, and they were both attended to before my son. Naturally I thought that the doctor should check on my son first since he looked sicker than the other patients.
Finally the doctor attended to me. “What is wrong with him?” he asked. He said, “He is very weak so I will put a drip for dehydration. I will have to admit him overnight.”
The last time I was in Tintswalo Hospital was when I gave birth to Neo. I hated the experience because the nurses treated people very badly. I thought about one particular nurse who previously treated me unkindly. I had given birth two days before. I wanted to go and throw away Neon’s nappy (diaper), but because I was in pain I had to get off the bed slowly. The nurse came into the ward and said, “Why are you doing that? You look like a granny. All the people in this ward are sick, and they are not doing that. Hurry up and throw away your shit.”
What if I came across someone who is like her again? I thought.
True to form the nurses on duty that night in the pediatric ward treated people like dirt. When I entered the ward, only baby-sized beds were there, and mothers were sleeping on the thin mattresses or on a blanket on the floor. I was surprised to see mothers on the floor because I thought mothers would share beds with their children. Neo is not used to sleeping alone. He cried every time he opened his eyes so I took him to breastfeed. One very tall nurse came in while I was breastfeeding. “Why are you sleeping with the baby on the floor? I will chase you away! So you will sleep on the gate and you will only came back to feed him,” she yelled. I tried to explain that I was just feeding him, but she didn’t want to give me a chance to talk.
I didn’t sleep all night because the six women I was sharing the ward with snored like donkeys. I didn’t know what to do. The ward next door was so close that I could hear snoring, babies crying and women talking.
Finally the sun rose, and the doctor came to check on the children. Neo was showing a sign of recovery because he was playing and laughing. The doctor asked me if Neo had vomited. I told him that he didn’t, although he still had some diarrhea. I was relieved when he said, “he is better, you can take him home.” I was very happy that he is going to be all right and that I would sleep at home in my bed.