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Visiting a Government Hospital

What it is like to visit a government hospital

Something I have noticed that people with medical aid do quite often is open their mouth in shock and begin to conjure up ghost stories of what would happen if I were to be in an accident.

Unfortunately I am not one who makes enough of a paycheck to afford a medical aid (I am looking at a hospital plan – and have been for the past 5 years) but with a pretty low salary, my own rent, food and petrol to pay along with car insurance and chronic medication – there is barely enough left for much else. I must admit though that I do modelling part-time and although that avenue can bring in larger sums of money, I generally use it to go overseas. I don’t sound so disadvantaged now do I?

My mom and step-dad are in the same boat when it comes to medical aid, as man and woman of the cloth.

My first encounter with a government hospital was when my mom grew ill with severe symptoms a year ago. The regular GP suggested that she go for some weird gastro- scope thingy but at over R2 000 for a session we knew that we had no choice but to venture into the trenches of the dreaded government hospital.

I joined her for one of the longest days of my life. Initially we felt quite sorry for ourselves but quickly snapped out of it. I’m not saying that it was pleasant but it really isn’t as bad as people make it out to be when you consider all that was done and the calibre of healthcare she received.

One just has to be prepared for looooooooooooooooong waits with others who have little concern for personal space. That and you may also see one or two people with quite a bit of blood on themselves. Hopefully their own.

I had come in with my mom with the idea that it would only be an hour or two, but I was sorely mistaken. Thank goodness we were together to keep one another entertained.

The process:

Before anything- arrive early. The later you are, the longer you will wait and even an early arrival still makes for lines (mostly because I didn’t feel like getting there at 6:30am to wait for the doors to open at 7:30am)

I forgot to mention that it was Helen Joseph that we braved.

The process required before a doctor will see you is a little confusing – mostly because there are multiple lines of people criss-crossing the enormous building, all stone-faced as they steele themselves for their own wait. It is up to you to be able to delineate what each of them are for.

My mommy taught me to never be afraid to ask people for help, as long as you do it with a smile and a little bit of eyelash batting. It’s what got me through Europe on my own because I am prone to getting lost. I digress.

The day starts with a ticket which you obtain from the first of many queues.

From there, you move a little deeper into the building – though still close enough to the door that thoughts of leaving continued to run through your head. These thoughts were exacerbated by the automated voice calling out numbers for who knows what reason, as well as the seated people all talking just below a shout.

One sits on the benches second to last on the right hand side and plays musical pews as you move further and further up; closer to one of only two windows where staff are sitting waiting to open your file.

I observed a stern looking man coming in and out of a door with files and calling out people’s names in a very severe manner before leading them through a door to God knows where. My mom speculated that these were the individuals who were being admitted into the hospital though many of them seemed to be in average health so I couldn’t be sure.

Once your file has been created, you then have to find the next queue for paying. The middle row of seats seemed to be filled with people waiting to be summoned, so you skip over them and go to the far left and get seated with your purse at the ready. Finally at that window they ask you a series of monetary questions which will determine how much you have to pay.

My mom was part of a ministry in deep Limpopo so she only had to pay R50 which is incredible considering the barrage of doctors looming in our future.

From there, we dove a little deeper into the bowels of the hospital. Maybe not bowels but the oesophagus. The next queue at ‘polyclinic’ was quite a long one. Rows and rows for people for days awaiting an analysis by a nurse who would take your vitals and then direct you from there. This was where I witnessed a few gross maladies and injuries.

The sign on the wall indicates the way triage works which is basically a colour grading for the seriousness of your injury and how urgent your need for attention is. Luckily we only heard one alarm going and watched nurses and doctors speeding off down a corridor to whatever trauma lay beyond.

Triage signs at the Polyclinic

Triage signs at the 'Polyclinic'. Red = seen immediately. Orange = approx 10 min waiting time. Green = approx 4 hours waiting time

It was closer to midday now and I was beginning to entertain myself by watching people move up and getting excited when we got to shift seats. Like a Mexican wave, timing each individual going into the nurses’ station and praying that their vitals were normal so that they would be dealt with quickly.

My mom was an in and out and that is where the maze began and things grew hazy.

We moved to another room and I don’t rightly know what we were waiting for there. There wasn’t much order and the nurses were less than friendly. My mom saw a doctor who then sent us downstairs. It’s a little hard to remember because when I said maze I meant labyrinth.

This was the specialist and he only had about six or so people waiting for him. It doesn’t sound like that much but when you've already been waiting for several hours you begin to lose track of time and the minutes begin to feel like hours.

We were seated near a man who was limping but still walking – later on he came out in a cast which freaked me out because it meant that he has been walking on a badly injured leg. There was also a man who was coughing. Non-stop. Without covering his mouth too well.

When he emerged wearing a face mask I felt extremely unimpressed.

Surprisingly the bathrooms aren’t the worst which was a relief.

Expert advice - bring food. Sarmies and chips or fruit. Anything to just nibble on because the road is long.

Once the specialist saw us he sent us to blood work. I was miserable there because there was zero order and once my mom has emerged having been spiked, the nurse announced that the results would take an unknown period of time. We took that as our queue to drive to get a healthy McDonald’s lunch. We hurried back fearful of missing her name being called and my regret grew as we were forced to wait another hour or so. Then we were sent to X-rays. This was the hardest to navigate because we got multiple false directions and at one point ended up right where we had started.

Again another queue with some Chatty Cathy’s that I was not interested in engaging with. I was tired, miserable, my phone was dead and I wanted to go home. I can only imagine how my mom felt.

With those finally done, we went all the way back to the specialist and I could see didn’t really know what was going on.

It was evening now.

His final diagnosis felt like freedom that we had been waiting for all day.

"Congratulations! You have an ulcer! You are free to go!"

The last leg of the race was to the dispensary where I could not wait with my mom. It was with a teary goodbye that I left to go home, return with a book and wait amongst other people in an outside waiting room. I think I saw another person with blood on them. There was a TV playing a depressing channel and I recall taking this moment to cry.

My mom finally walked out at about 7pm or 8pm that evening, medication in hand and we flew out of there like bats out of hell, eager for home.

It was not an easy experience.

It wasn’t fun. I saw so many different kinds of people, all races and from all walks of life who were just in need as we were.

If you can afford medical aid then you are one of the lucky ones but if not, know that it isn’t worth the horror stories for a smaller diagnosis that would normally cost thousands.

My mom saw specialists, got X-rays and medication for a total of R50 and now knows how to prevent relapses as well as how to tap in to her very wells of patience.

#Governmenthospital #HelenJoseph #Queue #hospital #doctor

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