Failed by the state at every turn


This is a story about load-shedding, the National Health Insurance (NHI) scheme and how our country’s people are spat upon by our political leaders.

On Saturday night, my friend’s brother was walking home in New Eersterus, the village where we grew up in Hammanskraal, north of Pretoria, when load-shedding hit.

It was 7pm.  It went dark.

He trundled home.

There was an open water-drainage ditch in the road and he didn’t see it in the dark.

He fell so fast and hard into it he says he didn’t even have time to contemplate what was happening to him.

A sharp pain tore through one side of his body.

He had broken a rib.

He lost consciousness and another walker found him lying there.

He shone his phone on his face and recognised him.

He rushed to his home to tell the family.

They called an ambulance but there weren’t any available.

My friend called me.

I was in the village, visiting my family.

When the call came through I was sitting with my mother, my sister and nephew, talking and contemplating our dinner by candlelight.

It was the second bout of load-shedding that day — three hours in the morning and another round in the evening.

“You are lucky that you have cellphone signal,” my sister said.

“Usually that also goes with the power cuts.”

I drove to my friend’s rescue.

His brother was still lying in the road. It was 8.30pm.

We got the brother in the car and were about to drive to Jubilee Hospital in Temba when several people said we shouldn’t take him there.

“That place has collapsed,” one friend said.

We believed them — the last time we were there rubbish bins overflowed and rats ran rampant on the premises.

So we took him to a community health centre in nearby Soshanguve, about 25 minutes away.

The car park was full, but there is an emergency entrance and we used that.

The security guards are in charge.

At the entrance one of them pointed at a wheelchair and said we could use that for our ailing friend.

It was broken.

A second one worked better.

We wheeled him in and were told we had to open a file while he waited.

We went to reception where pictures of President Cyril Ramaphosa, Deputy President David Mabuza and health minister Dr Zweli Mkhize grinned down on us.

The floor was littered with polystyrene cups and pieces of paper trash.

By this time our friend was conscious, moaning and grimacing in pain.

Three hours later, at midnight, he was seen by a doctor.

She said he should be rushed to the bigger Dr George Mukhari Hospital, 40 minutes away in Ga-Rankuwa, because he had broken two ribs and might be bleeding internally.

He needed to be X-rayed and treated at a more advanced facility.

There were no ambulances and there was no knowing when one would be available, so we bundled him into our car and drove him there.

The emergency waiting room at Dr George Mukhari is clean, brightly lit and orderly.

Its old, rusty equipment, peeling paint and battered infrastructure was clean.

Relatives wait in a biggish reception area with pictures of Ramaphosa, Mabuza and Mkhize grinning down on them while patients are attended to in a smaller room by a triage nurse.

A porter meets you at the door, puts a crisp set of linen on a wheelchair and wheels you in.

In the triage room several men were lying on beds, moaning and crying in pain.

Women about to deliver babies were sitting patiently, waiting their turn to be attended to.

It was busy, and could have used a few more nurses (only one person was working), but it was not bad at all.

Another file was opened and the patient was taken away.

He was moaning in pain.

It was 1am when he disappeared into the inner recesses of the hospital and we were told to sit and wait.

At 6am he had still not been attended to because no-one had called a relative in.

The shift changed.

His brother complained — where was he?

The new staff did not know who he was talking about.

A search ensued for the missing patient file.

Finally it was found.

They tracked down the patient.

It turns out he had been X-rayed (two ribs confirmed broken) and the nursing staff was waiting for a new doctor to see to his internal bleeding and whatever else.

It is 10.30 am on Sunday as I write this. He has only now just been admitted to hospital.  

How do we justify someone spending 14 hours traversing our hospital system, desperately avoiding bad facilities and trying to get into the “better ones”, before receiving medical attention?

How exactly does anyone say the National Health Insurance scheme is going to work when we cannot even keep the lights on?