The hospital is clean, but the floors look old although ultimately it’s the patients that show significant wear and tear. The waiting room is also full of babies and young kids- to be expected in Ingwavuma in Northern Kwa-Zulu Natal which has one of the highest pregnancy rates in the world.
In the Outpatients Department (OPD) one little baby is strapped to a very old looking Gogo’s back.
A few young women have babies themselves and are better dressed than the many Gogos who wear long skirts, mismatching shirts, scarves and tired faces.
The odd old man waiting for a doctor is accompanied by a Gogo who has come to assist him but no men are there to wait for and help the aged women who are also in line to see doctors.
The seated queuing system does not appear logical or clear to most of the waiting patients or to myself after more than twenty minutes of observing it. Those who are a little confused or the slow grannies who don’t move from their seat to the next open one fast enough lose places. The more experienced or quicker patients show no shame in stealing an empty seat to get closer to the front of the line
Some of the men seem to feel they don’t have to wait as long as everybody else and a few sneak into the nurse’s room which is the first stop. Here they get their get blood pressure taken, are weighed and then are given a number for the doctor.
The gracious greying grannies sit patiently in their places even as others push in and make it to the nurse’s room first.
Once numbers are stapled to the patient’s file by the blood pressure nurse- a matron checks them before a patient gets to the doctor’s room. Even then a man with a cloth on his head tries to walk straight out of the queue into the doctor’s consulting room. When a woman waiting in line scolds him he points to the cloth as if to signify his head wound or whatever is hidden underneath the rag demands the doctor’s immediate attention.
The matron takes charge and soon has him seated down sheepishly waiting his turn. She then collects files in numerical order. A fair number of hospital staff seem to be monitoring the inexplicable queuing system and managing crowd control.
The Gogo seated on the chair to my left smells but considering how far most Ingwavuma residents live from water, I should not be surprised. When a hard faced woman pushes in front of her, she looks horrified but is resigned not to do anything. It seems she doesn’t have energy left to speak. Her face is leathery hard like a turtle, worn by the sun then filled in with many deeply etched wrinkles.
The pusher-in is indignant and stares ahead when my eyes question her. The Gogo looks deeply disappointed but won’t challenge the offender who is blocking the unwashed Gogo’s smell from my nostrils.
A senior matron comes into the centre of OPD, calls the tall pretty blonde doctor and they start talking in hushed tones. I overhear something about “no x-rays”. It turns out there is no municipal water for the hospital and this means the x-ray machine won’t work. The doctor walks around examining the patients with damaged limbs, scribbles on their files and then sends them to the plaster room.
The doctor decides all patients in question who are denied an x-ray opportunity will get a back slab- half Plaster of Paris (PoP) cast for the back of the limb- somewhat like splint- and a bandage to keep the PoP splint attached.
After the doctor checks my swollen bruised ankle, I am saved from another 16 places of waiting and sent straight for PoP from the orthopaedic nurse. The doctor tells me she thinks there will be no x-rays for the rest of the week as water disturbances usually take days to be sorted out.
The municipal water supply of water to Ingwavuma has been out for seven months as a dispute between Eskom and the Municipality is still not resolved.
Long time resident of Ingwavuma Chris Higham says many patients at the hospital today would have come from far out areas on an overnight bus. They would have slept the remainder of the night on hard-backed plastic hospital chairs. After a day at the hospital they would have a long bus ride home and may only arrive back to their houses in the early hours of the morning.
For those patients unable to have necessary X rays they will have to repeat the long journey in a week or so’s time.
But political will to sort out the 7 months of water disturbances in Ingwauma doesn’t appear to be evident and the doctors and residents seem resigned to an almost waterless society.