Christmas Travels

For anyone who knows me well enough, they will know that I hate Christmas, actually LOATHE is the right word. It all starts in early November when the shops start playing those annoying carols and the annoying-ness continues when, while trying to buy Christmas presents, you notice random families at the mall just for fun...yes FUN! Strolling around, not a plastic packet filled with a purchase in sight. Who does that? And why do they not piss off and find something else to do instead of waddling along, 5 abreast, clogging the walkway?

OK so I'm a scrooge/grinch whatever. It all started when I was young. Christmas consisted of me, my Mom and my Dad, as all our relatives live overseas. Lets be honest, a Christmas with 3 is not all its cracked up to be. It's pretty sad and myself and my Mom, pretty much pretend that it isn't happeneing.

This year my Mom really wanted me to come home, which involved a 8 hour trek across the countryside. I got Christmas off work ( volunteering to do new Year's Eve instead...stupid!) and booked my flights well in advance. The 24th arrived and I started my day out as usual seeing patients in casualty. It was the usual Umkhulu who hasn't pissed in 72 hours and needs a catheter, immediately releasing 2l of urine, much to his relief and delight. At 12 I got to leave early and began my long drive to Joburg airport. On arrival, I went to my airline check-in counter, laden with stupid packets of oversized gifts for my parents. When I arrived at the desk, the man told me I was not on the system. What??? He went to check at the ticket sales office, while I nervously gnawed my nails. He came back with a printout showing me that I had booked my flight for the 24th of November. "How can this be happening to me?" I thought. Ok, so I hate christmas but I don't want to stay in a hotel in JHB on my own, or drive back home, where I have only my pet Piglet to console me. I started making my way to all the ticket sales desks, only to be told by each one that the flights are all full. With tears prickling in my eyes, I approached the last one. They had one seat left, for an astronomical price. At this point I didn't care how much it cost, I needed to get home. I pulled out my credit card and quickly rushed to the check-in counter. I was the last to board the plane, and then my gigantic present wouldn't fit in the overhead storage. I looked like a right tit, trying to squeeze a huge At Home silver box into a obviously too-small space. Eventually I sat down, strapped on my seat belt and thanked my lucky stars. After a double gin and tonic, I decided that Christmas wasn't so bad after all!


Labour Ward antics

Pregnant ladies have for some reason become my very-cliched-but-true "calling". I have worked with them in 3 different provinces, namely the Western Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal and last but not least Mpumalanga. There is one common factor that all these women share, besides a growing fetus, and that is the primal utterances of "Aaaawema" during labour. To those of you who have never stepped into a labour ward, this might sound very weird, but I will try my utmost to set the scene for you. For those of you who have had the unfortunate privilege of working in labour ward, you will know exactly what I'm alluding to.

A labour ward usually consists of beds either in one room with dividing curtains or smaller separate rooms. In these beds will be the birthing mothers. They lie on their backs, after being repeatedly told not to, and with their arms raised to the ceiling, fingers opening and closing rapidly, scream (or rather shriek) the word "aaaaawema". It can be heard from the corridor proceeding the labour ward and is commonly alternated with a equally high pitched "hey jesu". The labour ward staff seem to be immune to this noise, while they sit behind their desks chewing the cartilage off their left over fried chicken (also commonly know as shikken). This is a national phenomenon.

The sad thing is that many of the patients are under the age of 18. They are scared, usually alone and are in no way prepared for what is about to happen to them. As the labour progresses, these frightened girls transform into shrieking beings and the chorus of "aaawema" crescendos. I have no idea how they know to scream that, it's as if it's been programmed into their DNA, something from their forefathers.

You will often hear the word "difficult" being used to describe pregnant patients. That is because often, at the very end of labour, when one final push is required, they give up and refuse to deliver the baby. This is extremely dangerous to the newborn, as the umbilical cord is squashed and it receives no oxygen until it takes its first breath. Literally a few minutes and the baby will be brain damaged. The nursing staff in Mpumalanga have discovered a nifty trick to avoid this from happening. I call it the "umlungu phenomenon". An umlungu is a white person and the nursing staff have used a type of torture tactic to get them to push the baby out. The first time I was called for a delayed second stage (where the head is about to be born), as I walked in the door, the patient gave one final push and the baby was delivered. I was ecstatic as it was 4pm and time to go home and, had the baby not been delivered, it would mean I would have to do an emergency caesar. This happened a few more times and I realised that it was not luck but that the birth was linked to my arrival. I asked one of favourite senior sisters what the reason was. She took me into the injection room and closed the door. In a hushed tone she explained that they told the patients that if they did not push that baby out, then the white doctor would come. This hardly seemed scary. As I probed further, she admitted that she had added her own little tactic, which involved threatening the patients that when the doctor came, he/she would cut off their labia. At first I was horrified, but later it proved to be quite an effective method. I then found out that if a white doctor was not available, or if the doctor was not around, they would call a white nurse from another ward and she would arrive posing as the "umlungu".


Blue Tuesday


To fill you in a bit more about myself. I am a twenty-something doctor doing my obligatory community service year in an under-resourced hospital in Mpumulanga, where to be honest, I have had a trying year. All sounds very boring, but day-to-day life is filled with the trials and tribulations of patients, their stories and of course the joys of working with my incompetent, lazy-ass colleagues.

Two weeks ago I went to a conference on diabetes. I was thrilled to be leaving the hospital for a full day and reveling in the fact that I had to see zero patients. I arrived to find only 3 people there, 2 of which were organisers for the conference. An hour later the attendants started trickling in. The organiser opened up by informing us that there were rep companies here, who we could talk to during the allocated lunch slot. For none medical people, reps = FREE STUFF. Basically they tell you about their product while you grab paraphernalia from their table, consisting of pens, sweets, T-shirts, bags, pads of papers and useless pamphlets. The pen is the most coveted object. Working in a government setting means you spend the most of your day filling in forms, medical certificates etc. Basically everyone wants a free pen!

During the talks I noticed people leaving to go to the bathroom, returning to their seats clutching not just one, but multiple pens, as well as bags, T-shirts and other goodies. Slowly the others cottoned onto this idea and everyone was leaving to "have a tinkle". The speaker actually had a address everyone and ask them to stop it. So when lunch-time finally arrived, I really didn't care about the stupid pen. OK, I did a little bit :) But about 200 people, mainly overweight nursing staff, stampeded towards the exit. I got trapped between one's rather busty chest and had another shoving her handbag into my back. I couldn't go backwards or forwards and decided to endure the wait. After 10 minutes and with no decrease in shoving from the rear, I thought to myself "WTF, I'm a doctor, I could go and but 10 of these stupid pens and now here I am sandwiched like a bloody cow ready for slaughter." I tried to remain calm and then I started to get annoyed as the handbag and now lodged itself between my vertebrae. EVENTUALLY we edged forward to the table and lo and behold I could actually see the pens. They were a hideous luminous orange....they were beautiful! I finally managed to stick out my grubby paw and curl my fingers around one. I had gotten one...... my very own free pen....... "my precious".

After the conference I popped in to visit my boyfriend.
"Did you get any free stuff?" he casually asked.
"Um....ya, I got a pen...but it's really crap and orange."
"Well if you don't like it, can I have it?"
What??? Did he not realise the shear agony I had to endure to get this pen?


I now go to sleep every night with my pen under my pillow

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