17 Jan 2018, 9:01 am
The Clinic At the End of the Universe
The smell of deathly disease hangs in the air, mixing with the stench of unwashed and tired bodies.
The small room is packed. People are standing in the passages and there is no escaping the stale air.
There is also the sickening aroma of overcooked oily fish. A little old black Mama is sucking on a large fish bone to get the last bit of nutrition out of the meal she brought in a small plastic packet. Her pudgy oil covered little hand is holding a bundle of small fish bones that she already meticulously worked through. Others are eating thick slices of white bread with Polloni, bananas, or cheap cookies that they bought from the local street vendor outside. They've been here since 7am.
I am at the government hospital, in the basement area where the breast clinic is situated. I am waiting for my turn to be seen by a doctor, or a nurse... or whoever is seeing to new patients on their first arrival. I have no idea what to expect and asking questions is a futile exercise in his place. One just have to wait until it is your turn and I am wondering if I will actually get a turn at all before I get infected with some dreadful virus...
In the entrance of the small waiting room people are squeezing past a hospital bed. The patient seems to be sleeping but I have the erie feeling that she had been forgotten about...
A very thin old black women is lying on the floor in a fetal position.
Slumping in a wheel chair is a very pale white woman - white as a sheet, with bright pink colouring around her dark sad eyes, giving her a haunted look. The hospital gown that she is wearing makes her look fragile and vulnerable. She keeps wiping her eyes. I feel like going over to her and hug her but it seems inappropriate so I don't.
Another woman, a black lady with an attractive face is also in a wheel chair. She is dressed in a dull looking night gown with a hospital sheet covering part of her legs. It is hard not to notice that the gown fell open and both her sagging breasts are almost fully exposed.
Glancing further down I see that the sheet is covering only her one leg and her nakedness is clearly visible for all to see, including a handful of men, also waiting for who knows what... A catheter pipe is hanging out of her body and the area seems to have been clean shaven.
A white pad is covering only the most intimate part between her open legs. She has a look of resignation on her face.
There is no place left to sit and I figure that it's no great loss as I would rather stand than sit on those grimy bunks anyway. My handbag is starting to feel heavy and I put it down, cringing when I see how dirty the floor is.
I check my phone for messages but there is no reception. I remember that we are in the basement of the building and I play a game of solitaire instead. And another game. And another game....
I start to chat with a very nice coloured woman. She seems to be the only happy face in the room and I desperately need to pass the time. She tells me about her problem: several breast lumps and a bloody discharge from her nipples, sometimes mixed with yellow puss - a very painful condition. For two years she's been coming here. As she moves I accidentally notice the ugly scar on one of her ample breasts. She tells me they made an incision to take a sample of one of the lumps in her breast. Apart from this, nothing else has been done about her problem and she received no medication. She is a bit worried as at least eight close family members (including both her parents and grandmother) died of cancer. She calls herself lucky as she has seen other "regulars" at the clinic die since her first visit. She points out the pale white woman and tells me that she looked healthy when she first saw her at the clinic.
On the wall is a poster to remind us that early detection of cancer can save your life and I smile silently to myself at the irony. I went to the local clinic the very morning when the lump in my breast appeared... It is now almost 3 weeks since then, and still I have not been checked in any way. I get the feeling that I might be wasting my time anyway as I don't believe the lump I have is cancerous.
I talk about faith to the coloured woman - her name is Lorraine - and I wonder what I am doing here if I honestly believe that God is my Healer. I tell her of faith miracles and I am ashamed of even mentioning God's goodness when clearly I have so little faith that I resort to these desperate measures. I keep reminding myself that I am only here to get official clearance of cancer so that my family can relax, pulling a face at the thought that they wouldn't have known if I didn't tell them in the first place!
I have been here all morning and it is now 2:30pm. I am sure something is amiss cause I was told that new patients get attended to first and the coloured women has gone already. So have several others. I finally ask about it at the front desk. One girl is very helpful and start looking frantically for the green file that I got this morning when I registered at "Peter's office" on the other side of the building. This file is now missing. And so is my chance to get attended to today, as the section that deals with new patients (patience?) has now already closed. They will look for my file and I must please come back next week the same time.
I have been charged R220 for this visit...