It was during my community service year that I realised I wanted to be a paediatrician. After years of colleagues asking me what I wanted to specialise in, I finally have an answer.
It all started when havoc was wrecked when multiple doctors left the clinic because of targeted armed hijackings.
Due to the staff constraints, we were down to 3 doctors managing approximately 200 patients a day; on a good day.
The monotonous task of pitching up to work, sitting behind a chair and calling next, was suffocating me. The que was a mess. There were emergencies mixed with cold cases all in a crowd of 200 people squashed up in 1 dark small hallway, which smelled of sweat and pure anger.
The moment you enter the crowd, it engulfs you for the next 8 hours. Theres no sorting through it because everyone wants to be seen first but no one wants to que. The system of triage could get you a few good clouts of you were not careful. if you pull an mkhulu from the back of the que that’s gasping ahead of a gogo in front of the que, prepare for trouble.
In fact, I had been playing referee to a show down between a gogo and her neighbour, benedict. Benedict was asthmatic and found himself wheezing so hard I heard him from outside.
Gogo was here for her monthly INR checks, important but not urgent. I pulled Mr Benedict from the que and began listening to his chest. Nothing. Silent chest. This was bad.
I quickly rushed him to our emergency room and began nebulising him while securing IV access. I saw gogo approach from my peripheral vision and thought nothing of it.
As I turned around I found her whipping him with the nebulizer tubing while he sank to the floor out of breath and almost life. I intervened and escourted her out as She screamed at him. I was shocked out of my wits. The desperation saddened me. I didn’t know what to do. No matter who i tried to help, the next person would be unhappy. And how could i blame them? Queuing from 4am in the morning only to be told people who arrived after you,would be seen 1st. No wonder they were livid.
It was during that moment when I saw baby A. She was just a few good months old. She had been coughing violently during this commotion and had seen the whole scenario, yet all she did was smile.
The most innocent, plain and wholesome smile which gave me some sense of reassurance and purpose. The health system was crumbling beneath my feet and I was way over my depth, but somehow I felt calm. I knew i had to push the que and get the people the help they needed.
Later when I reflected on the realisation i had experienced, my assistant nurse looked at me and said , “why? so what. Shes just a child”.
I knew she didn’t mean it in any profound way, in fact she meant it in the opposite and brushed me off. But hearing those words struck some kind of a chord in me.
Yes, she’s just a child. An innocent and vulnerable child who needs all the help she can get in this cruel and sometimes sick world I had come to know so well.
I knew I had to be a paediatrician. And so it began!