The Penby Lwandile Fikeni / Illustration by Sasan / 04.07.2013
I’m trembling. Whatever painkiller, probably morphine, which the paramedics gave me in the ambulance, is wearing off. It’s way past 2am and I’m at the emergency/trauma waiting room at Somerset Hospital. The floors are clean, the people are quiet and an arresting fetid scent of sickly wounds hovers in the dyspeptic air, making me sicker.
I don’t know how anyone gets well here.
For a public hospital, Somerset is gravely understaffed. There’s one doctor attending us. He’s short and calm. His glasses, perched precariously on his nose, give him a studious professorial look. In his medical scrubs, a white lab coat, and a stethoscope hanging loosely around his short neck, he shuffles in and out and in and out of the waiting area with purpose. He never sits down and never smiles.
Lu-a-ndeeley Feekini! The woman at reception calls out through the glass. She has a thick Kaapse accent. I get up slowly and drag myself towards her shrill voice. My left hand is wrapped in rolls and rolls of bandages; it looks like a cast. The blood has seeped through the bandages and it smells, making me think of death.
The woman at the till whom I assumed to be a receptionist asks me a flurry of questions and I answer her in drunken sedated dubitation. I give her my contact details. Later I find out that this information helps to track you down for the medical bill. I tell her I am single, clean, and have no allergies. She points me back to the waiting area to wait for the doctor.
The place is full and someone sits where I was seated so I stand leaning against the wall watching Friday night’s victims, while the muted 54cm TV hangs on the far corner of the wall broadcasting the boring programs on eTV. One man with his head hung low presses one hand against his bandaged head, another winces as he hops and skips on one leg; stab wounds are common; some patients have family members waiting with them, and some look depressed and alone. I fit in with the latter.
After two hours or so I cannot wait anymore, so I get up and leave, to return after morning breaks.
The bandages are thick and tight and my hand is swollen. I tell the two security guards that I was here last night, that I got stabbed, that I need stitches. They’re friendly and call a nurse for me. She brings up my file and asks me to wait. There’s a lot of waiting here. Had I not had the bandages I suspect I’d have died of either bleeding or worse, waiting. In no time I’m taken to another room where I find the dude who was hopping on one leg a few hours ago sitting on the edge of the other bed. He fractured an ankle, he tells me.
A nurse walks in and undoes my bandages to reveal the damage. The wound looks like something out of The Walking Dead. I wince and look away as she dabs it with anti-septic and takes out clumps of dead flesh.
The doctor walks in and tells me it is not going to be painless, but then looks at the other guy and says, “for you, my friend, it’s gonna be worse!” I don’t know whether to laugh or maintain a straight face. After all, this is a serious hospital; it feels inappropriate to laugh. I look away and chew my face as he weaves 12 stitches into my left hand. It’s not too bad; the tightening of stitches reminds me of when my primary school English teacher pinched me under my arm for not doing homework. She was such a bitch, I think, as the doctor says, “you’re good to go, buddy.”
It’s over and I’m relieved. I ask to stay to watch the doctor work on the other guy. He asks the other guy if it’s okay and kindly enough, the dude agrees. He tells the doctor he got injured in a soccer match; the doctor tells him bite into a tongue depressor; he says he doesn’t need to; the doctor asks, “are you sure, my friend?” I watch with the same kind of devilish glee only possible on King Joffrey’s face. The doctor asks the dude again, to confirm, before he adjusts his ankle and the dude just says: “go ahead.”
He murmurs fearsomely as the doctor touches his foot, and when the doctor twists his ankle this way he lets out terrible cry followed by a sonorous groan before idling with an infant like moan. Do it again! Joffrey says, in my head. And the doctor, as if obliging Joffrey’s request, my request, twists that way and the man sings like a bull being slaughtered. I catch myself with Joffrey’s face and I feel sorry and happy. Sorry that the poor guy is in such terrible, terrible, pain. But happy that someone else had it worse.
* Illustration © Sasan