Friday, December 25, 2009

Now I know where my tax money goes...And I'm proud to be South African

On Tuesday of this week, a stomach bug got the better of me. I had not had a bug for a while, but all the symptoms followed the usual '24 hour bug' features

I started to improve on Wednesday afternoon, and felt pretty good. But, on Thursday morning, one particular, never-experienced-before, symptom, was ever present.

After searching for information (i.e. consulting with Doctor Google) I grew slightly neurotic, and wanted to know whether I should be concerned or not. I wanted to know if I should just relax, be going for blood tests, or if I should check myself into a hospital.

To get that kind of feedback, and have the (allocated) 5 minute, R300, discussion with my GP, would have meant:
  • The usual 45 minute wait (despite actually making an appointment)
  • The advice to take a course of R350 anti-biotics (just in case, ofcourse)
  • The insistence of having R500 blood tests (because there is always some kick-back for referrals)
After company cutbacks, I was retrenched. I am unemployed and on the job market, (CV available on request). So, in order to get the kind of feedback I needed (to be concerned or not to be concerned), I decided to visit the public clinic in Wendywood, a suburb not too far from our home.

I did not know what to expect.

Actually, I did know what to expect. After all, the press is full of nightmare stories regarding South Africa's public health system.

I drove into the parking lot and had an initial chat with the security guard. He was eager to assist me, and pointed me in the right direction. I walked into the small, single-story building, expecting to see 100 or more, sick and dying, poverty-stricken South Africans. I expected to see dirt and grime. I expected to experience poor service, from ill-trained staff. I expected to see medical waste including used needles

But, I was willing to give it a try.

My first impression was: Hey, did they know I was coming? Why is this place spotless? They must have something up their sleeves. There is no way a public clinic has a floor I could eat off of!

So, I reckoned, I am now here, let me wait and see how long it takes for me to be seen. And sadly, I was disappointed. I hate waiting in lines. I'm impatient. And having one/1/a single person in front of me was a battle I had to overcome. Having to wait a full five minutes to be seen by the medical practitioner.....that was a tough one for me.... but I got through it

I was called into the consultation room.

The nightmare was about to begin

Everything I had read about and heard about was about to be realised. Every fear that is discussed at our middle to upper class dinner tables, was about to manifest itself. Every criticism of South Africa and its public health system was about to be justified.

I was attended to by two ladies. I explained everything that had happened over the past two days, and told them my concerns. They knew exactly what I was talking about. They reassured me that I had nothing to worry about. They explained what was happening, and said it I must take a course of anti-biotics. They said the symptoms would be gone within 2 days. They also said that if that was not the case, I should go for blood tests.

They were understanding. They were friendly. They were professional. They did not limit my time to 5 minutes, in order to get the next patient/client/R300 through the door

And they gave me a course or anti-biotics

And all the fears came crashing down.

I am not naive, blind or ill-informed about South Africa's public health system. I know there are many problems. And I am fearful of those issues. But I am no longer fearful of public healthcare in general.

I am also not naive about private healthcare. I am still fearful of being checked into a certain Northern suburbs private clinic, 'known' for its unusually high patient mortality rate. I am also fearful of the fraud and dodgy dealings of some supposedly far-superior private GP's and specialists. Yet, I am not fearful of private healthcare in general

Later that same day, I met with a doctor friend of mine, Peter. He's a specialist, and while he does mainly private work, he has worked (and still does) within the public health system. He was not at all surprised by my experience. And, after explaining what my symptoms were, my concerns, what the ladies had said, what they had done for me, and the advice to take a course of anti-biotics he said "I would have done, and advised, exactly as they did"

I can say, without hesitation, that I will be using my local public clinic again.

And I can say without hesitation, that not a single person within my social circle, ever will

And that is their loss

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