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We can do better, South Africans!

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Welcome back. Our Columnist Maruping Phepheng was busy with studies hence, dear reader, you couldn’t read his columns for the past four weeks. On his return he fires salvo and still believes South Africans’ Can Do Better despite the odds stacked against us.

Simple things, if done well, make us all feel good about the service provided, and those providing the service have (without being complacent) their confidence swelling so much that even difficult tasks suddenly seem easily achievable.

Here is an incident which needed just a bit of care to become a great story to tell.

About a week ago an acquaintance and I had to quickly rush a sick man to hospital. It was late in the night, and rain poured heavily. Responding to a call by a distressed woman, we got her sick man out of bed, into the car, and sped away to find help.

The nearest clinic was five or so minutes away, the hospital about fifteen kilometres out, so the decision to drive to the clinic was an easy one.

There was no traffic that night, only twenty or so yawning potholes to negotiate in order to get to the clinic fast. As if sympathetic, the only robot we had to cross before we got to the clinic flashed green as we approached it.

A few seconds later it was still hammering as we approached the guarded gates of the clinic, and, as if the deadly potholes were not enough, the security guard walked sluggishly out of his office, not bothered by the driver shouting ‘Please open up quickly! We have a sick man in here!’ He looked at our car enquiringly from the other side of the gate and the driver hit the hooter again, but the man was clearly not going to move one step faster than he felt was necessary.

He finally opened the gate and we hurried through. Moments later we were carrying the sick man inside the clinic.

The two nurses on duty pointed us to an unoccupied bed, where we rested the sick man.

“We don’t know, but he’s clearly in pain. Please help him,” said my acquaintance when the nurse asked what was wrong.

She then tried to start a conversation, asking where the pain was, but the man said nothing. Pain overwhelmed him.

The nurse then proceeded to borrow my cell phone to call an ambulance. Minutes later she returned to tell us the ambulance was on its way. Other than an injection to calm him down, the nurses did nothing else as we waited for the ambulance, and I began to regret why we did not drive straight to the hospital.

She came back a few minutes later and borrowed the cell phone again, this time wanting to call a private ambulance. Frustrated, I wanted to vent, to ask how different their treatment was from actually running a sharp knife through the throat of the waiting patient but I thought it would not help, so I gave her the phone.

The private ambulance arrived first, the public one arriving a few minutes later.

I felt simultaneously disappointed and thankful as the man finally left the preposterously unhelpful health facility. I am not a nurse, but I feel quite strongly that the sick deserve greater compassion. The nurses in this case seemed unequipped nor disposed to help.

As a nation we could certainly have a wonderful story to tell just by attending to simple things promptly and decisively.

I mean, if we wanted to we could close the potholes (they slowed our trip to the clinic quite significantly) without waiting for the community to take to the streets, burning tyres and libraries and prohibiting children from going to school just to force public officials to do what they are paid for in the first place.

Granted, security guards at places like hospitals and clinics have a duty to make sure that there is control in terms of access, and that no rules are broken while such access is managed. But please, when it becomes obvious that there is an emergency; that someone is likely to die if not immediately attended to, compassionate guards should surely facilitate easy and quick access?

Even though he is still in hospital, he is alive and getting stronger, and that is all that matters. Whether the next sick person will be that lucky is altogether another matter.

I am satisfied though that there wouldn’t be a need for such nervousness on my part if lazy, basically discourteous and at times useless public servants treated us just fractionally better than they do.

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