Woman told she had HIV loses case
Pretoria - A Polokwane woman who was told by a hospital matron she was HIV-positive, then that she might be, only later to undergo two further tests which proved she did not have the virus, has twice failed in her attempt to receive R100 000 in damages from the Limpopo MEC for Health.
Nadine Geldenhuys, who was undergoing psychological treatment for depression at the time, said in papers before the North Gauteng High Court the bad news she received aggravated her condition and led to emotional shock and trauma.
At first she claimed the R100 000 damages in the Polokwane Magistrate’s Court, but her application was turned down as the magistrate found that the matron at the then-Pietersburg Hospital was not at fault.
Geldenhuys turned to the high court on appeal, but Judge Neil Tuchten also found that the matron had done nothing wrong.
The judge commented that the woman, who was 28 in 2002 when she was first tested for HIV/Aids, had led a difficult life. This led to her suffering from depression and seeking help.
In February 2002, she suffered stomach pain and diarrhoea and was admitted to hospital, where two tests were done to establish her HIV status. The first test’s finding was stated as positive.
A Russian doctor, whose English was poor, asked the matron to tell her about the test result. Geldenhuys said she was told that it was positive and explained to her how patients with this condition had to manage it.
She said the matron left and returned with a sealed envelope, which she opened. This result said the test was indeterminate - it could not be established whether she had the virus or not. The matron nevertheless told her to treat herself as if she was positive.
A friend testified that he went to visit her in hospital. He was called to the matron’s office. He said he followed her into the office but soon left when the woman was told she was HIV-positive, as he regarded it as a private matter.
The matron testified that her policy was to consult patients in private and the friend was not present.
On appeal, Judge Tuchten said the matron was an experienced HIV-counsellor and she had followed the correct procedure. The matron had simply conveyed to the patient that the first test was positive - and the matron could not be held responsible if the test was not.
Geldenhuys had another blood test done a day after she received the news from the matron. This time the test showed she was negative. As she was still worried, she underwent two more tests, which again proved her status to be negative.
Judge Tuchten said she undoubtedly had received this news with relief and joy.
In the meantime she had married and given birth to a healthy boy.
Geldenhuys said she should have initially been told she might be HIV-positive and not simply that she was, as it was not entirely conclusive at the time.
But the judge questioned whether this would have made her less depressed and anxious for the next three days, until she heard the good news.
“We don’t know,” he said, concluding she had not proved she had suffered damages.