Anatomy of Grey’s procedure

By Washington Post Time of article published Mar 24, 2020

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Durban - My children having matriculated and the private school versus state school debate now over, my current austerity involves medical aid.

Could I avoid needing to go to hospital for an open-ended, but hopefully not long, window period without private cover?

The answer proved “no” when I visited a doctor who told me the “spider bite” I had come in for was not a bite, but that a growth on my face looked worrying.

She scheduled a slot for me to have it removed at Grey’s, one of Pietermaritzburg’s three public hospitals.

“Get there early and take a book,” she advised.

A sea of about 250 chairs filled with a variety of people was my first place to practice patience.

It seemed so like a magistrate’s court.

I was probably as nervous about going under the knife in a state hospital as an accused might be before appearing in the dock.

There was even a prisoner or two among us, chains connecting their ankles.

The age pyramids at court and hospital were, however, different. The court has more young adults, the hospital more elderly people.

Then, another similarity. Court cases are forever adjourned.

On my first visit to Grey’s, the doctor - when I finally got to see him about three hours later - took a look at my face and said: “This will require you to go under a local anaesthetic.”

I said to myself, “Hello-o-o, that’s why I am here”.

“Come back next week.”

Next week came and after even more waiting, I eventually found myself sitting in a passage with a woman who had large growths of flesh protruding from her ears, which she called “amacici” (ear rings).

A poor fellow in the waiting room also had such growths, only his were half the size of his face and grew around his neck like a collar.

Someone called my name.

The next minute I was lying on the slab, covered in cloths and having injections into my face to keep it numb.

My surgeon had a touch that was more gentle than that of the last dentist who attacked me. She explained she would have to dig quite deep to get a decent chunk of me to send off to the lab and said her job would be easiest if I kept a straight face.

She proved her mettle when she had me so relaxed that I drifted off into a sleep to wake up eavesdropping on a conversation she was having with a colleague. They were discussing whether questions in medical exams were set to test one’s knowledge or one’s English.


Back a week later for a follow-up, I found myself waiting and waiting, once again, among prisoners in chains, pensioners - some in wheelchairs - and folk like the fellow next to me who had left Newcastle at 5am to travel to the provincial capital, having been referred there for a thyroid removal.

His name was called and he went off to return minutes later.

“This is amazing,” he said. “I arrived at 7am and it’s only 9.30am and they have already checked my blood pressure. At Madadeni (in Newcastle) they would not have seen me until after lunch.”

He expected to be admitted to a ward.

My turn came and a nurse looked at my wound and remarked: “Only one week, that’s far too early to take out the stitches.”

A doctor agreed.

Had I been an accused in court and not a patient in hospital, it would have been a case of “hearing postponed”.

Each visit to Grey’s costs me R112. I will no doubt have to pay that again on my next visit when my histology report - sentence, if it were a court case - will be heard.

The tally after the next visit will be R560 - that’s only about R100 more than the appointment with the doctor who referred me had cost.

While every hospital day is different, every experience offers a touch more insight as we debate things like private versus state healthcare and wonder what healthcare under the government’s proposed National Health Insurance system might be like.

The experience also offers a look at how good society really is.

Volunteers from Pietermaritzburg’s All Saints United Church were at Grey’s on each of my visits to give every patient and every patient’s companion two slices of bread and a cup of soup.

Delicious soup too!

The Independent on Saturday

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