Last Monday started out like any other Monday. The girls and I drove to the respite unit to let me off when the phone rang. Alex told us it was the Auntie of one of her students and they were very sick. The boy was Nkululeko and he and his sister Sne are HIV+ and live with their Go Go and Auntie. Their Mother died of AIDS. The kids have been sort of “adopted” by the past Augustinian Volunteers because the Go Go had a stroke and can’t get around very well. Alex has helped a lot this year with transport to clinics to pick up their ARV’s or for various appointments. However, Monday was different. Their Auntie was frantic because Nkululeko (11 years old) had been up all night vomiting and with diarrhea. We quickly grabbed a blanket, a pillow, a plastic bowl and a care-worker from the respite and went to see him. It was determined that he was severely dehydrated and needed an IV and a consultation by a doctor.
Alex and I drove him to St. Mary’s hospital about 45 minutes away. I sat in the back with him and he laid down on my lap. We arrived at a very full hospital and had to register and then WAIT. We sat in the queue (as they call it here) for over an hour just to get his vitals taken. Once we were behind the curtain, he began vomiting again. The nurse told us to take him to Room 4 to see the pediatrician and to make sure we told the staff he needed to be seen quickly because of the vomiting.
We got to Room 4 and I knew this was going to be ugly. I told Alex to sit outside with Nkululeko on a bench and I’d “manuever the system.” There must have been 100 + Mothers or Grannies with babies waiting to be seen. The babies were coughing, crying, and vomiting. I went to speak with the Nurse and told her that my patient was vomiting and that he was really dehydrated…she told me she’d be right over to help…she never came. I then saw the Doctor and decided to talk to him. I stood right outside his office. He came out yelling “Do any of these children have a fever?” No one answered, so I went to him and told him that Nkululeko was vomiting and was dehydrated. His exact words were “Mam, vomiting can wait. Go sit down.”
So I sat…and I sat…and I sat. I watched in terrorized amazement as nurses laid children all around the floor with IV’s in their heads (yes, their heads). I watched as two year old had IV’s in the arms and their mothers had wrapped the cords around their necks and then let them run all around. I watched as tired Grannies felt overwhelmed and helpless. I watched as mothers fought with each other to be seen next because their kid was sicker. I looked on as toddlers ate garbage off the floor and played with dirty needle containers until someone finally stopped them. Every so often I got up and asked another nurse or care worker to help us and each time I was told to sit back down, all the while, Nkululeko is vomiting out on the bench. 6 hours passed and we finally we called in to see the doctor.
He took one look at our poor little guy and exclaimed “THIS BOY IS SO SICK AND DEHYDRATED, WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME HE WAS VOMITTING EARLIER?” I honestly had to hold myself back from punching this jerk in the face. I yelled back at him telling him that I had told 3 nurses and HIM. He was soooooo rude. He said that we had to admit Nkululeko immediately and get him on an IV. There were no beds available, so we stayed in room four. They showed us an exam table that he could lay on. As I looked, I saw an old Grannie changing her baby and leaving feces all over the table. I grabbed gloves and had to clean it myself because I knew no one else in this horrid place was going to. Nkululeko laid down drip hanging from a nail on the wall and fell fast asleep. Alex left to get his Aunt in Molweni while I stayed with him.
I stared at him with a million thoughts racing through my head. How unfair?!!! How unfair that this beautiful, sweet little boy has this horrible disease and will have to battle it for the rest of his life. He did nothing to merit this sickness. I wondered what the rest of his life will be like? Will he understand what he has to do to stay healthy? Will he be safe and cared for? The questions continue today.
Finally, about 9 hours after we first arrived at the hospital, a bed in the children’s ward opened up. We all walked down to get him settled in. I have never been so shocked as I was walking into the ward. It looked like a “Save the Children” commercial. There are cribs lined up with babies, toddlers and older children that are suffering and (some dying) from HIV/AIDS. They are wasting away, they are crying and they are alone. None of the children had diapers, so many of them were laying in their own waste. It seemed to us that no one was paying attention to them at all. All the nurses were chatting in the other room. Luckily, we were able to be advocates for Nkululeko. No one was allowed to stay with him overnight which made us all upset.
He seemed happy to be in a comfortable bed at the very least. It had been a long day and I’m sure he was exhausted. We gave him big hugs and left for the night. Alex and the Auntie visited the next day too. On Wednesday, we were elated when Nkululeko was going to be discharged. We all went to get him at the hospital. He could not wait to leave (and honestly, I don’t blame him). The car ride home was full of laughing and picture taking and my bad jokes. These pictures are priceless…