At 930 am I called his name and he came in limping; leaning on another man, helping him in, and the lady security guard. His drip was empty with dry blood on it’s cover folded in his hand. With obvious relief he lay down on the examination bed.

I examined his welts, some burst open with rawness and bleeding as we spoke. He had been in the waiting room since 1am. But that night there were a lot of patients and he was simply placed in the queue. So he had waited. 9 hours. He had waited on a chair in a crowded waiting room.

He had so much internal bruising from the impact of the sjambok that he was assaulted with, that he had a dangerous amount of damaged blood cells in his body that can interfere with kidney function. Hence, despite the intravenous fluids running into his veins, he had not urinated the whole night.

The crushed and damaged muscles were releasing toxins into his blood stream, that could cause renal failure and even death.

Over a phone.

He bought a phone from another man. A third man claimed that the phone was his when he saw it on the patient. That night he entered the man’s home and dragged him outside and a few of them beat him over 50 times with the sjambok. Everywhere. They told him he would die and poured cold water over him in the middle of the night. And left him in the yard – to die.

I considered perhaps the cold water helped him from losing consciousness so he could shout to someone passing by to call the ambulance.

And here he was. Without his phone and with a broken body.

Another teeny peep into the reality of South Africa’s living. At the end of the day you remember all the people (patients) that you touched sides with. Some more than others. But the imprint of their experience translated into so many variety of symptoms and injuries can be a tender focus in one’s heart. The feeling of helplessness we are left with to truly offer help. The sadness that can enter and flood in as the rawness of life becomes highlighted.

At the hospital we are so often dealing with the very end of the long road that led to the disease or injury we are now seeing. Septic wounds left festering for months. Emaciated young men, wasting away, weighing 30kg and not yet starting treatment for their hidden illness.

The reality of left over apartheid, the rife crime, abuse and neglect born from alcohol and tik. The hard lives of survival.

16 year olds wearing chest drains from stab wounds from afternoon street fights. Wrong area wrong time. Women beaten up and miscarrying almost fully grown fetus’ – dying in the womb from the impact of a man’s foot on a mother’s pregnant abdomen.

My heart weeps as I place my mask over my nose and mouth so I can protect myself from any Tuberculosis germs.

My hands carry on as my mouth asks the right questions, inserting pipes and fingers into personal places, placing my hands on chests, my ears listening for abnormal sounds, prodding abdomens and peering into earholes.

They sell them on the side of the road. A sjambok costs less than R100 and is historically used for cattle or as a riding crop. It does have an infamous history in South Africa for being used to assault people, or groups. It is sold on e-bay as a weapon for self-defense. 

“…modeled after the original which was use for a cattle prod, a whip, a riding crop and a means of self-protection. Unlike most western style whips, the Sjambok is not plaited from thin leather thongs. Its considerable reach, lightning speed and devastating impact have built it quite a reputation as a sure defense against deadly snakes. Since the Sjambok is swung like a rod or stick and not cracked like a conventional western style whip, the weight, speed and flexibility of the Sjambok’s lash does all the work and little skill is required to wield it effectively. Sjambok features a thick, beefy lash, injection molded from polypropylene and equipped with a soft comfortable Kraton handle designed to resemble braided leather.”

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