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Healthcare workers going the extra mile for patients

Nokuzola Ndabazonke walks slowly to the chair in her physiotherapist’s consulting room. She turns and painstakingly sits down. Two months ago she could not sit up straight by herself or use her hands and could hardly utter a word. She is also infected with HIV.

“She had TB of the brain and consequently suffered a stroke,” says physiotherapist Laura Grobicki.

After intensive sessions with Grobicki, Ndabazonke’s condition improved remarkably.

“I can now give my child a hug again and tell him ‘I love you’,” she says. She reaches for Grobicki’s hand as tears roll down her cheeks. “It is all thanks to you and the speech therapist. You have given me back my life and made me hope again.”

Grobicki is a South African but studied in Australia, where she worked for a few years. In 2010 she decided to return to South Africa. She accepted a position at Zithulele Hospital soon afterwards.

“I am always amazed that my patients here wait many more hours to be helped, get less time from me and I have fewer resources to offer. Yet they are twice as grateful as my Australian patients,” she says.

Grobicki is not the only staff member at Zithulele who regularly does all in her power to ensure her patients’ recovery.

Doctor ensures children’s survival using her own money
Dr Liz Gatley, named Eastern Cape Rural Doctor of the Year of 2011, has taken her medicine a step further: not only has she given children quality treatment, she has also made sure they survive at her own cost.

Last year Zithulele ran out of baby-drip needles, leaving doctors unable to give infants antibiotics or treat them for dehydration. For weeks the staff tried to procure these pieces of equipment from the government, but to no avail.

Gatley could not bear it any longer and decided to order the small needles privately. She paid for them herself. “It caused me far less stress paying the money than looking at a baby and not being able to do what I needed to do for that child,” she says.

Gatley bakes cakes for patients to celebrate their recovery and birthdays in the hospital. When a 14-year-old boy was in the hospital recovering from serious burns and needed to become physically stronger, she bought and cooked meat for him three times a week to supplement his hospital diet.

“I wanted him to heal and was really excited when I saw him making progress. A few months after he was discharged he came to visit us at the hospital, chubby and healthy.

“The best thing we can do for our patients — apart from treating them medically — is to give them back some of their dignity and treat them as actual people. They should feel that we really notice them. I have seen the difference in patients who are treated with respect.”

Employees use their own money to assist patients
Health workers at Zithulele frequently pay for patients’ taxi fares out of their own pockets. Many patients cannot afford to return to the hospital for follow-up appointments.

Manager Ben Gaunt has an HIV patient who cannot afford the monthly R30 transport fee to collect his antiretroviral treatment. The patient’s health deteriorated severely when he missed his appointments. Last year Gaunt started giving him R100 a month and the man has since not missed a single collection date.

“I explained that he would need to save some of the money for his next taxi fare and he has been amazing — every month he is here on time. That R100, together with his discipline, is literally saving his life.”

Occupational therapist Shannon Morgan not only works many hours of overtime without payment, she also parks her car outside so that she can store hospital wheelchairs in her private garage.

Morgan uses her own resources to make hand and foot splints for patients, because the government has not given her a sufficient budget for the past three years.

“Without the splints, the patients would not be able to walk or use their hands,” she says.

“For most of us here, there is more to what we do than earning a salary,” says Gaunt. “We have a connection with the community and we know many of our patients’ families. For some of us, it is our calling and our faith in God that keeps us here. Perhaps we are modern missionaries.”

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Mia Malan
Mia Malan
Mia Malan is the founding director and editor of the Bhekisisa Centre for Health Journalism at the Mail & Guardian. She heads up a team of fifteen permanent and freelance staff members. She loves drama, good wine and strong coffee, not necessarily in that order.

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