Personal Experiences of the Provincial Hospital: The Unkindest Cut

Like the overwhelming majority of Europeans of my generation in PE I was born in the Provincial Hospital – Sandford Block to be precise. Not for us the home births in a Tepee with a dreamcatcher gently twirling in the breeze while a Mother Earth midwife rocks on her haunches as she chants incomprehensible jargon.  No, for all the talk about being tougher, my parent’s generation for once were wusses and did not do it au naturel like their mothers – sterile hospital birth it was.

Main picture: Parking lot exit into Buckingham Road – the scene of my denouement in early 1975 while on a mercy mission to visit a friend.

I do not remember being brought mewling and puking into this world, as the Bard put it.  And nor do I remember a little while later when the doctor had the foresight to convert me into an open top Cabriolet sports model.  Thank goodness these things happened before we became sentimentally attached to our various body parts.  I never held it against him, either then or as an adult.  Today, there is a prolonged ethical debate and, with liberal law the way it is, it is also possible that the parents can get sued by the child years later as there is no statute of limitation for assault that causes life altering injuries.  But that was not my unkindest cut.

That luckily was the last time that I was personally involved with the hospital apart from minor visits to casualty for stitches after sports matches or the disagreeable experience of a puncture when riding a motor bike.  Apart from my foreskin and a fair number of teeth, no thanks to Doctor Alnut, our local Dr Mengele, I still have all my body parts.  Not so my siblings.  Cheryl had her tonsils yanked out as seemed to happen to every second kid in those days – and she was the second child in our family.  As with unsightly warts, it’s a problem that seems to have gone away along with water on the knee.  All parents hoped that their kids would get tonsillitis so that they could be removed while a child to avoid the more painful exercise as an adult.  It was similar to German measles.  The moment any neighbourhood child caught it, the girls would be rushed over to visit with the stern admonishment, “And don’t come home until you’re sick!”  At least our parents didn’t have to worry about the fake news connecting autism and vaccination.  For once our mothers, as they have done through the ages, were not admonishing us to put on a jersey so that we didn’t catch a cold.

Provincial Hospital in 1938

Dean, my elder brother, was not so fortunate.  Around the time I started school, my Dad was sent to Louterwater (near Joubertina) on a building contract.  In the absence of the menacet of Dad’s belt, my mother who was not a demonstrative person, couldn’t control us and we went feral. My sister, the middle child was a plucky little shit and during one fight she skopped Dean in his side, putting him hors d’ combat and hors d’ whole lot of other things. Any more to the middle and lower down and I would have had to rely on Cheryl alone for my nephews and nieces.  The pain in his side got worse until a few days later my Mom decided that his malaise was beyond malingering. Her rudimentary nursing skills stretched no further than Friar’s Balsam, bandages cut from old vests and Y-fronts and the Cresolene Lamp for my ‘weak’ chest.  I lie.  We also had ENO’s which I used to add to orange Kool Aid to make a poor man’s Fanta.  But I digress.  It was time to call Dr McChesney.  He was no stranger to our house as doctors did house calls in those days and I was always getting Bronchitis.  He arrived in his brown Rover and tweed jacket, also brown, ironically just about when Hospitaal Tyd[1] played on Springbok Radio at 12:15.  He took one look at Dean and hurried off to use our monstrous black Bakelite phone that could be used in self-defence to ward off burglars and rabid dogs.  Dean urgently needed an ambulance as his appendix had long since tired of waiting for the doctor and had burst. We were the centre of attention in the street that day with the unusual sight of an ambulance arriving and Dean being trundled inside as I peeked out from behind my Mom’s skirts.  By mid-afternoon, the shattered remains of the offending appendage had been removed but there were serious infections in his bowel area.  It took about a week of pus drainage and nurses massaging his stomach which left him with a huge scar that looked as if he had had a major organ transplant – something to boast about.

During one of our visits that weekend, we noticed a young boy in the corner bed lying on his stomach with a tunnel-like tent over him.  It was whispered that he had fallen asleep in the sun and suffered whatever degree burns.  Kids are inquisitive little shits so naturally Cheryl and I crept over when the parents weren’t looking and peeped under the tent.  It was not a pleasant sight.  That was a salutary lesson although we were still to find out about SPF50 suntan lotion and the event horizon of the ozone hole was yet to appear.  In fact, the girls would use baby oil to enhance the sunburn and all that was sold was suntan lotion like Coppertone that actually promoted the bronze look.  But I will always remember that poor boy with one huge red/brown scab covering his back.  I vowed never to fall asleep on my stomach and let the sun go down on me. 

Provincial Hospital in 1938

Apart from that one lesson in life, I had nothing against that hospital until I was nearly 18. I was illegally riding my 175cc Yammie scrambler when I went on a mercy mission one night to visit an ex-neighbour, Keith Miller, who had been knocked off his motorbike.  Exiting the hospital grounds, I was startled by the sudden choice of two lanes.  I found myself in the wrong lane, and with a spiedkop directing the exiting traffic, I nervously changed lanes at the last moment.  To make matters worse, I now had to turn sharply around him in the middle of the road instead of away from him.  As I went past, he took time off from his hand waving to slap my arm and indicate with a white leather gauntlet that I was to pull over and wait.  Five minutes later he swaggered over with his leather legs and Nazi style jodhpurs, hitching his heavy duty belt over his gut as it had slipped down with all that gesticulating.  He stood directly in front of me with his arms akimbo and, giving me the hairy eyeball, he demanded in perfect spiedkop English, “Has you got a licence?” 

In an instant, all my excuses and nonchalant attitude that I had feverishly been working on crumbled.  He knew.

“Yes.” I stammered, attempting to look him in the eye   ….  and failing.  It was not my most heroic action in my life.

Main entrance to the Provincial Hospital

Moving even closer and hitching his pants up a bit more and hooking his thumbs into his belt to stop it from slipping again, he repeated the question with an even more severe tone of eyeball.  Under this intense and direct interrogation, I was putty in his hands.  I was transported back to the days of standing in front of my Dad or the headmaster waiting to get wacked.  I abjectly and cravenly admitted that I didn’t.  That made him very happy as his suspicions were proven correct.  He was like those SS Nazis who reckoned that they could infallibly detect a Jew just by looking at them without the distasteful demand to drop their pants and display their severely edited family heirloom. When he finished lecturing me and writing out a fine that I would struggle to afford as a self-funding student, I plucked up the courage to ask him how I was to get my bike home.  At this effrontery, he glared at me for a bit like I was stupid and walked away to his hearse-black BMW motorbike.  Like the devil, his work was done.  After adjusting his crotch and mounting his bike, he quietly suggested that I wait a half an hour.  Perhaps he wasn’t such a Nazi after all.

That undeserved fine whilst on a selfless mercy mission was my most painful memory of that hospital – the unkindest cut of all.

[1] Hospitaal Tyd – A popular and long running greeting/request programme that aired Monday to Friday at 12h30 from 1957 to 1979 on Springbok Radio.

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