Thursday, December 16, 2010

My two days in hospital

I wasn't in hospital per se- I basically went home to sleep- Thank God. But I have had to spend the past two days here:

Tygerberg hospital, the 2nd largest hospital in the world...otherwise known as a big- ass state hospital with passages over a mile long. And we walked up and down these passages from Neurology to Psychiatry and back again "conveniently" located on two opposite ends of the hospital. To give you an idea of the length of said passages:

Note how the lights kinda disappear into oblivion

Stopping for a break halfway through

I've said it before on this blog....whatever sadist designed this hospital- knowing that sick patients would have to walk the length of these passages- should be shot. My mom tells me that when this hospital was being built, in the 1970's there was great excitement as it was to be a "high tech" facility with "breakthrough technology" you can see that is no longer the case.

As I have also said before, I am truly grateful for the medical care that I am getting- it isn't fancy or comfortable but it has saved my life. I would be blind if it wasn't for neurology and the employment policy at this hospital has ensured that my Dad doesn't have to fork out half his pension each month for my meds (seriously) I get them for free. Not only that, when I think of the lack of medical care some of my fellow South Africans have and  how hundreds of thousands of people on the African continent die each year because they have no medical care. I am so thankful.

But because I am thankful it doesn't mean I have to just love everything about this hospital and it doesn't mean that certain things don't make me very, very angry.

I saw something yesterday that was the absolute last straw and made me absolutely livid... take a look:

See, I made it extra large. Not very spectacular right? . Looks like some construction going on.

Well here is the story. It was going to be a long wait for the neurologist so the ward secretary suggested that my Mom and I go have some coffee (aka coffee- flavoured water). On our way to the cafeteria we passed the "new" psychiatric ward. Whenever I pass the psychiatric ward I can't help but stop, there is always a whirlwind of emotion that goes through my head. Thoughts like, "Will I ever land up here?" "What has stopped me from becoming like the people in this ward?" "What will push me over the edge" race through my head.

Almost immediately after we stopped my Mom and I were caught up by the most disgusting smell and it seemed to be coming from the ward. I went up to the door and peered through the crack, the passage was deserted, the atmosphere radiating out of that door was eery. When I turned to walk back I saw that the side doors leading into a courtyard were open and there were a whole lot of flies buzzing in and out of the door. The source of the dreadful smell was that pile of rubbish in the picture above.... RIGHT NEXT TO THE PSYCHIATRY WARD!!!!. I walked a little closer...I'm telling you people the smell was putrid. The pile of rubbish was actually a lot bigger than depicted in the picture it consisted of wood, rubble, plastic, paper and then food in various stages of decay and other green, black and grey slimy things that I really didn't care to get any closer to. Basically it was a pile of sewage. You cannot see the flies in the picture but believe me they were having a field day

I was in so much pain in these pictures, both physically and emotionally, seeing this awful mess- a total lack of respect for human beings who are unable to help themselves- blew away the paper thin barrier holding back a total meltdown. That they have placed these people in underground, in the bowels of the hospital where no one has to see or hear them, away from sunlight, is bad enough. Dumping a pile of stinking rubbish outside their window that could possibly cause further distress and disease takes the bullshit cake. My mother reacted as any loving mother would by getting me out of there as soon as possible. I plan to write some newspapers about this and obviously complain to the hospital.

I guess really should give an update on my BIH, depression and GAD. The first day I saw a psychiatrist (aka doctor studying to be a psychiatrist). I knew right from the start that this was going to be a useless appointment. I told her that things did get better for a while, but after the break with my psychologist they are now worse than ever, I didn't get a chance to tell her I had been suicidal again because she cut me off and told me that "We don't really want to put you on more medication (I already knew that), I think you should go see a psychologist". That's what I have been doing you stupid woman... did you even listen?!. The outcome of the appointment was that they will try and get me to see a psychiatrist at a hospital closer to me and I go back in March, no doubt to see a different doctor studying to be a psychiatrist.

On to Neurology... a lot of time was spent trying to track down my neurologist (aka a doctor studying to be a neurologist)- they close for the Christmas holidays. Eventually my Mom had him paged and spoke to him on the phone where she demanded that he come in to see me. I was told to come in the next day. We were there bright and early the next morning and  waited for four hours to find that my neurologist and palmed me off on his buddy- surprise, surprise the dude that performed or should I say messed up my lumbar- puncture (spinal tap) three weeks ago. How- ahem- happy I was to see him.

This is where it starts to get funny- he refused to see me with my mother, telling her he would chat to her afterwards ( she had wanted to throttle him after my lumbar- puncture). Judging by the look on her face I immediately began to feel sorry....for him. When he asked what had been going on with me I stifled the urge yell, "You f**king mutilated my spine, you dumbass" and calmly told him that I had been extremely ill since the LP and I still had enormously painful headaches accompanied by dizziness, nausea and extreme fatigue. Meanwhile outside...where my Mom was listening through a hole in the door, in came strolling my neurologist. Poor guy... my Mom pounced like a cat on a bird. I could hear her threw the door and immediately fell sorry for whoever was on the other side of her wrath.

Dude checked my eyes- found my optic nerves weren't swollen, although they did appear scared. He asked me a few questions but I already knew what he was thinking: He didn't have a clue what was wrong and that most likely my depression was to blame. We spoke about surgery and it turns out that although my spinal pressure was high, they will not be doing surgery at this stage. I then told him nonchalantly, "So I guess  it's all in my mind then" He didn't really know what to say but eventually said "It's real to you- that's what matters" I told him good luck with my Mom. He told me I was a sweet girl.

We went back out into the passage where Mr. Neurologist had amazingly been able to calm my mother down. We stood talking for a while with him and Dude doctor. The compassionate side of them eventually emerged when Dude doctor said, " I would say now that your BIH is under control but your depression is definitely out of control". It was probably the only thing Dude doctor was able to hit the nail on the head about. Immediately I began tearing up and it was that that put them into action. They called in the psychiatry rotater and for a while there was some finger pointing going on. Neurology were telling Psychiatry that my problem was clearly psychological. Psychiatry were telling Neurology that it was clearly neurological. Somewhere between all of this I began to think about Homer Simpsom...for some reason. Eventually the heads of both departments got involved, seeing them trying to meet each other half way to find a solution was interesting. Eventually it was decided by everyone to put me on Amitriptyline an anti- depressant used a lot by neurology for management of migraines. I have been on it before. Needless to say my Mom was not happy- another pill. I have to go back for another eye test in January and will hopefully have my checkup the same day.

In between all this we found this little guy:

 The pictures don't really do justice to how very tiny this little sweetheart was. His name is Joshua and he was born prematurely. He is a month old and only weighs 2.2kg (4lbs 8oz). He has to wear dolls clothes because he is so tiny. When this picture was taken he was about to have surgery for cataracts on both eyes. His mother was beaming with pride and loved showing him off. We told her that he will be a piano player one day because his miniature hands have such long fingers and he held onto my finger with the most amazing strength.

You see it's this that I am grateful for. Tygerberg with it's stinking rubbish heaps, disintegrating walls, rude staff, toilet paperless bathrooms, looong waits and befuddled student doctors, kept this little boy alive and will give him the ability to see. There will always be things to be thankful for, even in a pile of ashes.



  1. Stephi, I am so sorry you have to deal with such painful and chronic med. conditions. It's hard enough to have a mood disorder and then having chronic pain is horrible. I wish we lived closer so we could go out together and just go for a gentle walk. Those photos of the hospital are appalling! Hospitals are supposed to be places of healing and anyone would feel only worse after smelling and seeing such horrid conditions. I could go on and on about how people are treated in psych. wards. It seems like sometimes we haven't come any farther with treating psychiatric illnesses than they used to in Bedlam. Thereby the grace of God, goes I, is a mantra I repeat to myself. I pray that soon you will find physicians who really listen to you and actually know what the hell they're talking about. And it says a lot about your beautiful soul that you were drawn to baby Joshua. He looks like a sleeping little angel. Believe me your angels are always watching out for you, Stephi, although it may feel like you're being stranded on a deserted island. Know that I send many blessings and hugs to you.

  2. What a horrible experience on so many levels. I don't think most doctors really have any idea what it's like to spend appointment after appointment just trying to find some answers. Anything just to feel better. Try this. Try that. This will work. Let's try a different dose even though the last one was not good.

    The hunt for answers is so frustrating. Test after test that costs more and more money. Getting shuffled back and forth between whoever is available.

    I hope you find some answers soon. Something that helps. Until then, please know that you are not alone.

  3. Hey Wendy,
    It would be so great if you lived round the corner from me as I do really need a friend right now- my dearest friends live overseas and I just don't feel comfortable revealing this part of myself to my friends here, I know they would not know what to do.

    Yes that hospital is in an appalling state- Most of the staff there are working to the best of their ability ( although, clearly others are slacking off ). The problem is a lack of resources- it makes me angry that this country recently spent R60 million ( about $8.8 million) and a "Youth conference" (that bombed completely) when there is so much need.

    I won't turn this into a political thing but I will say that this experience has opened my eyes to the need and the suffering that is overwhelming so many people. There is a massive gap between the rich and the poor in South Africa and many of the South Africans that are better off will never see what I have seen because of their closeted lives. I have gotten more out of the state health care than many others because my mother and I are educated and we are able to understand both English and Afrikaans. This is were a lot of patients come up short- they are not educated and they don't understand what is happening to them.

    God is using this experience to keep my eyes open. It is one thing to see it on T.V but I have seen it in reality what poverty is doing and how it is growing. I have seen some truly awful things in that place.

    Thanks always for your wonderful support. I haven't been able to get your post about your kitty Tabitha out of my mind- it really struck a chord.


  4. Hey Miss Robin,

    I am so glad to hear from you because I have been actually reading your both your blogs for a little while. My hat is off to you for being a Mom of five- I'm taking care of just one child right now and I am soooo exhausted.

    Yes, it is unbelievably frustrating being passed from doc to doc like a used sweater. Bear in mind these are actually students that are treating me and I get the impression that they want to move onto more "exciting stuff" like brain tumors and aneurysms. Even one of the psych students looked out my file and seemed "disappointed" that she had been given yet another depression case. Her attitude was like, "Awww! don't you have Schizophrenia or something?"

    One of your blogs has had me in constant tears ( and I'm sure you know which one) it's both very hard and a relief to read because I do identify with how you think and feel. I have an awful habit of being to shy to comment on a new blog- you have no idea how long if took me to finally comment on Wendy, Running Circles and Takashi's blogs, maybe it's a rejection thing, I don't know.

    Anyway, I look forward to reading more on your blogs. Hope you are surviving the silly season!