Public health services have been under fire in South Africa for many years now. No wonder then that, when my husband’s knees started giving notice and he had to be scheduled for knee replacement operations, I was a bit sceptical about the services we were about to receive.

We recently moved to the South Coast of KwaZulu-Natal and were still finding our feet in the new locale. This proved to be a daunting task, especially with hubby walking with the aid of crutches on two “broken” knees. We were referred to the Port Shepstone Provincial Hospital, some sixty odd kilometers from our new home.

We set out just after 5:00 am for the first appointment as, from previous experience in the bigger government hospitals in and around Johannesburg, we knew that we had to get there and fall into the queues very early in the morning, in order to get back home before sunset. We were so NOT looking forward to this new adventure.

From the outset, though, hospital visits became a day of fun and relaxation, a real outing starting early in the morning with a drive on the N2 highway, through the spectacular landscape with occasional views of the Indian Ocean. The hospital itself was another big surprise, not really very big by the standards that we were used to, but well laid out. The level of hygiene was outstanding, the staff friendly and efficient. Then something happened which made me feel at home immediately: while we were waiting in the outpatient department for new files to be opened, the nursing staff coming on duty treated us with a gospel sing-along and prayers. This was a beautiful and very moving experience.


My husband was soon processed, the proud owner of a new hospital card and waiting in the orthopedic clinic queue, all set for a long day at the hospital. After establishing that a lunch trolley would serve patients (can’t let hubby die of hunger and thirst),  my daughter and I left to explore the shopping malls. Just before noon we received a phone call from a cheerful hubby, telling us that he was all done for the day: clinic procedures completed, saw the doctor, got his medicine from the pharmacy and had lunch. Big surprise.

All this was just more than a year ago and hubby received his first bionic knee two months ago. He knows almost every nurse and doctor by name and made a number of new friends. These days my daughter and I rush the shopping to spend the hours in the hospital queues with hubby, chatting away with all his new friends (the same people tend to turn up for clinic on the same days). We have witnessed a lot of suffering, but also got to know the patience, the empathy and the sharing of burdens which Africans are famous for. Time seems to fly and hospital visits are no longer a chore.

Van my man se “gebreekte” knieë gepraat, hy het rugby gespeel op skool en gee al sy ou beserings die skuld vir sy rug- en knie-probleme. My skoonpa het egter die regte storie vertel: “Hy is soos ‘n sirkus-olifant, altyd gereed om toertjies te doen vir aandag, en dan val hy homself desmoers. Hy is mos ‘n mannetjie wat sy fiets òp gery het agter ander mans se vrouens aan (menende meisies by wie hy gekuier het en wat later jare met ander mans getroud is!). Menige dag het hy huis toe geloop met sy fiets oor sy skouers, albei wiele pap gery”.

Soms, wanneer hy klaerig raak oor al die pyne en skete, herinner ek hom daaraan dat hy sy bene opgehardloop het agter sy skoolliefdes aan en dat ek nou eintlik die een is wat ingedoen is – hier moet ek nou my dae spandeer om hom en sy krukke rond te karwei, waar ek dalk kon gaan ontspan het by die strand. Dan lag hy net.

Ons wag nou op die datum vir die tweede knievervanging. Daar is ‘n ellelange waglys. Intussen maak ons vriende in die toue by die kliniek en die apteek, en ons leer elke dag dat daar mense met groter probleme is; ons leer om geduldig te wees met Afrika-tyd; ons leer om dankbaar te wees vir die sorg wat wel beskikbaar is en ons is mal oor die heerlike skons met botter wat deur die hospitaal-kliniek se dienluik verkoop word. Ons koop heerlike vars vrugte by die vrugtesmouse op die sypaadjie voor die hospitaal se hoofhek en hulle ken ons voorkeure al goed: piesangs, geel appels, ‘n pakkie tjips en Coke.

Hospitaaldag is ‘n fees.