She was standing at the door of the trauma unit.
Just standing there.
A 20 year old Xhosa girl she was, beautiful, except for the damage done to her face.
I'd never seen anything like it before. Her face and neck were covered with hundreds of tiny superficial scratches. The scratches were all perfectly evenly spaced and only ran vertically. They were about 5mm in length and looked very fresh as some of them were oozing blood slightly.
What on Earth was this? This was certainly not in the dermatology handbook of skin diseases.
"My dear," I asked "what happened to you?"
She just stared at me blankly and then said that she didn't know.
"What do you mean you don't know? Did somebody hurt you?" Negative response.
"Did you do this to yourself?" Exasperated negative response.
"I told you doctor I don't know! I went to sleep and when I woke up this was on my face! I was asleep for a long time, nobody was in my house and I didn't feel anything.It was just there"
I could sense a distinct change in the trauma unit atmopshere after that statement. Creepy...sinister...fear of the unknown...what the hell was going on here?
Then a Xhosa nursing student clears my confusion.
"It is the evil force, doctor. We must not make play with these matters. She is a cursed. You must help her with her spirit."
Oh for God's sake, I was most certainly NOT equipped to provide spiritual counsel to this woman. And besides that, I didn't believe any of it. Evil spiritual forces, my ass! One thing was certain, a most non-spiritual REAL human being was behind this facial vandalism.
At this point, the Sister in charge got fed up and fired off a terrifying tirade in Xhosa. You didn't need to understand it to realise that she was asking the girl to cut the crap and tell the truth.
Turns out, the patient had been suffering from headaches and had gone to a sangoma (traditional healer) for help. He put her to sleep with a magic muti and then while she was out, decorated her face with these pretty scratches.
Problem was though, that she still had the headache. I felt sorry for her and was about to examine her properly, but the Xhosa sister in charge refused, gave the girl a box of panados and chased her home with a warning that if she came back telling lies again we would not see her.
Homeopathy, naturopathy, aromatherapy. They're all very popular alternate healing therapies nowadays, particularly amongst the middle to upper class variety of our nation.
Somehow though, I don't think we'll see the superwealthy 4X4 driving excessive brunching mommies booking sessions with the sangoma before fetching Darling Girl from private school for this form of African Acupuncture.