Let me tell you about my community service colleague, Dr R.
Dr R and I have been working together for three years. We did our two years of internship together at the same hospital and are now both based on the cape flats at this community health centre.
We have been nicknamed the "A-team" by the trauma staff purely because we are both always working in trauma on days when things get particularly crazy.
Dr R is possibly one of the nicest doctors I know. Soft-spoken and gentle. Non-confrontational. The opposite of me.
He wants to be a psychiatrist once our compulsory government service is finished, so you can imagine the amount of patience he has.
However, I have noticed that after only three months in this place he is beginning to develop a bit of a nasty, frustrated edge...
It's happened to all of us, it's unavoidable. We are working in shocking conditions, it's dangerous, it's unhealthy. We live with the threat of developing tuberculosis as we are on the front lines diagnosing it on a daily basis. Some of our colleagues have had to have lobectomies after contracting the disease. The patients are poor and uneducated. This particular community can be incredibly violent and rude in the trauma unit. We are constanty working under the pressure of a jam packed waiting room full of patients. We have ancient equipment. We are dealing with unimaginable tragedy every day. No matter how hard we try we can't help everyone but despite that we are constantly having to field complaints that we are not working hard enough. We see about 100 patients a day in the trauma unit.
It takes its toll, we have to develop souls of steel and try as we might to remain empathetic, sometimes we snap. It doesn't happen often. But it does happen. It even happened to someone as sweet as Dr R.
Dr R was consulting with a recent geriatric stroke victim. The stroke left him paralysed on one side. However, he was in our unit for the problem of a two month cough that was productive of blood-stained sputum. (the TB bell clangs loudly when these symptoms are expressed.) The man was coughing violently in Dr R's face and made no effort to turn his head away.
"Please sir, could you put your hand in front of your mouth when you cough." Dr R asked politely.
The man responded with another sputum-spraying coughing attack. He did not use his hand to prevent infecting everyone with the disease, as so nicely asked by Dr R.
Dr R wiped some goo off his face and then lost his temper.
"I TOLD YOU TO PUT YOUR HAND IN FRONT OF YOUR MOUTH! YES, YOU HAD A STROKE, BUT SO WHAT?"
He picks up the paralysed hand and lets it drop limply,
"This hand may not work but your are NOT paralysed on the other side! your other hand is still functioning so PUT YOUR FUNCTIONING HAND IN FRONT OF YOUR MOUTH WHEN YOU COUGH!!"
Oh dear, Dr R. I see not even you are immune to the personality changing effects of this place.
Three more months to go...Good God, what kind of people will we be like then?