MAIN characters in the drama: a nurse, a patient and a middle-aged woman in a chitenge wrapper.
Scene: Phase V Medical Admission Ward, University Teaching Hospital, Lusaka. Time: shortly after 20:00 hours. Date: Friday, 24th March, 1989.
The young and attractive nurse at the reception desk said it slowly and distinctly. Although on the short side herself, she nevertheless dwarfed the male patient before her.
Dressed in a short sleeved Safari jacket and a pair of brown trousers, the patient was quite short and stout, the type fitting the description “Shortie.”
“According to the doctor’s orders,” the nurse began, “you will be required to stay in hospital for four nights, that is tonight, tomorrow, Saturday and Sunday. You will be discharged on Monday.”
The patient was about to say something when, as if anticipating his reaction, the nurse continued: “This has been done because the medication prescribed for you is not the type that can be taken at home. You need to be here to receive your treatment. Am I making myself clear?” she asked.
“Can you repeat what I have said?”
The patient repeated exactly what she had said, after which she said, “Very well, you can now proceed to your bed. See you later.” She pointed in the direction where the bed was and asked the patient to go there. But just then the patient raised his hand.
“Yes, what’s it?” the nurse asked, wondering what else could be discussed about the matter when her message had been fully understood.
PATIENT: “I want to see the doctor.”
NURSE : “To see the doctor? For what?”
PATIENT: “I just want to see him.”
NURSE: “But you got my message, right?”
PATIENT(ANGRILY): “Are you going to call the doctor or are you not?”
The nurse realised that it was no use arguing with the patient since he seemed determined to see the doctor, who was then attending to another patient somewhere in the ward and she allowed “Shortie” to go and see him. After seeing the doctor, the patient returned to the reception desk and informed the nurse that he had been authorised by the doctor to go home and return the following day for his medication
NURSE: “The doctor really said that?”
PATIENT: “Are you telling me that I am a liar? Didn’t you see me talking to the doctor?”
The nurse seemed unconvinced and went to confirm with the doctor. It turned out that what the patient had told her was not entirely correct. What the doctor had told him was that if he insisted on going home, he should sign a form indicating that he had discharged himself against the doctor’s advice.
But the patient flatly refused to sign the form, saying he saw no point in doing so. “Why should I sign for my leaving the hospital?” he demanded to know. “It’s me who is sick and if I want to go home, let me do so. My children are alone at home. I want to go and see them.”
NURSE: “I appreciate that but rules are rules. The doctor has told you to stay in hospital till Monday but you want to go home now. So, you need to sign this document to indicate that you discharged yourself. We don’t want to be held responsible for whatever might happen to you after you leave this hospital.”
PATIENT: “There is nothing that will happen to me, my dear young lady. I am 100 per cent fit. If I go now, you can be sure that you will see me back here tomorrow morning.”
Just then, a middle-aged woman, who had brought a sick relative and had been sitting patiently in the queue awaiting her turn to see the doctor, sprang to the nurse’s defence. Wearing a simple chitenge wrapper around her waist, the woman looked a typical Zambian housewife.
The woman tried to reason with the patient to do as the doctor had ordered because this was for his own sake. “We can’t afford to lose you because your life is so precious.”
As the nurse and other people listened with keen interest, the woman told the patient that everybody appreciated his predicament in that he had left children at home.
“But surely, their mother is there to look after them while you are here.”
The woman explained that it was important that patients abided by doctors’ instructions to avoid unnecessary friction between the public and medical institutions.
“If doctors allowed patients to do as they pleased, they would be risking the reputation of their institutions,” she said. “Many times hospitals have been blamed for sins which they did not commit. A patient runs away from hospital and at home, his condition worsens and then his relatives start blaming hospital authorities for having discharged him prematurely. You see the point?” The nurse and those present could not help but nod their heads in agreement.
“I agree with the doctor’s advice that the patient must remain in hospital to receive his medication until Monday,” she said and, turning to the patient, she told him: “Sorry, comrade, you have to be here as ordered. As I said earlier, Zambia needs you. You are very important to us.”
On learning from relatives who had accompanied him to the hospital that the patient lived in Chawama, the woman said: “You see? Chawama is very far from here and it is very dangerous to move at night these days, especially when one is sick.”
It was quite apparent that both the nurse and the patient, including all those present, were unaware that the woman speaking was no ordinary housewife but a senior government leader. Her name: Mrs Alina Sinyokosa, who had recently been appointed Minister of Health by the then president, Dr Kenneth Kaunda……
The author is a Lusaka-based media consultant who also worked in the Foreign Service as a diplomat in South Africa and Botswana. For comments, sms 0977425827/0967146485 or Email: firstname.lastname@example.org