Saturday, 31 December 2011

Another year over

Or should I say, another year is beginning? 2011 has been a big year, I became a final year student, I went to live in South Africa for two months, I set up my Etsy shop, I got diagnosed with a serious chronic condition, and I got engaged.
2012 is going to be even bigger - I'm getting married, graduating, moving into our marital home, and starting work as a doctor. I've passed my first set of finals, have a job somewhere in the West Midlands lined up, just don't know where exactly and doing what just yet. Peter is still amending his thesis, so it's all hands on deck. 

I'd be lying if I said that none of this worries me but the truth is, I'm not nervous about my wedding day. Well, apart from my dad's speech perhaps. I'm more worried about my studies and working on the ward.

The news was just talking about an elderly man celebrating his 85th birthday by flying from one village to the next by zip wire, which made me think of my favourite superhero grandma:

'I knew I should have washed at 40.'
All taken by Sacha Goldberger of his 91 year old grandma, Frederika. He realised she was feeling lonely and came up with this idea. 

'No power in the 'verse can stop me.'

I only hope I'd be half as cool, if I ever live to that age. People moan about feeling old every time their birthday comes round, another year is over. The way I see it, we should just embrace our age. My last new year resolution was to learn to knit, I knitted a white fringe with the help of my future mum-in-law, just in time for 2012.

'Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is a gift of God, which is why we call it the present.'

Wishing each and every one of you a very Happy New Year.

Wednesday, 7 December 2011


I realise I haven't blogged for a while since starting my final year of Medicine, had so much going on with foundation year applications, finals, deadlines that it was all I could to hold onto my hat! 

During the months leading up to and during South Africa, £53.61 ($88.08) was raised from 30% of my sales on your behalf for the British Red Cross Tsunami Appeal, which I was really happy about. Thank you so much.

I'd like to talk about something else though today, this was what made me blog again after my relatively long hiatus.

Let me share something with you reading this now. On my first day on the school bus in year four, the kids told me to go back to my own country and pretty much acted like this woman - I was nine then. In secondary school, older kids would pelt me with ripe fruit on the way home and the whole bus would laugh. That kid on her lap is likely to grow up like that - I see where it comes from now and it's sad. 

One of the girls said whilst we were in South Africa that she had never felt so racially-aware in all her life. I felt differently myself, no one there pelted me with anything, they just wanted to know where I came from. The kids in the orphanage liked to play with my hair and touch my skin that was very different from their own. True, people did point at me from outside the window, presumably as they had never seen someone who was neither white or black, but the kindness we encountered on those cramped minibuses where strangers would make sure you knew where you were getting off, give you half of their maize snack, and ring hostels on our behalf... I never felt so happy on public transport before. 

The way I see it, we are all ONE race. The human race. Sure we have different languages and cultures, we eat different foods, our skin burns under the sun in varying degrees and some of us don't like wearing skirts, but fundamentally to me, there is no such thing as different races among humans.

On a more cheerful note, here's one of my favourite listings. She's named  'Beatrice' after a lovely lady I met whilst visiting the Children's Feeding Programme in Guyana, where I first saw live hummingbirds.

Here's to celebrating diversity and understanding! More Etsy listings coming soon. If you haven't seen this already, I think Disney Pixar - 'Day and Night' sums it up pretty well. Good day to you all.

Tuesday, 19 July 2011

New Home

The last week was spent my life into boxes and crates. I loved how dirt just appeared where there was none the previous day, housemates have left hidden stashes of stuff for you to find and clear out and all of a sudden, it's chucking it down outside. For much of the two days we were moving.

Big thank you to Stan, who ferried everyone's stuff across in good humour over the whole weekend, and Michael, for making sandwiches and the rest of the driving.

On the plus side, there is now hot water coming out of the tap. I now have a wardrobe after two years of not having one, and the ceiling.. I can't get over how far away the ceiling is as I drift off to sleep. Caught a bright flash of light out the corner of my eye and thought it was lightning before realising that it was an ambulance. One of many that pass by here at the back of Queen Elizabeth. The nice middle-aged neighbours keen on rubbish collection and recycling dates are unlikely to keep us up in the small hours with shouting and techno music. I no longer have to constantly clean up after other people after two years of doing so - definitely something worth writing home about.

Anyway, Paediatrics at Russells Hall is going well, had a productive day today. Off to type up the cases now, will start getting my thoughts together for the last post of SA soon.

Saturday, 2 July 2011

Packing again

Reading back to my SA posts, feels like a long time ago. I still haven't written about Hermanus and Cape Town, the last glorious leg of our journey. I will do that soon, I'm just busy packing for the big move at the moment, and have much to do besides! 

For now, I will leave you with Wordsworth. An all-time favourite of mine, that now reminds me of both South Africa and England at the same time. Lizzie recited the first verse when we were walking in Hermanus.  

I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.

Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay:
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee:
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company:
I gazed---and gazed---but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:

For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

Sunday, 29 May 2011

Cats, lots of cats!

So many thoughts going around my head right now. Mostly about my misplace notebook - the last time I saw it was in the Cafe at Wildlife Ranch before we returned to the hostel. Will be my mission tomorrow before the shuttle collects us, hopefully it was handed in. 

The last time I updated was in Knysna, so very blue, more than slightly European.The second day there was gloriously sunny, not a cloud in the sky, as if the rain the previous day was just a dream. Laura, Lizzie and I had a lovely lunch at the Oyster Bar by the harbour. We shared a bottle of wine called 'Angel's Tears', Lizzie and I shared four 'Angels on Horseback', which were oysters cooked in bacon and breadcrumbs. Laura and had a 1kg of sticky prawns between us, twas rather good. 

Oysters are a specialty in Knysna, there was a guy in the boat outside the bar washing them with a hose. We could see the water through the floorboards of this bar as a traditional version of 'Scarborough Faire' was playing quietly overhead. The first and last time I tried oysters was a couple of birthdays ago when the boyfriend took me to a champagne bar with a live piano in Birmingham, it was part of an otherwise delicious seafood platter. Birmingham is pretty land-locked and not the best place to eat oysters, it has to be said. I saw Laura's oysters and decided to order one single large oyster on ice for a whole R8. Wasn't bad actually, tastes mostly of brine but less so than the oysters I've had before. Lizzie later said that 'it looks like the thick gloppy stuff people with COPD cough up', which was charming. She had the grace to wait until after I had eaten, it has to be added in her defense. 
In the afternoon, we went on a free tour of the Knysna Heads, and we found out from our guide Orin that Knysna was founded in 1816. There are 62,800 people living there, of which 15,000 were coloured, 20,000 were in townships and the rest were white. The Heads were rocks either side of the lagoon, and named the most dangerous entry point by the Navy, due to the number of fatalities and currents that can reach 150km/hr. My favourite fact of the day was that 120 million tons of water pass through the Heads every 6hrs; Orin told us to imagine 20 million fully-grown elephants. 
We went on an impromptu 1hr township tour at the end of this, Orin hadn't had work for a few days and needed the money. Well, the township tour was free, but we were told that we were welcome to tip the guide! It was interesting, the informal settlement, not everyone who lives in a township is poor. Amidst the shacks were nice houses with electricity and microwaves, Orin told us that the black folk like to stick to their own, even when they make it in the world. He made us walk down a squelchy muddy path that had 'islands' of cardboard here and there to stop you disappearing - that was one of the main 'streets' of the township. There are no toilets in this place, proximity of the homes means it's a pretty big fire risk. Orin reckoned the best way of advertising was by 'holding hands', which he demonstrated for rather too long on me. Word of mouth through a close-knit community was his point really, that and personal space wasn't really that popular a concept around here. 

I would write more about the township and a story Orin told us, but I'm running out of time, so I'll move onto Oudtshoorn before I log off. Had an ostrich braai yesterday night at the hostel, kebabs and sausage with potato, homemade bread and salad. Mmm. Beds are so comfy, lots of space which made a nice change after the narrow aisle between bunks in Knysna's Island Vibe. Went to Cango Caves today, Laura and I didn't do the Adventure tour (our guide has been there for 4 years and only went up to the Devil's Chimney twice), but we took the standard round in one of Africa's most impressive caves. Lizzie said afterwards that the caving we did in Swaziland was much more hardcore, it was warm and dry here and only for 30 minutes.Amazing formations, so very, very old. 

Then went onto the Ostrich Farm, where for the price of R50, I got a hug, a ride, and a 'neck massage' from ostriches. The last one I put in inverted commas because you basically hold a bucket of feed, bend down a bit, and you can't see anything for ostrich heads as they ate from behind of you. The ride was pretty wild, I got picked first for everything on this tour, and my ride was called 'Killer'. The others' trotted, but my word, Killer was actually mad and just ran. 

Wildlife Ranch was the one I looked forward to the most, I could write so much about it but again, I'm aware of the clock ticking. It was mostly like a zoo with a guide but you could buy 'experiences' additional to this, which meant I was playing with three 3 month old tiger cubs, and got to pet two 2 year old Cheetahs. 70kmh in 2 seconds, the cheetah was not much more than fur and muscle. One started licking my hand, and it was like sandpaper. They behaved so much like the cats at Wild Spirit that I found myself laughing out loud. The tiger cubs were brothers, two were the normal tiger sort of colour but the third was white. It was amazing, it really was. 
Right, I have to go now, Hermanus tomorrow. Lizzie is doing shark cage diving there, but I won't be. Mostly because of expenses, as I much preferred to play with big cats and Lizzie doesn't like cats so went for a bike ride instead. I've heard there are nice places to eat out in Hermanus though - it was a super noodle evening tonight as today as been a relatively expense day. Speak soon!

Thursday, 26 May 2011

Cloudy Dragon

So the last time I blogged was in Durban.. hello from Knysna! The rain appears to have followed us for the last couple of days but yesterday, I was surrounded by cats in front of a toasty fire in Wild Spirit Lodge at the Crags, which overlooked Lord of the Rings style misty mountains and forests. Rain may have been dripping from the colourful bunting, but I was pretty happy. There was Angus from Durban with his wild black hair and beard, flowers embroidered on the seat of his parka and he wore wellington boots. There was Peter, who was 91 and spent most of his time by the fire, he was originally from Cambridge and was stationed in Warwick for a while when he was in the army. The lodge was built by Germans in 1942 and he bought it in 1980 and his daughter runs it now. There was Warren, who didn't speak very much, but took us for a waterfall walk in the afternoon. Then there was a woman who was very much into her sacred fires, chakras, and eternal flames. She looked very skeptical when we were talking about how the universe was expanding.

'…but surely it's not physically expanding, I mean, it's not linear.'

She gave Lizzie and I stones to hold, and said they hold answers to our questions, they have been around for such a long time and know so much. Each line holds a story. I was a bit puzzled as mine was clearly cut and polished. It was mostly clear with a purple heart, and sharpened to a rough point, amethyst perhaps. To Lizzie's horror, the stone slipped out of my hand as I turned it a few times, quite by accident. Luckily the lady was away at the time so she wasn't offended.

We had a lovely meal of baked hake (fresh from the sea), potatoes in a creamy sauce, baked veggies and Chinese leaf from the garden. There were four of us from the Baz Bus, Angus  said he normally remember the first letter of people's names, so when it came out as 'Lucia, Lizzie, Laura and Larry' he just called us L1, L2, L3 and L4. Then there were two others, Michael and Barbara, son and mum pair travelling from Canada. It was really homely, and we had a nice evening chatting over good food, with cats on our laps. There was also baby Bungie, who ran laughing through the muddy puddle when Jenny and I when to see the horses in the stables earlier in the afternoon. She was the daughter of the African lady who helps around the place, Peter said the lady was very kind and looked after his wife until she died last year.

The beds were comfortable and the dorm was very nice, there's a sign saying that there are resident bats in the rafters though I couldn't find any. Later I was told there aren't any around this time as it's so cold. Laura was pretty glad about this. They once had a Swiss couple that 'liberated' 19 chicks from where they were sold, and left them in the lodge, as you do. So there were chickens pecking around the place, being chased by dogs. There was mummy cat, a beautiful pale sandy creature, then the ginger boys from her first litter, Bangle and something else I can't remember now, then three from her second litter, Nutmeg, Gingersnap and my favourite, Aslan. Aslan was the fluffiest.

I played with the cats and dogs whilst we were waiting for the Baz Bus, Lizzie and Laura went for a walk but I just lost track of time because I was having so much fun with the animals. We said our goodbyes, and signed the guestbook (I drew a snowflake obsidian elephant with my note, who was a bit drunk today), Angus waved and Peter blew us a kiss as the bus drove off, we all felt pretty sad to leave.

Knysna is quite unlike anywhere we've been to so far, the photos I took of the waterfront could have been from a number of places, but there are interesting shops around there and a promising-looking oyster bar. Not that I like raw oysters but they're pretty local around here. They are closed from 4pm onwards, so we'll try it tomorrow, there's 1kg of prawns on the menu for R140 which I'm looking forward to.

After Durban, we went onto Coffee Shack at Coffee Bay. We left that day at 6.30am and didn't get there until 4.30pm, we drove to the free sundower right after we arrived at the hostel before the full moon party. The moon was unbelievable. Imagine a piece of black card with a perfect round hole cut into it, and behind this hole, there was a very bright, white light.  So bright that it almost doesn't look like the moon at all, until you look closer and see the shadows across her face. This black 'card' is scattered with white stars, some of them shooting, and clouds that lit up with lightning. The waves crested silver with moonlight and crashed softly onto the shore. It was beautiful. I walked to the very edge of the water and watched for a while.

The big five of the Transkei, home to the Xhosa people, are as follows: goats, cows, horse, pigs and sheep. The language has three types of clicks, which are difficult for me to demonstrate, and people live in rondavels made from mud and cow dung bricks. The round shape to better distribute the weight, most of them are painted green as this is the cheapest paint, and the rubber tire on the top of the rondavel holds the thatching together. The shells and plants in the tire are decorative. Pay the brick layer R800 for a house.10 cows is the going rate for a wife.

On the first day, we went for a hike that took us to 'The Place of Pumpkins', everyone is referred to as brothers, sisters or mommas. Mthatha meant to 'to take', the town was named after the river, where the dead used to be taken. I jumped off a cliff to hit choppy water 8m below, as crazy as it sounds really, the scary bit was waves crashing over my head after I surfaced.    I struggled to get back to the rocks with the current and when Joseph dragged me up, I scratched my knees on barnacles and it looked pretty bad. Catherine was jumping after me and had to wait for a while after I got a bit swept away. Lizzie's mum would be glad to know that she didn't jump, probably sensible. I went first because I couldn't bear to hear anyone else scream, haha, not that I had long to think about what I did when I jumped. I was told that 'there's a big rock over there, so don't jump over there, but aim for the rock that way'. We had cheese toasties for lunch by the 'Toastie King'. All that was for R60, which is amazing.

The second day, we tried surfing, I spend most of my time face planted in the water but the one time when I stood on my board all the way to the shore was glorious. The third day, we went to Hole in the Wall, which Lizzie was quite excited about because of her surname. It was a cool rock formation with well, a hole worn through it by the waves. We swam there in front of the hole before committing ourselves to quite a strenuous 3hrs hike, where Johnny Walker the guide kept telling us that there was just one more hill. We went to a village in the evening for a bit of culture, the girls sat on grass mats and the boys got chairs, the rondavel was surprising warm and the floor was cleaned earlier with cow dung. We watched  dancing, and then to my horror, I was dragged to my feet by Johnny and made to dance in front of everyone. I worn a turban and an apron, and looked like an ambassador apparently, and it was generally embarrassing. It was in front of all our group, and there was a Belgium woman, a German girl called Bella and I. There was local beer, that girls had to kneel before drinking, and then lots of food. Maize pap, cabbage and more but it was dark and kinda hard to tell what you were eating. It was very nice, but a lot of it. The women and the children loved having their photos taken, the Belgium woman kept taking them, but the locals went up to everyone to ask them for photos. Then there was question time after the meal, where we asked them questions and they asked us about where we came from, who is looking after our parents when we are away, and how one of them had a son and whether the girl in the front row would marry him. Logistics of sending a huge box of biltong? Met some interesting people in Coffee Bay, including Todd the pilot from New York, Reuben and Vince from Holland. Reuben was into packaging and hockey, Vince mostly teased me for dancing the whole evening. As Lizzie said, they danced with their hips and bums, and I danced with my knees and elbows.

Johnny asked 'what do you guys call the cloudy dragon?' We told him that we call it the 'Milky Way'. The stars were absolutely stunning. We pretty much just chilled in Cintsa by the beach, did some body-boarding and went to the Barefoot Cafe. There was Steve the carpenter who worked there, reminded us of Bernard from Black Books. Think I've run out of things to say now, I'm typing this from Laura's mac, going to get some net time now to blog it. Phew, finally caught up.

Oh, the night following the village, I was again ambushed and had to dance in front of people in the bar to African drumming. No more dancing for some time.

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Onwards and upwards!

Hello again from Bob’s Bunkhouse, another gloriously sunny day, chiefly evolved around food. We had breakfast, went for a big food shop, snacked on Biltong (meat jerky) on the way back, carved up the rotisserie chicken and had some with tomato and feta cheese for lunch. A nice Polish man from London by the name of Greg gave us the rest of his internet cafĂ© credit but it’s not open on a Sunday, shame. He also gave us some of his pizza before we went onto getting our own last night. Roman’s Pizza did buy one get one free, so we got a large bacon and banana, and a large bacon and avocado. Lizzie ate all of hers last night, but I’ve still got some in the fridge J

Have to rewind a bit here, as I have been away from the computer, here goes.

I'm not a Royalist, but I did watch part of the infamous wedding from the male surgical ward, which was pretty surreal. There are no Orthopaedic surgeons here in Tintswalo, no drill either, so everyone is on traction. Breaking a femur and you stay for 6 weeks. One unfortunate woman broke both sides of her pelvis, both femurs and one tibia in a motor vehicle accident (MVA), so the plan is hopefully for her to be transferred to Rob Ferreira Hospital in Nelspruit for intervention. Also went onto the Paediatric ward, and met a very sweet 9 year old boy with exotosis (bony growths) who loved the attention we gave him, it's so nice when they are not afraid of us. I've gotten used to kids crying whenever I come near them, which is sad because I love kids.

We went away for the second bank holiday weekend as Anna's parents have come to stay and we thought it was time to make ourselves scarce. We went on a scenic road trip to Pilgrim's Rest, an old mining town purely existing now for tourists with British flags everywhere. It was a strange place, to tell the truth. Not sure if I would go again but the drive was lovely. In fact, all drives have been stunning, except the one in the taxi into the colourful centre of Joburg.

From Pilgrim’s Rest, we went onto Sabie, where we briefly stopped with Paul on our Kruger and Blyde River Canyon trip. Sabie Backpackers was a bit psychedelic with fire poi, African drumming, a hot tub (full of rather large German men), and a girl pin-up posing in a skimpy red bikini on the back of someone’s motorbike. A storm was brewing and the sky was grey, smoke was billowing from the wood burner but her friend snapped photos of her in front of everyone. Pretty disturbing that she was not embarrassed at all, and looked about 14, that and the photos would have been lousy from the smoke, so it made no sense on any level. Anyway, we didn’t get it, and so we left.  

The tourist info and museum were closed, so after a quick food shop, we drove to see Lone Creek Falls, which turned out to be pretty powerful! The girls wanted a photo of them close to it, and came back pretty drenched by the spray. In the evening, we met John from Australia who is building a house for missionaries. He is here for two months and  travels around on his motorbike (not the one the girl was posing on). There were also two (very) American girls by the names of Taunda and Sarah, from Joburg. John was staying in the same dorm as us and stayed for dinner, another rice surprise with avacado, Lizzie had about five portions and retired to her room but the rest of us had a nice time chatting into the night. We were going to go to the pub but then the skies opened and there was a lot of water coming down so we stayed put. John got serious munchies after a few drinks and we went to get food from the petrol station. Not used to junk food after all this healthy eating we've been doing.

I psyched myself up to do kloofing, which was described as an 'extreme hike' or canyoning in wetsuits, where you swim and scramble your way up to the waterfall. John once got his foot stuck for 2hrs between boulders on a school trip, the force of the water dislocated his hip, and he had to be taken out by ambulance. They had to cut his wetsuit, so he also got hypothermia, not that it stopped him going back to the Blue Mountains. I was worried about how my joints would be but John said he'd carry me, that and a family was booked onto doing it so I shouldn't feel bad about slowing anyone down. So the plan was to see how my joints were in the morning, and decide then. Last conversation I remember as we were lying in our bunks was about midgets. Don’t ask why, I dunno.

In the end, kloofing got rained off. Too slippery, I guess. The family didn't turn up for it either. So we decided to head back up North, to see more waterfalls and say goodbye to the girls and John. We went to see Bridal Veil, which was quite delicate compared to Lone Creek that we saw the previous day, and went on a walk through the drizzle and mist to the top. We also saw Mac Mac Falls, so named after the number of Scottish people in the area at the time, before driving onto Graskop, where we went with Paul to have Harrie’s Pancakes. I had snails, in a pancake, in South Africa, and they came from Sea World.  

In the afternoon, we went onto see Echo Caves, which exceeded our expectations formed from the dull postcard at the entrance. Rock formations that looked like an ostrich, cathedral organ pipes, stalactites echoing for miles when strike to warn the coming of Zulus in days gone by, we had a bit of fun with those. At one point, we were alarmed to hear what sounded like a big cat, but turned out to be the guide’s scary friend.

Once again, we landed on our feet despite not booking. The first place had a hostel section that needed to be booked a week in advance, and it was really for school trips. They offered us a place for R900 for three but we went onto to find Blyde River Backpackers (saw a honey badger on the way) that gave us our own little chalet with three beds for R130 each. They even had towels. Pack towels are well and good, but it makes you feel like a car windscreen. We met Martin and Marloise in the kitchen in the late evening, they recognised us as medical students as Lizzie was percussing her full gut. They were from Holland and working in South Africa, taking a Kruger Park break for the weekend. A man staying there worked on a citrus farm, and so we had free grapefruit.  

We went on two walks on Monday morning, near the Blyde River Dam. Pennisula walk by the water, and Waterfall walk, the latter of which could have been an English woodland, with a very peaceful waterfall that Lizzie and I sat on a fallen tree to listen to. Onto Moholoholo Wildlife Rehab Centre in the afternoon, which I have been looking forward to, and it was even better than I thought it would be. Got to feed vultures (they are so heavy), pet a 15th month old black rhino, and a lion charge at Lizzie through the fence. It was good to learn about the more negative side of human impact on African wildlife.     
I was not very well on Tuesday with my joints, and so stayed home. Graham and Sorrel (Anna’s parents) invited me to join their game drive, there wasn’t a great deal of game as it was midday but we saw a group of three sassaby, a type of antelope I haven’t seen before.

Lizzie and I finally sorted out a translator, Charity, for our project on Wednesday. Lizzie left us to do this in one of the consulting rooms in the clinic (with a metal sliding door), but Charity disappeared off after an hour to go to the bank despite my best efforts to get her to stay. She said there were no more consenting patients, but it was an error on our part not to mention the exact amount of pay at this point. She was much keener in the afternoon when we changed tactic and told her that she will get paid by number of questionnaires, she also brought a friend called Confidence to help out. I also taken a history and examined a man with the most horrific foot I had ever seen. He was cutting a tree August last year, got pierced by a thorn, didn’t complete his medication and opted for traditional medicine. It started to smell about three weeks ago, and his whole leg started swelling a week ago, he came in wanting an X-ray to see if anything was broken. Half his foot was missing, and it smelt pretty bad, wet and dry gangrene with an exposed tendon that had turned black. He could not move his toes anymore, and had cellulites all the way up his leg. I dressed him and told him that he is likely to need the theatre, and not an X-ray. He ended up having an above the knee amputation, we had to convince the family who were not keen on hospital medicine that this would save his life.

I hate feet.

Anyway, we had a simple dinner under the stars that night, as Tim and Anna were having a dinner party and we wanted to be out of their hair. The Milky Way is absolutely stunning. I love seeing shooting stars.

Thursday was results day, which was quite stressful. If I failed, I would have to catch a different flight back to England for the resits. Our project took a turn for the worse when the same nurse took us to the Information Officer. We took Tim with us this time, as the project is an audit and does not require ethic approval letter. The ethics committee have been informed anyway and raised no objection; they have not met in 7 months due to the chair being suspended for corruption. We had to wait for the CEO to call us back, ended later on in the day with Tim and the CEO having a big argument. Project had to be abandoned due to politics, at first it was ethics, then it was medical students should not be allowed to speak to patients and eventually ended along the foreign students line. Tim told us not to feel bad, there is R15,000 allocated per year to buy small equipment for the whole of Tintswalo, which is less than what is allocated to the CEO’s meetings.

I went to Maternity to hopefully see a birth in the afternoon, but the mums were not ready, so to speak. Though I had a go at examining and listening to fetal heart sounds, one of the female nurses asked if I had a boyfriend, and couldn’t see why I didn’t want a South African one as well. The other nurse told me not to listen to her. Didn’t see any births that day, but I found out I passed my exams, so it was a good day despite the project. The way back to the house was like a games drive, lots of game, and then we celebrated with cold beers and Sorrel’s carrot cake on the balcony when we got home as it was too late for a sundown. Roasted chicken with risotto for dinner, mmm.

Friday was a half day, again no births but I examined more. Even though I didn’t get to do LPs in the end, or deliver any babies, I realised that I have learnt a lot. I was getting good at the cannulas, I no longer panicked when someone needed a drip, and I could sulture pretty neatly. I took a history from family of a young female patient bound in a wheelchair. She had four family members holding her down; she was hearing voices and was violent. The nurse wanted me to fill in the paperwork, so I effectively sectioned someone whilst waiting for the sedation to kick in.

We went to Jos Macs to see the sundown, was a long drive for a drink but the gin and tonics were worth it. Lizzie and I also had Jaffles, a type of cheese toastie. The moon was a red crescent in the sky by the time we left to pack at home.

We left the house at 6am yesterday, arrived to Kruger airport to drop off the car around 8am. John very kindly met us up to give us a lift from the airport to Nelspruit, don’t know what we would have done without him. There, we said goodbye to Alice, who was going onto Maputo in Mozambique. Lizzie and I were due to catch the Greyhound bus to Joburg for the Baz bus to pick us up on Monday (or tomorrow) for our Garden Route adventure. We had a quick brunch with John (we insisted on paying as he wouldn't take petrol money), before saying goodbye for the last time. John said we were welcome to visit him in Australia, and I could tell that he meant it too. Such a genuinely nice guy.

The bus journey took 5 hours, and we Robyn at the bus station. Bob told her to share our taxi, which worked out great for us. She had a horrible time on the bus from Mozambique that day. 'First I had a boob in my face. The woman next to me was feeding her child on my lap and I got breast milk on my trousers. Then we hit a cow, and then telephone lines.'

Next stop, Northen Drakensberg! We will be staying at Ampitheatre, and visiting Charlotte at the orphanage on Tuesday, leaving for Durban on Friday, where we will stay at Happy Hippo for 3 days before moving onto Coffee Bay and Chintsa provisionally. We weren’t going to stop in Port Elizabeth but have to due to the Baz Bus stop. Possible stops include Jefferies Bay, Storms River and Knysna. I’m keen to go to Oudtshoorn to play with cheetahs and leopards but it’s a bit awkward to get to via George so we’ll see. Planning to stay in Cape town for 6 days at the end before flying back, so the rest of the route will be determined really by who we meet on the way and what people recommend. I’m looking forward to the sea though! Net access will be patchy so I’m off now to warn my mum. Take care, everyone!

Tuesday, 26 April 2011

The Stuff of Dreams

So we went caving. I've been sitting here a while trying to think of something to follow that sentence. We started off around half four, us three, Courtney (who works at the hostel, Chris' girlfriend, originally from St Louis, US), a South African couple from Joburg, Charle (without an 's') and Catherine, and our two guides, Mseni and Sipho. We were decked out in Ghost Buster jumpsuits (in white, so that we can be seen easier), helmets (that didn't quite fit), belts with battery and light on a wire (which clips onto the front of the helmet).

There was a 45min walk through the forest before we get to the cave, I was glad we didn't do biking and caving in the same day because my joints were still stiff. Felt uncomfortably warm in the jumpsuits, though the sunset was very pretty. Was in high spirits considering I was apprehensive in committing myself to caving in the first place, I was looking forward to pizza and hotsprings after the caving (part of the same package by Swazi Trails), but I wouldn't say I was looking forward to the caving part. Not when I was already struggling to keep up with the group's pace during the walk there with my awkward joints.

I don't have words for how scary some of the caving was to me. I have a fear of falling, and I am also a bit claustrophobic, so it wasn't looking good to start off with. The bats were adorable though, they would often fly around, and I even got a photo of me very close to one and pointing at it, as requested by Sipho who lead us through the cave. He took so many photos, I mean MANY. Before caving, during, and after, many when we were at very awkward places too. At the end of the 7m crawl for example, I was in the smallest place I have ever been in (in memory anyway, I'm sure my birth was similar) and I was so fatigued that I could barely drag myself the last few inches. Still, I had to lift up my head for a flash to go off in my face. Looking through the photos in the combi on the way to hotsprings though, I could appreciate them better, but back in the caves, no one was particular happy about the continuous snapping. Alice said she had a couple of mini breakdowns, and at one time, 'my bum is stuck' was heard in varying degrees of loudness until we fell about laughing. At one point, all Courtney could see were my kneecaps downwards, hanging out of a hole in the wall with no light around it.

We stopped to have a good look at the stalactites. Water carrying minerals would periodically flow down these stalactites in a shimmery wave. I was probably the slowest one of the group, my joints didn't help but my hearing isn't perfect either and down in a cave, it's hard to lip-read. I tend to scramble words when I'm feel stressed anyway. Still, I was doing alright up until near the end, we needed to scale a smooth rock with the help of Sipho. High enough to definitely fracture something, we had to wedge our left foot as high as possible into a vertical rock crevice, hold onto Sipho's hand, and on a count of 3, pull on his hand to swing the right foot upwards to gain footing onto the rock. 

Two people had gone before me, but I knew my knee was going to be a problem. I remember the count down. I remember almost making it and then both of my legs dangling into thin air - I was literally hanging on by one arm. Everything got a bit blurry after this because I started crying from fright, but I was apparently hauled upwards by both guides pulling on my arm. Charle spoke to me as though I was a wounded animal and gave me his hand to help me get to somewhere I could sit on a rock.  Alice said afterwards that she was so worried they were going to dislocate my arm, I joked that I almost died, but at the time, words could not describe how scary it was. There was another tricky part, where my helmet fell off and crashed a few feet below by Alice's feet - she thought my head had fallen off. 

I have never been so glad to see water bottles, we left them near the entrance to the cave, and I knew the sky was not far away. We still had the walk back to the combi but it was amazing. The stars blazed white in the inky sky, seen in between almost impossibly tall sap trees rising straight up into the night.  Sipho showed us different types of vegetation and tried a couple of strange berries (red, green and then white ones), and how the angelsis tree is becoming extinct because Swazi people loved making bowls out of them. He pointed out a young scorpion, scuttling to the shelter of a rock, and told us that baboons eat them. The forest was filled with sounds of the night, some made by bats (different to the ones in the cave, bigger and more owl-sized), crickets and birds. Apparently bush babies are in the area, but they like trees that are closer together - Sipho's impressions of bush babies made me laugh. Judging by how close his impression of bats was, I'm sure that's exactly what they do sound like.

I was glad to be out of the jumpsuit, which by now was looking less white. We drove to Cuddle Puddle, silly name, but essentially a giant hotsprings bath under the stars. It was amazing beyond words, floating on my back looking up at these stars as I moved through the water by making angels. We had our pizza and beers balanced on a stone island and it was awesome! Never thought I would be doing anything like this. We got there about half ten and stayed until gone midnight, definitely another mental picture moment lying there in the water. We were telling Sipho about the pot of gold on the end of the rainbow - a leprechaun sounds pretty ridiculous when you're trying to describe one. Sipho loved learning about space, and his face lit up when we explained the moon cycle and why there is a shadow, light as a waveform, red-shift, seeing into the past through a telescope as light from distant galaxies take so long to reach us, black holes, gravity and the conspiracy theory of the US moon landing. We even got onto talking about Guy Fawkes Night. The hotsprings done wonders for my aches and I kept wondering if it all really happened, even as I looked back at the pool.

So today has been a lazy day, none of us were up to biking after all the exercise in the last few days. Revisited craft shops to get a few keyrings, was sensible about not getting a beautiful sterling giraffe hair bangle that would have burned a hole in my account, and then we went to Royal Swazi Hotel Spa by combi and then shuttle. Courtney told us that as long as we buy a drink, we can just turn up and have a swim. Lizzie had Pimms and I had a cocktail with ginger beer, passion fruit cordial and angostura bitters. The sun was shining, there were mountains, and we were lying in lounge chairs under a big umbrella drinking cocktails, it was great. We were joined by Courtney and eventually, we went for a swim. The water was pretty cold in comparison, but Lizzie and I stayed in a bit longer, and did a doggy paddle race (I won), we also spent a long time racing as plankton, though we didn't get far and it was really funny for some reason. It basically involved tucking your knees up to your chest in the water, and paddling madly with your hands by your side, seeing how far you can go without sinking. A monkey watched from the roof and snatched a ping-pong ball mid game from some kids, tried to eat it and was bouncing it as the young boys below protested.

The sky was looking more and more grey, we knew a storm was coming by forecast but my, it happened so fast. A gale rose suddenly, leaves were blowing everywhere, and out of nowhere, our waitress (who made us add up our own bill earlier) was running towards me as I was quickly packing my bag.

'Madam! Madam! You need to come out of there!'

As I looked back, I realised that the umbrella was blowing over and almost collapsed onto me.

On the way home in the combi, I was offered 17 cows for my hand apparently, I wasn't paying attention at the time, but the girls refused on my behalf. I only cottoned on when Alice said 'Nah, she's expensive, more like 200 cows.'

Anyhow, leaving early tomorrow to get back to Tim and Anna's, really tired now! Sorry about typos, will correct later.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Sheba's Breast

So we went on the hike on Saturday as mentioned in the last blog post. My knees were stiff that morning and I was cursing her boob for much of the ascent. There were a few Gollum scrambles, a Total Wipeout log crossing, and a couple of cartoon style slip-ups. Most notable of which was on the way down, rate by Lizzie as 10/10 for comedy factor and salvage. Chris, who works at Legends Backpackers, said his record was 37 minutes to the top. Not that he would recommend it. It took us 2hrs to the top, magnificent views that made me forgive Sheba somewhat, and then 1hr to come down. Well, technically Lizzie and I didn't get to the post at the very top, but sat a couple of meters below on the second highest boulder, as there was an actual chasm leap across to the other side. Alice 'Mountain Goat' lived to tell the tale, though she said she saw her life flash across her eyes when she tried to leap back across. 

My nickname on this trip is a bit less impressive, 'Jelly Legs', courtesy of Paul from Nelspruit Backpackers. It goes back to when we had a day at the Blyde River Canyon and swam at the top of Lisbon falls. I got a bit swept away by the current trying to cross the second of the pools. I was laughing all the time, and he thought I was doing alright, until he realised I wasn't even trying to hold on. He had to grab onto me but my legs were all over the place, and I never stopped laughing.  

'Well, at least if she died, I could tell her mum that she died having the time of her life!'

Anyhow, that was slightly off topic. I wish I could put down in words how I felt on those magical two days we had with Paul as our guide. All those animals on the safari drive, swimming in a salty pool before the night drive, a hearty braai under a sky full of stars, camping in Kruger, the panoramic views of the canyon, the Potholes, the waterfalls, the swimming and generally the fun we had. I don't think I have words to express how I felt. 

We went to House on Fire in the evening for live music by Polochar, the place was so funky. Took a while to get started and so after browsing the gallery and taking photos, we grabbed a cider and headed for a balcony table. Polochar's music varied from mellow to trance, upbeat and sunny to power ballads. There was one particular fan who was at the front, dancing right by the stage the whole night. There was slow-motion running, kneeling on the floor with hands to heaven, manic hopping, and facial expressions that Orlando Bloom can only dream of having. He made it to the stage, and suddenly his shirt made sense - 'Zero to Hero' is one of Polochar's songs. The dancer certainly entertained the audience, whilst a man next to him was trying to outdo him by strumming his beer belly. We made our way down to the dance floor to show them, white people style. My legs definitely got a work out that day.

It's funny how time works in Africa, getting up early and going to sleep early. We left at 12:15 in the morning, got stopped twice by police, looking to catch people drinking and driving, and asking if we thought Polochar was handsome. The Belgium girls are so lovely, Charlotte and Evelien,cousins. Charlotte is working at an orphanage in Drakensburg after her Psychology degree, she helped to build it a few years ago. Evelien is doing a masters in Accountancy and Auditing, and currently visiting Charlotte. I decided not to go White Water Rafting on Sunday, and basically spent the whole day with the Belgium girls. 

Lizzie and Alice had a great day too, though I still don't regret not going. Just didn't think I could afford both caving and rafting, at R650 and R850 respectively (R11 to pound). That and my old GP lost his son White Water Rafting on his gap year before uni, that was always at the back of my mind. 

So I spent Easter Sunday in the company of very pleasant people, walked to the Swazi culture village, had a tour and then watched the dancing. The women and men sit in separate huts in the day, and the women kneel to give their husbands' food. Polygamy is the norm, and women were not allowed to eat heads, tongues or feet. Heads because eating brains will make them intelligent, tongues that will make them talkative, and feet that will help them run away. What a life. 

The dancing and singing was so good though. I even joined in, they basically picked the white girls sitting in the audience.There were some disgusting tourists at the back, looked American but their accent was strange. Disgusting as in they turned up to the same tour as we did, but wanted the guide to run off and find them beers before we start. Didn't have the beer they wanted in stock and the guide ran back, because we were running late already, he told the guide to get them some other beers and to hurry. I felt so ashamed of being a tourist myself. They were all overweight, and the men couldn't even fit into the huts, didn't seem interested in anything. They had more beers whilst waiting for the dance, urgh.

After a long walk trying to find the waterfall with an alternative route that lead us steeply uphill, we gave up and doubled back to the sign. Had a nice sit down at the site before walking back to the hostel to have a quick lunch. We meant to go to the glass-blowing place, but it was 3pm and it shuts at 4pm, taking 30-45minutes to drive there. In the end, we decided to visit House on Fire again, as the craft shops were closed the night before. This turned out to be a good choice, there were places we had missed in the dark, and details we hadn't taken in. I asked if I could take a photo of some painted chairs they had in a craft store, and the woman said I could, the man asked if he could take a photo of me. At least he asked, there was another man blatantly pointing a video camera at us whilst we wanted for the cultural village tour. We finished with a drink in the outdoor garden of the pub before returning to Legends. 

All five of us went out for a traditional meal in the evening, had a lovely time. I am still full, four of us went for the taster menu for R150 each, so much food. Beef with mushrooms, shredded peppers, five different types of carbs, fried banana, peanut chicken, sweet pork ribs, homemade chilli.. the food just kept on coming. The waiter was so cute. Cute as in looking bewildered at being asked his opinion, and being really shy. I had to ask at one point if that was the last dish, he thought I was joking at first. We sent our compliments to the chief and had an excellent dinner, sharing a nice bottle of red wine between four (Charlotte was driving). Stories during dinner emerged, most notably of the one where Alice lost her trousers and the ferry left without her. Then the waiter brought out chocolate cake with ice cream on the house. Before I could stop myself, I found myself saying:

'But you said that was the last dish! You lied!'

Think he got a few laughs too.

I woke up at 3am and couldn't go back to sleep and so sat outside by the braai, where we had our Earth Day celebrations, and watched the stars. Even wished on a shooting star. Lizzie has just emerged in her pyjamas, and then disappeared to nurse her 'fried, crispy skin'. I'm going to take a look at the craft stores nearby whilst Alice and Lizzie go to the cultural village. Caving at 4pm, then hotsprings and pizza. Planning on mountain biking tomorrow before returning to Tim and Anna's on Wednesday.

I also seem to have an extra elbow, got bitten and now it is really swollen. Caving on hands and knees might prove interesting. 

Friday, 22 April 2011

The Valley of Heaven

Also known as Ezulwini Valley. We left Nelspruit in the morning, luckily didn't have to wait so long for the mini-taxi to leave (as it was already almost full when we got to the rank, and they don't leave until it is full). Waiting to cross the border into Swaziland was another matter, we stood in the queue for 2hrs, in the cold. Lizzie was only wearing a t-shirt, so she definitely felt it the most.

An angel in the form of a nursing student by the name of Lindelwa helped us find our feet. She was getting picked up from Mbabane, the capital of Swarziland, by her taxi driver friend. She ended up going to the hostel, Legends Backpackers with us to see us off, and she was calling hostels for us on the bus. So incredibly sweet of her, we have met some really helpful and nice people on our travels so far. We also took Tulan's number in case we needed a taxi. It has worked out pretty well, considering we didn't get a car, and were told by various people that we won't get there. 

So it was Earth Day yesterday and we had a braai (or barbeque) at the hostel. We managed to get food from the supermarket before it shut, a man from Thailand who was also staying at Legends created a diversion whilst we ran in. The security guard was being difficult. Anyhow, we were walking down there with a young architect who has been on the road for 2 years now since he left uni. He sleeps in a floating hammock (his own design and making), works via the internet, and cycles his way around Africa. Balthazar Sieders (what a name) was from Holland originally, studied in Switzerland and moved around the world a lot when he was a child. His dad was a scientist, and his mum, an environmental activist. I was in awe of his nomadic lifestyle, he takes only one shirt and one pair of trousers when he is travelling. He stays in a place for 4-6months at a time, and buys clothes for that time, donates them when he leaves on his trusty bicycle. It was his last day at the hostel yesterday, and he got us beers, it was lovely to meet him. Such a nice guy. Must get lonely though, he doesn't have a home to call his own, his parents are always on the move, and so is his sister.

So we had a great Earth Day, eating by candlelight outside, music playing, people laughing. The man from Thailand kept cutting us pork chops. Balthazar teased me about how many photos I took of the fire. Someone else joked that I was on drugs because I said that the fire was talking to me.  Never had banana with energy bar on the fire before either - we all had a wonderful evening. I got up at 6.30am this morning, but I think I have just missed him leave. Managed to make tea, and then spill tea all over my hand and all over the floor this morning. Man from Thailand now laughs every time he sees me. Gave up on keeping a banana count, because I eat them more than I drink water over here. Ok, maybe not quite true, but I do eat a lot of bananas.

Plan of action today, going for a hike to see Sheba's Breast, named after the Queen of Sheba who supposedly seduced King Solomon. Then we're getting more food to cook tonight, before going to House on Fire for live music (two girls from the hostel were going and have a car). Also there's Going Rural in the evening, selling crafts made by local women, so we will have a look at that also. Must have will-power. 

Anyhow, caving, white water rafting, cultural tours are some of the things we will get up to in the next few days. Got to go now and get ready for the hike. 

To Lizzie's mum, Lizzie says not to worry about the credit card!, Thank you very much for asking. 

Wednesday, 20 April 2011


The little baby sadly died later in the day, as expected, but the lady with eclampsia is doing much better so that's positive. The lady who was assaulted by the boyfriend refused to be transferred yesterday, I don't think she told anyone she was coming to hospital. Not sure what happened to her, it's just gone 8am so may find out later.

We ended up teaching nurses at 7am this morning, or a bit after, about seizures. Now we know what it is like when no one contributes to discussion or volunteers. Bottom line, the longer a seizure goes on, the higher the chance of patient dying, or having brain damage. Clear airway, recovery position, 100% oxygen, IV access, send off bloods and do a blood glucose, give Diazepam. It was a bit weird doing it in the casualty department, with the nurses sitting in garden chairs. We must be the only medical students who taught nurses and did a night shift.

Car hire is still up in the air, we are preparing ourselves for not having a car this weekend, which will be interesting. Hopefully get by on public transport, but hmm. Going to collect data for our project today in the HIV clinic. So tired, we were planning the teaching last night as well as packing, and stressing about car hire.

Anyhow, Happy Easter!

Edit: Car hire is still up in the air, stress. The doctor who can give us a lift is leaving in half an hour. We can't hire a car in Nelspruit, where we are getting dropped off as we don't have a credit card. The lady I mentioned above who refused to transfer to Nelspruit is currently on the ward here. HIV clinic was interesting, it was heaving. Will write more later when I get back. May not post again for a few days.

42 not the meaning of Life here, but the average life expectancy out here. It's not yet noon but I had to get away for a bit because it all got pretty heavy.

Yesterday I managed to get IV access in an emaciated man in his early 40s, he was very dehydrated, breathing very infrequently but with a deep gasp for air when he does (Cheyne Stoke breathing). Essentially, there wasn't much we could do but to make him comfortable as he was slowly dying. The way his body was wrapped up in that vast dirty blanket he was brought in, it almost looked like he had been mummified.

I spent a large proportion of yesterday looking after Mr S, who was a wanderer. By that, I mean everyone spent a lot of time making sure he wouldn't run off. He wasn't the easiest of patients to get a line in, even harder to convince him not to pull it out. Some of the staff were quite rough-handed with him, and he fought hard when they tried to restrain him. There were five people holding him down for the LP at one point, but it was clear it really wasn't going to happen as he was threshing around. Line was torn out in the tassle and someone said, 'just explain to him what is happening and he'll stop.' Gee, didn't think of that. He's confused, likely to have infection, and a chronic alcoholic. I had to stop one of porters trying one end of his hand bandage to the bedstead.

I had to inject him with Haloperidol to sedate him, didn't really make a difference due to the low dose, the nurse wouldn't give it herself, or let me give the full dose. Mr S cursed me a bit, in between giggling and singing 'I'm free, I'm free' to himself. In the end, he was transferred to the ward.

Then there was that Mr J, who looked like he was expecting triplets. I asked if the doctor wanted a bag to collect the acitic fluid into as it was draining but she asked me to change the small theatre kidney-shaped bowl when it got full. Hmm, interesting.

I was also told by the patient (who at this point was in less pain and therefore getting bossy) to fetch his wife. He said she's got a little one with her, and that she's fat. I found her, and then Mr J ordered me to change his bowl. The nurse got me a bucket, which I was grateful for.

As we were about to leave, there was a girl who got hit by a car. We knew nothing about her and though she was still breathing, and had a pulse, it was clear she was in a bad way. One eye was dilated, the other was drifting upward and outward. She made a constant stream of sound, and looked younger in her school uniform, but it turned out she was 19. I was shaving her hair to look for a source of bleeding on her head, other than the deep wound on her forehead, and the gravel burns. She was transferred to Nelspruit, but as I left, I couldn't help thinking how she was just coming home from school.

This morning, there were lots of pregnant women. There was one with eclampsia, high blood pressure, her baby was 28 weeks old and she had a one day history of headache and vomitting. In UK, you don't normally see eclampsia as it would be picked up earlier. The mum had a seizure this morning and the baby is going to have to come out. The mum was only 18, the dad looked on anxiously by her bedside.

(Just heard from Anna that the baby is alive, but it's early days, mum is in high care at the moment.)

Then I saw a 14 year old girl, pregnant and in a great deal of pain. She gave birth to her 22 week old baby literally as I was trying to get blood from her.
The baby was wrapped up in the blue cloth that the theatre pack came in. So tiny but perfectly formed. He took a breath and gave a cry. The girl didn't speak any English, but I asked if she wanted to hold the little one. Tim later said that we had to make sure she wanted this, as there's a big cultural difference here. Some people will completely reject it, some grandparents won't speak to the child until they are 5 years old because the mortality rate is so high.

She looked at him before he was taken away to the nursery. Baby is still currently alive, but on supportive care. Tim said even with the best care in the UK, mortality for a baby that young is almost 100%. Currently, baby is still alive. He weighed so little when I held him.

I left after a 27 year old lady came in after being assaulted by her drunk boyfriend. Not the first time. He punched her, and then kicked her in the face when she was down.

Sigh. Lunch time. What's wrong with the world, eh?

Monday, 18 April 2011

You are having a giraffe!

I would put more up, but it has taken so long just to load this one! Makes me smile anyway. Taken at Kruger National Park. I keep going on about this day being the best day of my life.

Edit: Had more time than I thought, here's a photo of Bunny at Lisbon Falls. We went swimming at the top of this waterfall.

Lions eating a giraffe. Not the same one, obviously. We were so lucky to see so much on my very first safari, all of the Big Five, except the elusive leopard. Best day ever. 

Glorious sunrise as we waited to enter Kruger National Park.

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Night shift

Have seen something pretty grim at hospital, but I'm not sure this blog is the best place to say. Let's just say there were maggots where there should not be maggots. It was my joyful task as a medical student to cut open the specimen and look for them. Dream of dreams. 

It has been raining elephants and hippos overnight and much of today, which is unusual. Have been catching spacepans of water from the thatch roof leaks. Maybe that kept people away from the pubs and therefore fights, because it was so quiet on-call. Though I was sewing someone's head together at 1am, and he kept moving his head to see what was going on. Gave me a bit of a fright when I was putting the local in, and the needle moved clean out of his head, and stuff squirted everywhere. Luckily not on my face, over half of patients are HIV positive around here. The nurse who was supposed to be helping me ended up almost cutting my hair instead of the thread ends. I was not happy, the scissors were covered in blood. In my hair, for crying out loud. After that, she stopped assisting me all together, and was giggling with the two other nurses in the outpatient theatre. 

I'm beginning to see how Tim and Anna have changed their mind about staying in Tintswalo hospital, where it is no one's job to do anything, but there's always time to stand around and chat. They actually earn more here than they do in the UK, their beautiful, massive home costs them less to rent than what they get from renting out a 4 bedroom house in Selly Oak. I live there, and it is universally known as 'the dump'. They were saying that some doctors go private in SA, even though their pay then goes down by 40% reduction, just so that they can get on with their jobs instead of chasing up why there are 'no antibiotics' when the pharmacist couldn't be bothered to get it from the other room. 

Oh, it's also hilarious trying to get a psychiatric history from someone with a language barrier. Explaining terms such as self-harm, suicide, voices required a bit of arm flapping on our part. There was nothing physically wrong with him, his breathing problem is likely to be psychosomatic, and it was fun again to explain this to him. The nurse told us he was on a drip because his blood pressure was high, and giving him fluid would bring it down. Hmm, we just took it out in the end. There was also a young woman from the air force who came in with abdo pain, white cells in her urine but none of the appendicitis symptoms, and for some unknown reason, the air force medic shoved in a urinary catheter for a simple urinary tract infection. Hmm.

Five nurses slept in a row whilst we worked. Work ethic is poor in SA, often find people asleep in the day in various rooms. Doctors not even turning up. Nurses disappearing off. 

I spent the rest of the hours trying to get sleep on a sofa, whilst everyone else had beds. I now have 4 new bites overnight, all on my back. We went for a safari drive in the afternoon, saw a brown snake eagle carry a lizard or snake in its talons. Warthogs are so shy, and so quick. I hope to get a good face-on picture before I leave SA. 

I want to talk more about the BEST day of my life, i.e. when we first went on safari, but it's hard without putting photos up. I haven't worked out how to do this yet. The photo files are too big, and I don't often have enough time on the computer to do this. Those two days of safari, camping in Kruger Park, the long panoramic drive by mountains, swimming at the top of Lisbon Falls, truly are some of the happiest days of my life that I will always remember. Photos can never show how those places made me feel. Though I got a couple of videos that will helpfully give a better gist than the stills.

Anyhow, it's not my turn to cook tonight (I made chicken, butternut squash risotto the other night). We have been playing 'Settlers of Catan', it's funny how competitive some people can be. Good game. Body clock is a bit confused, but I will have an early night. Speak soon!

Friday, 15 April 2011

When I was a young warthog

Warthogs are so funny, the way they run with their tails in the air. The young woman (let's say her name is Lea) from yesterday was the same age as me, I sat with her a while when she was still a bit out of it from ketamine. When I walked in, the man had returned and brought a woman with him. All three of them were all praying. It was pretty eerie. Lea was singing but her eyes were blank and she was swaying on the bed. 

The man demanded to know who was in charge and what was happening, the woman said she was a colleague, but her face plainly said that they weren't friends. It was pretty fishy, Lea's phone had disappeared, again and then magically found by the man after a while. I told the man and woman that Leah needs rest, and they finally left. I sat with Leah a while, because even though she wasn't quite with it, she was speaking to me. She asked me if she was going to be ok, her eyes were fickering from ketamine but she was looking at me for answers and reaching for my hand. So I held it, and told her that we have fixed her hand with stitches, and cleaned her up, but she still needs an X-ray to make sure everything is in order. She asked what she had done to deserve this, she has not done anything to anger God but she kept blessing me. I told her I haven't done that much besides a bit of sewing but she thought the sun shone out my shoes.

I was seeing a toddler, just under 2 years, who came in with mastoiditis and orbital cellulitis so needed emergency IV antibiotics and fluids. I was taking the history from  his auntie, as his mum spoke no English. Tim and Anna had to try many times to take blood and get access, they got the samples, and the antibiotics in, but the fluid would have to be done on the ward later. As I left, I saw the mum shed a tear or two. It's awful when your child is sick, and doctors are prodding him with needles. I tried my best to tell mum that he will ok, but it must be hard for her. He may be young but he's HIV +ve and not on treatment, think that played on her mind.  

Lea eventually left with the man and woman, though none of us were particularly about it. I asked her a few times if she wanted to go home with them, she was still out of it but she definitely pointed. Wasn't much we could do, the nurse was happy to get rid of her. 

I found out later from the girls that she did tell her story when I was away. The man is her boyfriend, and the woman is the 'other woman'. She saw them inside the car and went to grab the keys out of the ignition, but he drove off and she was dragged for a bit. So much for the 'I just found her' business.

So, we have fixed a hand, but we haven't fixed the problem. I feel that's often the thing with A+E, there are so many other issues. Then again, you can't go around with fixing your life when your body is broken.

Opps, got to go!

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Hospital antics

Just a short post at lunch time, had a really good day so far, I was with Anna this morning for the theatre list. Couple of hernias but there was also a guy who had been attacked and had a skull fragment sticking out. It was about two inches wide in the end, and they sewed the scalp over. There was a young girl who needed a bullet removing from her leg. I felt the bullet through her skin, another doctor was doing the same but she pressed a bit too hard and there was pus everywhere.

Then a lady came in with gravel burn down one side of her face, an obviously dislocated middle finger, and lacerations along where the fingers met the palm. She came in with this shady looking guy, may have been the one who ran her over, she said he wasn't her friend. He said he just found her like that, and disappeared with her phone at one point. Lizzie got it back though. The lady said she'll tell us what happened to her after we have given her an injection.

Got to sulture her hand, was told it was pretty neat. The last sultures I did was on an orange whilst I was in Sixth Form, so it was my first time. A lot of stitches though, some of them were between her fingers, which was a bit awkward especially as the ketamine was making her hallucinate and scream. She looked like she was almost dancing at one point.

So anyhow, a good day, I'm going to go back in a bit to find out her story. Until next time.

Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Tintswalo Hospital

Just arrived in the hospital which is the same avacado green inside as the church back at my parents'. The doctors are in a meeting that they said we won't get anything out of and so we are hanging around in the staff room. Even though we're 4th years, we will be foundation year one doctors here. We won't just be taking histories or blood, but we'll be delivering babies, doing lumbar punctures, and if we wanted to do Paediatrics, it sounds likely that we would end up doing a ward round or clinic by ourselves. Hmm, talk about deep ends.

Note to self, never call a child 'Lucky', because they always tend to die of HIV/TB out here. Or have some horrific facial trauma. Or maybe Tim and Anna just remember them because they were called 'Lucky'.

We are staying in a two bedroom cottage next to the main house, set in 30,000 hectares of game reserve. You know the bit when Belle sees the Beast's home for the first time? The most beautiful home I have ever seen. I won Rock Paper Scissors, and so I have a King-sized bed and a huge room to myself in the cottage. It's overwhelming, there are trophy heads everywhere, pieces of vertebrae from game serves as soap dishes, antler handles everywhere, Impala heads, Buffalo head. Even the walk-in wardrobe has rhino handles. I felt so overwhelmed. I was confused by the water feature, which turned out to be a swimming pool with water running artistically down the granite edge. There is a fridge with an ice machine, a coffee machine in the kitchen that I have no idea how to work, and I was even confused by the sink.

Yeah, I felt like I was Tarzan, just coming out of the jungle when I saw their home. There's even a huge, and I mean HUGE, fibre glass elephant head in the living room of the main house, modelled on a real elephant. The cottage even has a massage chair, for crying out loud. Madness indeed.

So, I should go now, and read up on TB. But I had the BEST day of my life when we went on Safari, last Sunday. My first sighting was a male elephant in musk, it was a rhino day and we ended up seeing 11 of them, 9 of which were in a herd. The stars, my goodness, I have never seen stars like these. I can't capture them on camera, but wow. They are truly amazing. 

Why did the giraffes cross the road?

To check out the lions eating their friend.  

Oh, and we also swam at the top of Lisbon Falls, look it up! From Nelspruit, we were bundled into 3 separate cramped mini buses (or taxis). Managed to sit right next to the loudspeaker for most of them, but met a nice lady who helped us get off at the right place, and gave me half of her maize to munch on. It took us about 4 hours to get to Hoedspruit. People were staring and pointing at me from outside the minibus when we were in the township. Men were thrusting mobile phones in my hand to try and get my number. It's so strange. I don't think they know where to put me, because there are so few Chinese people around. Even less than white. We stopped outside Tintswalo Hospital to pick up Colin, the theatre porter. It was just Jack the driver, and Colin, and us. Got a bit worried, but we made it.

I saw a Africa wildcat this morning, and a herd of six Nyala grazing really close to where we had dinner last night. The cat, I thought was something exotic from far off and got very excited. Then as it came closer and closer, I realised it was a domestic cat. But it still wasn't quite that. He stalked closer and closer until he came to sit next to me and I was petting him. Then I was told afterwards it was really a wildcat, just the neighbours', and tame.

Need to go, I know nothing, and it's been a long time since I've even taken blood. If Peter is reading this, please could you top up my phone? I love you and I miss you so.