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.


..is 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.

Saturday, 9 April 2011

Sunny Africa

First blog post in Africa! Lizzie and I arrived on 7th after a smooth flight via Zurich (we got extra leg room in the front row of economy). I didn't get much sleep, the guy behind me was talking really loudly to the one next to him at 4am, but the plane food was actually pretty good! We were won over by the Swiss cheese and chocolate. I also watched 'The King's Speech' in the morning, which I really enjoyed and Lizzie discovered Battleship.

Alice's flight from Paris was delayed due to 'an electrical fault', the plane had to turn back so she fell asleep on the plane and thought she had arrived in SA, got off and everyone was still speaking French! Didn't land in Joburg until 3am the day after us, but got picked up by Bob (the hostel owner). She queued for hours for a 'complimentary' hotel room in Paris, got treated to a buffet and champagne, but still, what a nightmare!

Anyhow, it's so sunny in SA! Pretty hot too, which makes me wonder what the summers are like if this is autumn. Luckily, it's not humid! So Lizzie and I were by ourselves on the first day. We arrived at Bob's Bunkhouse, which has been awarded cleanest hostel in the past. The last hostel I was in was in Edinburgh, in a mixed tiny dorm, this one was about 13 pounds a night with a pool. It's not peak time at the moment, so it was quiet in the hostel and we were the only two there at the time. Bob and Joan were really helpful, though Bob smoked like a chimney!

The first meal we had in Joburg was actually in a windmill, we ordered bacon and Dutch apple pancakes. I had a glass of milk, which happened to be the cheapest drink on the menu at 8 rand (so about 80p). We also went to buy some supplies from the supermarket, and the guy who weighs the fruit and veg started randomly telling us about God's fishing net, and good fish vs bad fish. We sort of just nodded and smiled, as we were only getting an aubergine. The bananas here are amazing, I love bananas anyway but they taste sweeter here, and have more flavour.

Every hostel in SA seems to have a pool, it was so hot that I couldn't resist a dip. Had to gradually go in because the water was so cold! Two American lawyers from Rwanda arrived in the afternoon. Tim was from DC, and Matt from LA, they are consultant solicitors working as advocates for the Rwanda government against international companies. It was Genocide week and they were on for half days, so they decided to take a holiday in SA. There was talk about prolonged grief as it is now the 17th year, and it was a depressive time.

Tim was 6'5 and quiet, a bit aloof, and Matt was very talkative and easy-going. We all sat by the pool chatting until they left for the casino in the evening, and Lizzie and I had corn on the cob and instant noodles! Took me a while to fall asleep but it was nice to hear crickets in the night. 

We had a late start on Thursday, after Alice got in so early. Had to sort out which safari tour to take and that took up most of the morning. The dilemma was that Bob recommended Livingstone Tours, which were 'the best', but also the most expensive. 4 day package was R4650. In the end, we decided to wait until we got to Nelspruit, which turned out to be the right thing to do, but it also meant Bob was really disappointed as he would have had commission from Livingstone for our trips. Made us feel pretty bad, but then it was a lot of money, and not the best deal for us.

Went to the Apartheid Museum in the afternoon, but didn't have enough time to see everything. It wasn't clearly signposted, and I missed a good chunk of the main section, and instead learnt a fair bit about the life of the legend that is Nelson Mandela. I'll write more about this when I get the chance, but that evening, we went for sushi with the guys. We squeezed into a four person taxi, with Tim in the front, and drove through 'Orange Grove', which had massive houses with almost castle-like front gates, and through more colourful parts near the city skyscrapers. Parties were spilling onto the streets a bit where we got off!

Lizzie and I shared a salmon sushi platter and I had saki, the girls weren't familiar so had a try too. I asked the waiter, Steve, to take a photo of all of us. Matt wanted one on his camera too, but we had to tell poor Steve that he was taking a photo of himself and not us. We then went onto 'The Loft' for a drink, where there was a rather hairy Irish guy with a guitar was singing, but to be honest, he wasn't that great. As we walked upstairs, I noticed that a man was sketching the singer by candlelight. I was so impressed that I stopped to ask him for a photo, Tawanda works as an artist and was happy that I liked his work. Again, I would write more about the evening's conversations when I have more time, but I had a Hunter's dry cider and the guys were asleep in the taxi on the way home. That and the driver had an ornament that I thought looked like a bunny on a broomstick, or a whale with a stick up its bottom, but turned out to be a dragonfly with very stunted wings.

We left the hostel in the morning today to catch the Greyhound bus to Nelspruit. It broke down along the way in the middle of nowhere and we had to wait for a mechanic to turn up. They drove the bus onto some logs to look, but wow, the bus was so hot! It said 39 degrees C inside but I'm not sure that was right. Akeela won the spelling bee on the bus film though, so all was well. The bus left after 9am, and we got there at 4.30pm. Taxi in the morning drove through downtown Joburg, which was interesting. A building there almost looked like Canary Wharf on a bad day. There were prostitutes sitting on the steps next to a build up of rubbish on the street.. I was glad we were in a taxi. It was a nice coach ride though, despite the break down, travel sickness medication worked like a charm. The second half of the journey was definitely better than the first half, it was so green! I kept looking for sheep but couldn't find any. Could almost have been English countryside with rolling hills, but everything so much wider, and the trees were different.

So here we are, at our second hostel, I feel so at home here. There are three cats, two dogs and fish. Paul and Natalie have three children, who were digging holes outside when we arrived. The youngest, Luke is 4, then there's Leah (7yrs) and Josh (9yrs). Luke was so adorable, they are all lovely children, but I have a real soft spot for the little guy who insisted on lighting my way with a tiny wind up torch on a keyring and let me have a go on his favourite toys - a car that turned into a transformer, and a plane with flashing LED lights. His favourite animals are tiger, leopard, and moth. Just because.

I am deeply happy after my hot shower, and dinner of vegetable pasta and papaya. Leaving for safari tomorrow at 4:30am, so I should really go now! So excited! Starry, starry night indeed. We won't be back at the hostel until late Monday, Tim will pick us up on Tuesday so hopefully will recall some of the Medicine I had already forgotten after the exams!

Sorry if there are typos of spelling or grammar, I hope I'm making some sense.

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Let the Chicken Dance Commence

So I lied, this will be the last post before Africa. I have finished packing and am happy with it. Here's the first photo to start us off, this is all the hold luggage I'm taking, think I've done pretty well for a 2 month trip:

I don't seem to have any concept of money anymore, Lizzie and I got our Baz bus tickets earlier today. Hop on, hop off bus along the Garden Route, which costed £286.00. Most expensive bus ticket ever, methinks. Am definitely haggling when we get there.

We're staying in Bob's Bunkhouse in Joburg on the first night. Think it came to about £12 each for a 6 person dorm. I'm going to keep tabs in my diary of costs. I think it's the only way that will deter me from buying random, cool stuff that I don't need. At least early on in the trip anyway. 

It's funny, 14 years ago today, I was flying over from HK to live in England. Seems fitting that we should fly out again today for another adventure. Anyhow, should go and eat something, I'm not very good at doing that when I'm excited. Bye for now!

Tuesday, 5 April 2011


This may be well the last blog post before I leave tomorrow afternoon for the airport. I've just finished packing to African music, and eaten the last of my 'Bon Voyage' cake. Managed to get everything into a small suitcase, - had to be pretty ruthless! As my clever, well-travelled friend said, 'you will always pack more than you need, and buy more than you think you will.'

Tired out still from yesterday's shopping trip. Felt like I had spent a  massive sum of money, but most of that is still there, just in South Africa Rands on my travel card or in cash form. I did come back  yesterday with something that wasn't on the list though - a Kindle! I read quite fast, so the thought of taking books was not one compatible with packing light, feel a bit bad spending money but still.. her name is now Serenity.

Met a few strange shop assistants yesterday, including a girl that was putting Vaseline on her lips whilst I was asking her about the difference between the standard Kindle (which I got) and the more expensive 3G Kindle. I asked about the Internet function and this was her reply:

'Well, depends what you want to use it for. It's good for reading books, if you like books, it's good for that. Instead of having to go to somewhere like McDonald's to get your book, you can get it anywhere. Do you like books?'

I was reminded of the Black Books sketch when Manny welcomes a customer into the bookshop with 'Books, old and new!'

Another shop assistant asked me how much I knew about binoculars, to which I replied, 'Erm, not much really! Well, except for the bringing far things closer part.' He didn't even smile. Oh dear. He gave me a crash course in binoculars and I held the first pair the wrong way round. Hey, I wasn't lying when I said I knew nothing about them.

The last one was in Superdrug, I was looking for compression bags for the suitcase. I caught the assistant's atttention and explained that I was looking for ones where you roll the air out instead of using a vacuum. The guy looked at me briefly, gave his head the slightest of shakes, and then walked away with his back to me having never said a word. He was definitely working there as well. 

Anyhow, I need to send a couple of emails and sort out hostels and routes so I need to get off now. I have downloaded mostly free ebooks but I did pay for the books below. It's scary how easy it is to buy a book with one click! 

1) The Lord of the Rings - Tolkien went from South Africa to B'ham!
2) Confessions of a GP - Already half way through, it's so funny :-) 
3) In Stitches: The High and Lows of Life as an A+E Doctor - Got this for a friend but yet to read myself.
4) But Can You Drink the Water - About a working-class family moves from Liverpool to apartheid SA.
5) The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency - I loved the BBC adaptation, I look forward to this muchly.

Wish me luck! 2 months in Africa, where I come!

Edit: This is Fiver. 

You will see photos of him in various places around Africa in the next few weeks, if the net holds up. 

I was going on to the boyfriend about how cute this crochet bunny was but thought I'd be good and sleep on it before I buy him. Then I checked Etsy the next day, I saw that he had been sold. :-( I was in the middle of writing to the seller to see if she might make another, when boyfriend walked in. Told him what happened and how I shouldn't have waited etc. Boyfriend chuckled and I got mad at him, because bunny was gone and he was laughing. Turned out he bought the bunny for me as a present. So that's the story of how I came to own Fiver.