June 20, 2011

In the Emergency Room - Again!

Our family seems to be destined to make the rounds in Joburg's emergency rooms. I feel like a food critic - "Let's see, which hospital are we sampling today so we can tell our readers about it?"

After Sunshine's stitches at Life Fourways due to her unfortunate encounter with the night stand in Madikwe at the beginning of the year, we recently found ourselves in another Joburg ER, this time at Mulbarton Hospital on the Southside of town. Jabulani was at a soccer match, playing goalie for Dainfern.

He actually hadn't wanted to go that morning after a late night sleepover, but I appealed to his sense of duty, as his team only just had enough players with him (to think that just giving in once would have saved us the entire ordeal!). It was a very one-sided match, with plenty of goals against him but even more spectacular saves, including the very last one. He came out of goal in a one-on-one situation, dove for the ball, and the attacker stepped on his arm. We could all tell it was broken and since of course he was in agony, we drove him to the nearest hospital, with the coach, who fortunately knew this part of town, leading the way.

Mulbarton Hospital
Mulbarton Hospital is part of the Netcare Group, South Africa's largest private hospital network (the other large private hospital operators are Medi-Clinic and Life Healthcare). Having sampled the Life group previously (Life Fourways), my humble opinion is that the Netcare hospitals are older, with somewhat dated facilities. Noisette recently sampled Olivedale Hospital for us, which also belongs to Netcare, and it had a similarly run-down feel. However, that is not to say that you don't receive excellent medical care there. It's just that when you're new in a country, you tend to judge these things by what you see, and when the paint is peeling in your room and the check-in counter is adorned with a sign saying "don't lean on the counter, it may come loose" then you are just a bit skeptical.

I also have to say that the staff at Mulbarton wasn't overly friendly, again ranking Life Fourways higher in my personal opinion. Although I admit my personal opinion  might be colored by the fact that Life Fourways is just around the corner from our neighborhood, thereby qualifying as a "good area of town," whereas the location of Mulbarton seemed somewhat suspicious. It's hard to be entirely unprejudiced! In any case, what irked us in this case was that no effort was made to accommodate a parent (me, as always in these situations) to spend the night with our child. Granted, he is twelve, but coming out of his first ever general anesthesia (the decision was made to operate since both bones were broken, though I've since learned that back in the U.S. this fracture, in a kid, would probably have been treated with just a cast) and in a lot of pain, I wasn't going to just leave him alone. When we asked about it, we were told to wait for the supervising nurse. When we asked her, she said that only the pediatric ward allowed parents to stay. When we asked if he could be transferred there, she said no, because it was already full. In the end, I plain refused to leave and no one came to forcefully remove me, although I did get chased out of the empty bed I had curled up on during the night and spent the rest of it on three plastic chairs pushed together. Trust me, I was very happy to see dawn arrive!

Once again, the overall cost of it all seemed mind-boggling to us - around R30,000 for the entire thing, so about $4,500, including the hospital stay. I can't imagine you could get much more than a toenail pulled in the U.S. for that kind of price, which I do blame at least partially on the whole malpractice craziness (see my post Legal Common Sense for more on that). As always we had to pay everything upfront, and I'm sure we still probably paid more than a local "medical aid" case, plus the paperwork of it all is a nightmare every time, but so far our insurance has willingly reimbursed us. I was a bit irked when the anesthesiologist waved his bill in my face as I was trying to rush to Jabulani's side when he was wheeled out of the OP, but maybe he has trouble getting paid by the hospital. Judging by our experience with South African institutions, I can hardly blame him. By the way, there was a bit of humor as we received some more language training: While we were waiting for the doctor to appear, the nurse informed us that "we'll go into theatre soon." Jabulani's eyes got very big. "We're going to the theater? Now?" Here in South Africa, going to the theater and wearing costumes means you're going to be operated on and wearing a bathing suit. Though not necessarily at the same time.

Strictly medically speaking, however, we have no complaints. The operation went well, the splint was removed after 2 weeks, and just another week later our kid was back at doing this:

I don't think the stitching was the most beautiful job (I thought this is just how my sewing looks when I'm adding name tags to my kids' school uniforms), but it already has improved a lot from the first look we got:

Jabulani, always one to discover the silver lining, was thrilled to set off the alarm at airport security with the 13 screws and 2 plates he now carries around in his arm.


Martina said...

Ouch! I had surgery in SA and the surgeon told me to wear medical tape (micropore) over the scar for as long as I can. You can get a skin colour version in SA. This somehow makes the scar fade completely to a silver/white line instead of a red/purple one. I did it and it worked! Hope he feels better soon


Madelein said...

Ouchie!! Glad he's better!. Yes there is a huge dispute between Medical Aids and anesthesiologist,hence him waving his bill in your face.

Stephanie said...

Sorry you had to visit the emergency room. that's never a fun event. i do have to give a shout out to Netcare though in Natal at least. We've been to two Netcare facilities with state of the art service and couldn't have been happier.


I do get a chuckle out of the theater and costumes myself. Also, all nurses are called sisters and a male nurse is called a mister. :-)

Sine said...

I'll have to check out that medical tape, I had no idea. And hence, the scar is purple/red!
Will check out your hospital story now, Stephanie. And like I said, we were happy with the overall medical care too, and I also have to admit I don't have a good point of reference, since we actually never ended up in a U.S. emergency room (weird). Only Canada for ski accidents, but that is different again. I do know that in man American ERs you can wait for many hours before you are treated, unless you're maybe about to die. And we always had very prompt service here.

Bing said...

Oh wow! Sorry you had to go through that! Well, if it makes you feel any better, the emergency service in NZ was really bad. It was an expensive private care hospital too. They would have let me bleed to death if I didn't demand for attention. Haha!

Sine said...

Oh no, did you blog about that? You know, that is just one of those things about South Africa. It gets such a bad reputation when in reality many things are worse in other, more developed countries. Even crime. Here people talk about it, and elsewhere they don't. Ergo, crime must be the worst in South Africa.

W. A. Jeffrey said...

Glad your son came out of it okay. I could explain the ER wait times in the USA issue but I'm not sure it would really add all that much of use to conversation.

Hank McKay said...

There's nothing wrong the Southern Areas in Johannesburg. We've just got a bad reputation amongst the people from the northern side of town because the area was initially a predominantly working class part of the city (I've spent my whole life getting a certain look of distaste from people when they find out that I'm from the southern part of Joburg).

Sure, there are parts of the south that we generally try to avoid, but there are also parts of the northern suburbs that we stay away from.

To be honest, there are probably a fair number of people here who would've recommended going somewhere other than the Mulbarton Hospital. As a family, we've had mixed experiences there, but we generally try to go somewhere like the Union Hospital, which is about 15 minutes away from Mulbarton. It's also a Netcare hospital, but generally in better shape.

Sine said...

Hi Hank - I just saw your comment, a little behind as I was just returning from my first trip to SA since moving away. So many memories refreshed!

You're bringing up a very good point. It's always easy to look down one's nose at other areas in town that one is not familiar with. We always feel more comfortable with the place that we know, it somehow feels more safe. I'll never forget how the woman in Alexandra I was speaking with at her house berated me, when finding out that I also regularly went into Diepsloot, that I shouldn't go there as it was too dangerous! It made me realize that people will always feel very different about their home than outsiders who only hear about it and somehow form an opinion. In a way, that is how the whole of South Africa gets treated by the rest of the world.

I apologize for my dim view of Southern Joburg as expressed in this rather long-ago blog post. If I wrote it again, I'd like to take out the "other side of the tracks" prejudice I might have conveyed. Other than that soccer field and Mulbarton Hospital, I really didn't ever set foot in any Southern suburbs. I do wish that we had known about the hospital situation at the time though and made a more informed choice, as my son still bears an uglier scar on his arm than it should have been:)