Friday last week: Much of my evening was spent in one of the local government hospitals. I was fine, but the guy who I was there for was not. He's just been hit by a car while crossing an intersection on his motorbike. The whole incident happened as I arrived to fetch my father from our church. He'd been informed that one of the young men from the church had just been hit by a car and we had to get to him as soon as possible.
At the scene, paramedics worked rapidly and diligently to stabilise him and determine the extent of his injuries. He was then transported via ambulance to a local government hospital. We followed and ended up waiting in the ER for news of his condition. While the scenario was not one that I would wish on anyone, there was one thing that emerged as the lighter side of the evening...
I'm not sure how things are in the rest of the world, but here in South Africa, a Friday night is the night that you really don't want to have to go to a government hospital. Our government hospitals are pretty bad as is, but are the only health care available to people who don't have or cannot afford medical aid schemes and thus the luxury of a private hospital. The setting is made so much worse on a Friday because Friday nights are nights of revelry and drinking.
As we sat in the ER, a man in his 40's arrived, walking very slowly and unsteadily into the ER from the main waiting area at reception. He was clearly sozzled, but as I looked around I realised that there were very few in the ER that were not, so thought nothing of it. However, this man was different; he was on a mission.
He moved with unsteady purpose to the guy who ran the ER. I'm not sure of the job description for someone who prioritises ER cases, but I shall refer to him as Clive (I also don't know what his name was, so I can't even use that...). As the subject approached Clive, he began to speak to him in hushed tones. He spoke in English but so quietly that there was no way to understand what he was saying. Clive, having heard the full extent of his slurred story, spoke rather loudly and instructed the man to speak to the people at reception.
The subject nodded his head slowly and did a half turn back toward reception before the penny, well, didn't so much as drop as gracefully ooze through his alcohol-laden brain. Clive had not given him the help he wanted! With the sluggish fury that only the inebriated can muster, he rotated back to Clive for a repeat performance.
But Clive, moving at the pace of a normal person, was not there! Obviously befuddled and annoyed, he gyrated again to shuffle to the ER help desk. Ironically, and unfortunately for Clive, Clive had moved behind the desk to collect and deposit paperwork. As Clive looked up and saw the drunkard approaching, he moved quickly, shuffling papers and trying to get things in order before the drunkard could get to him. Alas, he was too slow.
The drunkard arrived, apparently pleased to see Clive behind the desk. He began to recount he tale to Clive again, but Clive, obviously a conscientious man, had a job to do and would not tolerate this man's ramblings much longer. He instructed the drunkard to step aside and that he would help him in a moment.
Apparently pleased with the outcome, the drunkard obliged, standing in the centre of the chaotic ER, occasionally swaying from side to side with a look of complete incomprehension on his face. A moment later, Clive emerged and took his new chum aside. He informed the man that his wife, who he was apparently here to see, was in the Gynecology ward on the first floor and that it was well past visiting hours, but they would allow him to go up and see her. Apparently satisfied with this, the drunkard inquired as to how to get to the Gynecology ward. Clive, having given up on being civil, told him in a stiff tone to take the elevator. Apparently we had all underestimated just how much revelry our subject had engaged in because his next question must have really been the last straw for Clive.
'But how do I get the elevator to work?'
Clive, now stiffling chuckles, instructed him to press the number '1' button on the panel in the elevator and it would take him to the floor he wanted. The man appeared satisfied with this and slower than before rotated toward the elevator. Having performed a 180 turn, he then turned back to the space where Clive had been. This time, his wobbly anger was directed at the hospital as an institution. He began to mutter things like, 'What button? I don't see any button here!' and 'What kind of a hospital is this?!' all while pressing his thumb to random sections of the wall in the hopes that they would activate the elevator and transport him to the floor above.
After about 5 min of observing this, one of our party took pity on the man and guided him to the elevator, put him into it and pressed the appropriate button for him. We assume he found his wife because we never saw him again. That or he collapsed somewhere and slept it off...