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Sent Home to Die: Healthcare in ‘Intensive Care Unit’

Zimbabwe, Harare – Our community is still mourning a childhood friend whom I had known for decades. In January, he got sick. The ailment wou...

Zimbabwe, Harare – Our community is still mourning a childhood friend whom I had known for decades.

In January, he got sick. The ailment would not go away. Six days later, he was immobilised, without money to consult the public hospital. 

Further, patients were turned away according to some affected patients. First, they requested a COVID-19 test, and if one was lucky, they could enter the hospital via a bribe.

By @Comic24Derick

On the seventh day, his family pooled resources and took him to a private hospital, unaware of what to expect. The initial diagnosis was coronavirus. The US$3,000 needed for admission was too much. They were advised to return home, and use medicinal herbs. 

The following morning, after breakfast, he retired to bed. All the chatter and laughter had disappeared, he was in pain, forcing himself to survive.

At noon, things had shifted for the worst. He emerged from the toilet crawling on four limbs, too weak to walk. Along the way, he fell, shouting for help, and water. 

These were his last words before he collapsed. His nephews drew closer to help. He was losing his breath, but none of the neighbours helped in fear of the pandemic.

“Can I have a glass of water please,” he pleaded. A glass was handed to him but he only took two sips, and he sighed again. Breath became evasive, and he yelled again. “I can’t breathe. I can’t breathe, help me please.” 

His tenacious pleas were in vain. Onlookers had nothing more to offer. They could only watch and hope a miracle could transpire. It did not. He gasped once more, his eyes rolled from black to whites, and then he flattened. That was his end in broad daylight.  

Other relatives arrived after he had stopped breathing. They were shaken too. Prayers to revive him were futile. They panicked and loaded him into a car destined for the nearby hospital. Their frantic efforts were thwarted when they were told he was already dead. The only reprieve for the guy was the pilling mortuary.
A Wheelchair in One of Zimbabwe's Major Hospitals
At the mortuary, his body was hermetically packed. COVID-19 tests were negative, however, an autopsy said it was pneumonia. The community, our community was shattered by the swiftness of his demise. 

After that episode, our area has become a pariah as people fear being infected by the virus. During his funeral, a few of his friends pitched to pay their last respects. Only thirty of his confidantes were permitted to attend.

Two months later, another neighbour got sick at night, failing to breath properly. When they arrived at the hospital, they were turned away because the wards had been disinfected. Their only option was the private hospital, which demanded a $25 consultation fee. Before he could be treated, the man died in the car.

And twelve years earlier, we witnessed a similar episode. Our family reunion on December 2, 2008, was concluded in death – it left traces of aching memories.

My mother arrived from South Africa after midnight. Despite her visible pain, she was quick to dismiss it when I asked. “I am fine,” she insisted. She was frail, her legs swollen, eyes watery. At home, she went straight to bed. That was strange.

When I entered her room, she lay wriggling, coiled in agony on the floor. We assisted her back into bed. She lay still, losing body fluids. She squirmed, groaning in perpetual pain. She was fighting. Our cousin drove with composure towards the hospital, giving us residual faith. The ambulance was not an option.
Coffin makers recorded brisk business during the second wave of COVID-19 
We were welcomed by the hospital clerk’s resonating snoring. “You have come to the wrong place. The cholera centre is that way,” he said pointedly. There was no relief for her, yet. The fading hospital engravings granted us a grisly send-off. 

Towards the entrance, a husband wheeled his ailing wife in a wheelbarrow. Irrespective of the healthcare staffs’ sour attitude towards patients, they remained our solitary hope. It was through them or death. Tubes from suspended drip sachets on erected aluminium poles conveyed tiny drops of hope. Weak perforated torsos intercepted drops of life into parched veins.

“She will be fine, just continue to give her water to drink, she will recover.” We trusted the nurse’s qualified view. More patients flocked in as we departed. With a slight persuasion, she ingested lumps of food.

Her abrupt deterioration was the least of our lofty expectations. Her face transformed to chalk white. She involuntarily clenched her jaws. Her teeth jammed, ensnaring her accent. I called out for the second time. But there was a deathly silence. 

My mother could not wait anymore. Neither could death. I then advanced closer to her. She sensed my presence, lifting her fragile arms. Firmly, she held my hand. She squeezed it. I felt her waning, departing gulps of strength.

Her body strength was vanishing, sliding away. Finally, the ambulance arrived. I was summoned inside. The frantic call had a heavy tone of defeat. Inside, her now static body lay under a white sheet. I gradually isolated the bed cover to convince myself. 

Her inert chalk-white eyes addressed mine. Her heartbeat departing yonder. With a downward stroke of my right palm, I gently wiped her eyelids shut bestowing an eternal status. Even in death, her beauty was visible. Only life had evaded her.
More than 4,000 citizens lost their lives to a cholera outbreak between 2008 and 2009
At home, health personnel fumigated the house with a chlorine solution, spewing the ashen liquid all over, sparing nothing. Including my mother’s body. They withdrew a black plastic sheath, undoing the inlet. In unison, we shoved her deep inside. 

Headfirst, she was swallowed with no revolt. Then her lower limbs followed. Soon she was gone forever. A taut fisherman’s knot was applied.

At the funeral parlour, hordes of trucks drove in to offload bodies. Immature yet capable young men and women. Their lives were hacked hastily and bundled away against their will. 

“Because of cholera, Mr Brown wants a military intervention. Bush wants military intervention because of cholera.” Everything was political with Robert Mugabe.

The morgue door flung open. We negotiated our way in, as the mortuary assistant led, head first. I trailed behind holding the lower body. On the third day, we laid her to rest. In the distant horizon, a cluster of cumulonimbus clouds flocked with elevated swiftness. 

Their compacted apex revealed an anvil shape pointing towards the locality, pledging a relief that eluded us all season.

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