Day hospitals may mean something different to people in other parts of the world but for South Africans the simple definition of a day hospital is a hospital for the poor; mini care facilities low on funds, and big on heart. Day hospitals are run by nurses and are strategically placed to reach more people and vast parts of the country. The qualified doctors and specialists who serve in the big hospitals also serve in townships and outlying districts. Quality care is provided to all.
The stigma attached to those who attend day hospitals is a negative one and implies that if one goes to a day hospital one is poor; this is 99.99% correct. For those individuals seeking medical help, your identification and age is verified, your bank statements looked over, and once approved you do not have to pay for any medical service or medication. Day hospitals are lifesavers and take their work seriously.
A typical day at a day hospital
A day at a day hospital is a nightmare and starts well before 7.00 a.m. for the public. To attend a day hospital requires patience and the sure knowledge that even though your name might be called first, you will not leave the premises until five or seven hours later. People are called in twenties to come up to a certain queue. You then go and sit and wait for an hour or more for your name to be called to sit in a different queue. When everyone has been logged in which is around noon, you move to the prep area where you give a sample of urine, have your weight and blood pressure taken, and sent to sit in a different line yet once again.
How long does it take?
You do not really know what is going on as there are at least 50 to 80 patients milling about. Some sit outdoors and wait for their name to be called. It is such a long and tedious day that you wish you had money to pay for health insurance. At three in the afternoon you might be ready to go to the area where one has to wait for payment. It can take hours before your name is called, waiting for medication. Bribing a nurse does not work; they cannot do favors and move your name to the top of the list. You are told the first time you visit the day hospital to prepare yourself and that it is a waiting business. There is no point asking the same thing over and over. You are advised to bring a book. You engage in people watching and meet the most interesting characters. At last you hear your name called. It is five in the afternoon. The following day the doors open again and a new lot of patients rush in and ask the same question: how long does it take? ‘Lady, it takes as long as it takes.’