With the front wheel fixed, Servaas left the Klein Pella Guest Farm to continue hus journey. He wanted to get to Springbok before continuing to Hondeklipbaai, that sleepy village next to the Atlantic Ocean. It’s been years and yeas since last he saw the sea. Rolbos, is, after all, in the middle of the desert and he’d simply love to see the endless mass of cold water separating South Africa from the rest of the Western World.
The ache in his left shoulder began an hour later. At first it was a mild twinge, but soon the discomfort became so bad, he had to let go of the handlebar and rest his left hand on his lap. Then the pain spread down the arm to his elbow, becoming more intense…
Patric Modise always wanted to be a doctor. When he was small, he’d be the one applying various leaves and mixtures (feathers and mud, grass and mud, ash and mud…etc) to the many cuts and bruises his childhood friends endured. In the village this was tolerated with understanding smiles, for will little Patric not (like the rest of the children) end up working for some mining company or – if he’s lucky – for a farmer? To be a labourer is about as far as one could go in that region and dreams of becoming an independent professional were completely crazy. Still, kids will talk such silly things and his parents didn’t want to kill his fantasy too soon.
Patric worked hard in school – or what passed as school in those days. Everybody had been so excited when democracy arrived and the new government promised houses, education and a chicken in every pot every Sunday. Patric’s father, Sipho, tried to tell the village that there wasn’t enough chickens around to fulfil that promise, but he still believed the housing and education promises. Well, as it turned out, nothing changed at all. They got to draw little crosses on ballot papers, which meant an extra holiday every five years; but that was all.
When he passed Standard Five, Patric persuaded his father to allow him to stay with an uncle in Upington, where he attended the Secondary School. Due to his diligence, he passed Matric at the top of his class with an average of 69%. This was a school record, causing the headmaster to predict a bright future for the industrious student.
And it all came to a grinding halt…
Patric sent letters to every university in South Africa. He was, after all, a good student, had a disadvantaged background and his family supported the ANC. Surely that was enough to make any dean of any medical faculty sit up and beg the lad to grace the university with his presence? Patric included – in every letter – some of his more successful recipes for the treatment of cuts, scorpion stings and various rashes, just to prove his serious intent to contribute to medical knowledge. When not a single letter from any university arrived, Patric tried to convince himself it was due to just another strike: either the postal workers or the railways or maybe the Typist’s Union. He then bade his family a teary goodbye and hiked to Cape Town.
The shock of seeing so many townships filled with so many desperate people near Cape Town, caused a flutter of anxiety. And when he arrived, dusty and travel-weary, at the university one Friday afternoon, he had to plead and beg his way to the dean’s office. He never talks about that interview. At the end of it, the exasperated dean palmed him off to the matron of Tygerberg Hospital, where he was appointed to the staff as an orderly.
This story, however, is not about the time he spent in that huge complex while pushing trolleys around. Suffice to say that, after twelve frustrating months, Patric was no nearer to fulfilling his dream. He hung up his white coat one day, left the building and hiked home again.
Much to his surprise, the government had built a small clinic near his village in the meantime. It was a neat, two-room affair, with a filing cabinet and a date stamp (no ink for the pad). It was also unmanned. Patric wrote another letter, this time to the matron who appointed him a year ago, explaining his intention to apply for a job at the empty clinic. The matron, who had a secret little affair with the Minister of Health, mentioned this to the important man after a sweaty afternoon in the Mount Nelson Hotel, which resulted n the Minister proudly announcing in his next press conference that yet another clinic ‘is now fully operational in one of the country’s most remote places’.
And so we get to the point where Servaas, ashen-faced and whimpering with pain, saw the red cross on the sign next to the road. Help! He needed help! And how fortunate he was to stumble across a hospital here, in the middle of nowhere!
Patric was busy sweeping out ‘his’ clinic when the Enfield slowly approached the little building.
“Where’s the hospital?” Servaas could barely speak, due to the pain.
“This is the hospital,” Patric announced rather proudly.
“Are you the doctor?” The fact that Patric held a broom caused Servaas to wonder about the young man, but he did wear a white coat and he seemed bright enough.
“That’s what they call me around here,” Patric said truthfully.
“I’m having a coronary,” Servaas croaked.
Crisis! A real crisis! Patric kept his calm – but felt like dancing. Dishing out tablets to the AIDS victims in the area was hardly exciting. How he had longed for an emergency like the ones he saw being rushed hither and thither in Cape Town! Man, over there the doctors brought people back from the very brink of death! And wasn’t that his dream? To help the hopeless, cure the terminally ill?
Patric helped the old man from his bike and had him lay down on the examining couch. Haltingly, painfully, Servaas told of the pain in his left shoulder, the radiating discomfort down the upper arm and now, lately, the spreading of the pain upwards, to his neck.
What to do? Patric knew enough of medicine to know that his clinic had no facilities to sort out this problem. ARV’s were of no use in cardiac cases. The bottle of Codeine Sulphate helped for diarrhoea and coughs. He did have a big container with Vitamin B tablets, but those were for pregnant women and would certainly not help his current patient.
So Patric did what he could. Mixing some ash with mud, he applied a poultice to Servaas’ shoulder and told him to rest. Servaas suggested they have a tot of the Cactus Jack in his rucksack.
Servaas left the next day – a completely cured (if hung-over) patient – after Patric supplied Aspirin for them both as breakfast. The entire village had come to greet the old man as he got onto the Enfield, all of them expressing their admiration for their ‘Doctor’ Patric, who single-handedly saved the old man’s life in their most modern medical facility.
When Gertruida heard about this episode, she went ‘harrumph!’, muttering that the pain had not been to a cardiac condition at all, but was simply the result of muscle fatigue in the ancient shoulder. She said something about a Rotator Cuff and a Frozen Shoulder; but the patrons in Boggel’s Place immediately rejected that as being impossible in the heat of the Northern Cape.
Still, Servaas was extremely thankful for the help he got at Patric’s Clinic, and sent a batch of frozen chickens from Springbok. ‘Doctor’ Patric then told his father that some of the government’s promises take a long time, but they did – at last – have a chicken for every pot on that Sunday.
Was it a coronary? Servaas still believe it was. The pain recurred from time to time while he rode on that Enfield, but by then he knew exactly what to do. Ash and mud, he says, have saved his life several times.