It was a greyish Monday morning. I had woken up super early to meet my sister for her 3rd attempt to get a doctor to see her about removing the cataract growing in her eyes.
The first time she went to the St Johns Eye Clinic at Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto, the hospital was closed because of the outbreak of the Coronavirus pandemic. The clinic was on lockdown and no new or old patients were being consulted. She went back in July. Then she was told that because of the third wave, doctors were only seeing patients with emergency cases. They gave her another date.
That day was Monday the 06th of September. She asked me to come with her for moral support. I was more than happy to go because it had been a long journey to get to a place where she could agree to a medical assement and possible treatment of her failing eye-sight
Our journey started a few years ago when I decided to gift her with a pair of new eye glasses. That’s one of many things things my sister and I have in common. We’ve been wearing glasses for most of our lives. I started when I was 13.
We went to see an optometrist together. While she was inside taking her eye test I was happily going through the frames on display looking for one that would suit her. I was excited to help her choose new frames as this is the best thing about having to wear glasses for the rest of your life. You have to like what you see in the mirror.
When she came out dejected I was confused. “You’re not going to choose a frame?” I asked.
“No,” she said.
“Why?” I asked concerned.
“She says there is no lense that can improve my eye sight at this point. The current prescription I have is the highest there is. If I can’t see with my lenses then, I need to see an Ophthalmologist.” My sister explained in a subdued voice.
I was in disbelief. I had never thought it possible that my sister could become legally blind right in front of my eyes and at such a young age.
“How does that happen, what does it mean? We must get a second opinion,” I told her. “Let’s go to another optometrist, maybe this one is wrong.”
“No,” she insisted, “they’ll just tell me the same thing.”
Eventually after some nudging my sister agreed to consult an ophthalmologist to see if her vision can be improved to a point where she can at least wear glasses. I was convinced that there was something we can do to change the situation for the better for her. I was also very happy that she agreed to go and only with me.
After our consultation I tried very hard to hold back my tears.
“There’s nothing we can do for the one eye,” said the doctor. “But the other eye can still be saved. I can refer you to an academic hospital to have the cataract removed. At least you will be able to see with one eye. There are many people who can only see with one eye, and they live normal lives” he said writing us a referal letter.
My sister just looked down at her feet as we walked back to the car. The silence was too much to bear. I didn’t know what to say.
But I tried to be practical.
“I’ve seen cataract operations being done before. You don’t have to go into the theater or under anaesthic. You just sit and the doctors uses a laser pen to remove it. You don’t have to go under the knife.” I said compassionately.
“I know,” she said, “but I’m going to trust God.”
So when she invited me to her appointment I was more than happy that she was now willing to do something about it.
When we arrived at St Johns it was 7am in the morning. A long queue of people was already snaking through the parking lot to the very back-end of the clinic.
It didn’t look like we’d be seen before lunch time.
People standing in line were mostly senior citizens with a trickling of children and youngish looking people like my sister and me. Fortunately for us the line was moving super fast. Two St John staff wearing blue personal protective gear where checking everyone’s papers to make sure they had a legitimate appointment. By 8am we’d already reached the front of the line where my sister’s fate would be determined.
“Where do you live?” A queue marshall asked.
My sister told them.
Go that side.
A young, well dressed white male doctor was pointed to us as our point of call.
He asked for my sister’s script.
After reading it, he took out his iPhone13 put the phones’ torch on and inspected my sister’s left eye.
“It’s not an emergency” he said in conclusion.
“You’ve had this injury since 2016. We are only treating patients with emergency cases. I will have to give you another date, ” he said.
We both stood there aghast, parched for words.
“I’ll give you a date for November,” he said searching for a space to write on my sister’s prescription.
Can you at least gurantee that she will get to see a doctor in November?
“No, I can’t guarantee that” he said straighting himself up. “Especially with the fourth wave now coming, we are still dealing with backlog cases from the 2020 lockdown”
“That’s it? ” we asked.
“That’s it,” he said.
“Next!!!” the queue Marshall called out.
“What happens now?” I asked to no one in particular.
“See I told you,” my sister replied “I will trust God.”