How a Zimbabwean hospital treated my dying mother

Shutdown hit hospitals hard

Photo of Murambinda Hospital

Murambinda Hospital is in Manicaland province in Zimbabwe. Photo: Google Maps user Aidan Armstrong (fair use)

By Nyasha

30 January 2019

The nationwide shutdown in Zimbabwe earlier this month hit hospitals hard. Nyasha (not his real name) tells how his dying mother was treated.

Following a call by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, much of Zimbabwe closed down from 14 to 18 January. Demonstrators took to the streets in protest against a sudden steep hike in fuel prices. The government of Emmerson Mnangagwa responded with repression which has left several people dead.

In hospitals, patients were neglected while medical staff went on strike. Doctors demanded, among other things, to be paid in US dollars.

My bedridden mother was one of the patients affected. She was suffering from dementia.

On 13 January, a day before the shutdown started I took her to Murambinda hospital in Manicaland province, one of the biggest hospitals in the province.

We received prompt service. She was quickly admitted to a ward in the late afternoon, and attended by a nurse.

But the following day during the morning visiting hour as I walked into the women’s ward there were very few nurses in the wards. Approaching the bed where my mother lay, I was surprised to see her blue hospital gown was torn from top to bottom. I wanted to ask for a better gown but there was no-one available to speak to.

Hospital kitchen staff had done their normal morning duty, serving tea to patients. At my mother’s bedside were two uncovered pieces of brown bread and some tea. There were flies hovering on the food. No-one was taking care of patients like my mother who was unable to feed herself.

My sisters and I fed her with the tea and cereal we had prepared outside the hospital. As I helped my mother sit and get ready for feeding I saw bloodstains on the hospital sheets. Where was the blood from, I wondered. Then I realised it was from the previous day when a drip had been inserted. The sheets had not been changed.

I asked some of the patients in the ward if they had seen anyone attending to my mother. They said there was one nurse who did her rounds at night. I saw no patients being attended to at all.

I was in a difficult situation; should I withdraw my mother from the hospital and take her to a private doctor in Harare? But Harare by that day was a no-go area.

There was very little we could do. We decided we would at least turn my mother’s sheets. As we did so, a thermometer dropped from the sheets. When had this been used? Had anyone noted her temperature? There was no-one available for answers.

Furiously I went up and down the wards for almost half an hour, looking for a nurse or doctor. I had already decided to take my mother back home.

In one of the corridors I bumped into a male nurse in a white shirt and green pair of trousers. I asked for my mother to be discharged. The soft-spoken nurse referred me to one of the offices. Only junior nurses were present who did not have authority to discharge patients.

Should I just grab my mother and leave the hospital? I walked around some more until I found an elderly female nurse who instructed a junior nurse to discharge my mother.

As I was busy packing my mother’s bags, three more visitors demanded that their relatives be discharged.

There was an uproar in the ward, with some people shouting for help from doctors and others packing bags and getting ready to leave the hospital.

My mother passed away a few days later.