My father and I often started out opposite but ended up in the same place.
When he finished school he started pharmacy at university. After a year, he left that and changed to a B. Comm. His main business was building. When I finished school I started civil engineering. After two years I changed to medicine. Now I am a surgeon.
My father was a consummate visitor to the ill in hospital. He would diligently go visit friends and colleagues all over Johannesburg when they were in hospital. If it was a protracted illness he would sometimes go every day, or at least a few times a week. He would also stay in contact with the patient’s family and ensure they were not short of anything.
Once in the hospital he had the air of a doctor. Often he was in a suit and tie, so he looked professional. He would always introduce himself to the sister in charge, and I guess she would always remember him. He would question the sister about the comings and goings of the doctor in charge, and what he had said about the patient during the last round. When he left, he would always say goodbye to the sister.
He would greet the patient warmly. He had a stern face and would appear very concerned. He would enquire about their health, if there was any improvement, about their family, the children and their work. He would look at the charts, check the drip to ensure it was running and call the sister if there was a problem. X-rays and ECG’s made him raise his game and he would memorise the reports to discuss with doctors (and me later when I qualified).
He was doubly professional when he visited the sick in ICU. The charts were complex, there was often more than one line emanating from the patient’s body, and not all of them appeared to be flowing. Some even seemed to have blood pulsing as they measured blood pressure or some other vital function. Still, he never appeared flustered and always ended up reassuring the patient and any other visitors present.
Once I had moved to Durban and had be admitted for some surgery I really missed his visits. After he died and I had my left hand operated on in Cape Town I doubly missed him. Fortunately there I had a koumbaro and cousin come to visit me.
Unlike my father’s hospital visits my profession requires daily visits to my patients in hospital. I do not wear a jacket and tie. Except in my ward, I often have to look for the sister in charge. Over the years I have developed the ability to know when something is wrong and can sense the mental insecurities many of us present as patients. I have discovered the power of touch and not talking. Often a hug will reassure more than any words can, and will also stop another twenty questions.
My father and I ended up in the same place. He treated his hospital visits professionally. For me it is my profession.