There is nothing hilarious about discovering you have become a victim of Parkinson’s Disease and have no medical insurance. You are traumatized enough by the diagnosis; you pale at the thought of becoming dependent on the State. How many times you have driven past Groote Schuur and Tygerberg Hospital and not given a thought to the throngs of people standing about; why they are there and what they are waiting for until you find yourself part of the crowd.
Becoming a patient at a state hospital
This is a personal experience and all the more shocking as I once worked for Sun Life Assurance in Canada and know all the pitfalls of not having insurance. Coverage was for old people I used to think – why do I need it? I was hardly aware of the fact that I am 65. If it were not for Dr Ozayr Ameen, a Neurologist who has since become a friend and could ease things I probably would not have qualified for the help. I got in because my medication was R2000 a month which is very costly and I do not receive a South African pension even though I receive one from Canada. I had home and car coverage and personal liability, but not an iota of medical insurance.
First visit to the hospital
The neurologist who had become a friend – I made him laugh – took pity on me and decided to help me through the process. Tygerberg Hospital was so far away from where I lived that I dreaded driving to the facility for fear I would not reach it and be stuck in traffic. The neurologist was as good as his word and devoted the entire day to my visit. Afterwards he told me that he wanted me to get used to the shock. At his instructions I got up at 4.00 a.m. and got ready. At 7.00 a.m. I was in my car following him to the hospital. The hospital is part of such a huge complex that you need a map to navigate through its ugly dim hallways. Not all the building is used as a medical facility and the vacant rooms and passages lent an eerie silence much like an old film studio haunted by the dead.
The reality of being a State patient
We reached the hospital at 7.30 a.m. and after walking along many passages found the place where I had to register my name. There were at least 50 people in the room waiting for a folder and paying a small fee of R39.00. This was a moment of stark reality. I had no credence here, no importance. My presence to the onlookers ranged from curiosity to friendliness. I took a seat in the queue and waited like everyone else. The neurologist went to another floor to see to some of his patients. When he came back I was on a different floor with my folder waiting my turn. I waited for close to three or four hours. After I was attended to I was directed to the area of almost or more than 50 patients all waiting for pills. It was a pitiful sight and I was so fatigued and so shocked by the numbers that I told him I could not do it. He told me to go home and rest. He arranged for the delivery of the pills and his wife delivered them to me today. In all, my first visit entailed almost twelve hours from beginning to end.
Getting older is no walk in the park. For most of us it is a time of reality. In the room where I waited there were several women gathered around me. One had a problem with her face and could not bear cold air as the pain and stiffness she felt was severe. Another woman had a problem with a man who said he loved her but did not take her out with him when they had friends. She did not know what to do. I told her to give him the boot. For an hour or two the empty passages rang with laughter. I sat there giving advice and adored the women for their willingness to make me feel comfortable. Talking to them made me forget I was in a dreary passage waiting my turn. When my turn came and the women had to leave, one invited me to her house and said it was a pity we did not live closer as I was writing too much and it was not good for my brain. She would know how to stop me; I smiled. My mother had an old saying when she was alive; ‘what you do for someone today, someone else does for your kids’.
The day at Tygerberg was an eye-opener and a good experience for me. It made me think; would I buy medical insurance if I was younger knowing what I know now? Heck, no. I am always up for a challenge and meeting these women showed me how you need people in your life; sometimes strangers more than family. Having said that, if you are a young and growing family call your medical insurance agent and get covered.