Tuesday, 21 May, 2024
HomeFrom the FrontlinesSeven-year wait for kidney stent removal

Seven-year wait for kidney stent removal

Overworked hospital staff battle personnel shortages, water shortages and load shedding at the rundown Helen Joseph Hospital in Johannesburg, while outpatients wait hours to see a doctor, others lie in filthy linen or spend days awaiting surgery.

Conditions at the hospital are deteriorating by the year and with a cut in the health budget expected, change is unlikely to happen in a hurry, a TimesLIVE Premium report says.

A whiff of urine, blood and vomit greets you at the entrance of the emergency unit. The cacophony of moans from the injured, pleas from family for assistance and nurses barking orders drowns out the the squeaky wheels on the damaged wheelchairs.

The dimly-lit casualty ward rooms are filled with patients. Droplets of dry blood run from the nurse’s counter where patients are categorised according to the severity of their condition, with yellow being the lowest and red the highest priority.

An 82-year-old woman who had a stroke, labelled yellow, is the 32nd patient on the waiting list. In the corridor five people in bloodstained hospital beds wait to be examined, with more on chairs and benches. Another dozen are in one of the small waiting rooms.

The smell of food, medical detergent and urine permeates the unit.

A nurse says the wait is due to staff shortages and the many patients needing care. The patients are told no beds are available, so they need to “prepare for a long night”.

After arriving at about 5.30pm, the elderly woman is only examined by a doctor at midnight, then sent for tests. At noon the next day the family, who have waited all night, are told a bed is available.

“When a bed finally became available there weren’t any porters to transfer my granny to the ward. It broke my heart to see her lying on the ambulance bed for hours with no assistance. By 4pm when we were still waiting for a porter, I decided to take her myself. A nurse offered to help but left and never came back. By 6pm my uncles arrived and we carried my granny to the ward,” said the woman’s granddaughter.

TimesLIVE Premium spoke to Romalia Doubell who was admitted to Helen Joseph around the same time as the elderly woman.

Doubell (24) has been in and out of hospital for seven years and was discharged at the end of December. But her ordeal isn’t over; the mother of two is on a waiting list for surgery to remove her kidney.

In 2016, Doubell was taken to Helen Joseph and diagnosed with kidney stones. The teaspoon-sized stones were removed and a ureteral stent inserted.

A year later the stent was still in, and in 2018 a second stent was inserted. Stents are usually taken out after six months, but with the postponement of surgeries, Doubell’s stents were left in for years.

She came close to surgery in 2021 when she was admitted and prepped.

“A few hours after I was supposed to go into theatre I was told they needed to reschedule because a cancer patient came in. By then I hadn’t eaten for two days because I was waiting for surgery. Over the years the reasons for rescheduling my surgery have been that the theatres were full, I’m young and can still keep the stent in, and once, there was no laser machine. They said it was in Limpopo,” Doubell said.

In December 2022 Doubell was again in excruciating pain and taken to hospital, this time with a septic kidney and kidney stones the size of a tennis ball and a golf ball.

Her mother, Roma Williams, cried as she recalled begging for clean bedding and even offered to change it herself.

Williams, a teacher, said the bedding had not been changed for three days and smelled of urine leaking from the nephrostomy bag, used to drain her kidney.

“I was broken. I would see the nurses on their phones. All I wanted was humane treatment for my daughter. I was told the hospital didn’t have linen, it only arrives once a week and only gets changed when the patient is dirty. Eventually I brought linen from home. I would actually also steal the linen from the hospital, take it home to wash, then bring it back and change her bed myself, just to make sure she had clean linen,” Williams said.

Doubell said she’s still traumatised from her experience at Helen Joseph Hospital. While she had no complaints about the food, she said the taps were broken and there was often no water. With the blackouts and water outages affecting Johannesburg at the time, conditions were even worse, with patients bringing in their own water.

Staff shortages also affected the level of care. For the 82-year-old stroke patient, it meant waiting almost 24 hours to be placed in a ward.

Doubell says she’s experienced progressively bad service here.

“Things have got worse over the past five years. In casualty the smell of urine and blood is unbearable. Ambulance stretcher beds are covered in blood and just left there, and the reek is terrible. I once spent two days sitting on the floor in casualty waiting for a bed,” she said.

In response to questions in the Gauteng legislature, health MEC Nomantu Nkomo-Ralehoko said 36 237 patients are on waiting lists for operations in Gauteng public hospitals.

Nkomo-Ralehoko blamed the pandemic, saying elective procedures were halted during this time. Other factors were delays in procuring specialised machinery, delayed renovations of theatres, brain drain with skilled staff moving to the private sector or overseas, the growing number of foreign national patients, and delays in filling critical posts. Nkomo-Ralehoko said load-shedding also affected surgery, and linen shortages often led to operations being cancelled.

TimesLIVE Premium article – Hospital horror: patients fight for survival in smelly, overstretched wards (Restricted access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Water supply problems compound issues at Helen Joseph Hospital


Helen Joseph doctors’ plea for action as hospital in ‘dire straits’


Helen Joseph allegedly a fire hazard before 2010 World Cup, and still is


SA’s public hospital staffing disaster: 12,000 vacancies for nurses and doctors


Nursing unions: State hospitals like rudderless ships, with acting CEOS







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