free medication time

It was a ward 13 day on Wednesday and medication day too, it’s always wise to get there as close to 7.30am as you can.

ward 13 wednesdays

The pharmacy is full of varnished and uncomfortable benches, with pharmacists busy as honey badgers round a cobra, behind plywood and glass. First you wait in the front row until a very short and permanently pissed off woman calls and there’s a mad scramble of a queue to hand in your meds card. They’re bright yellow, A4 sized cardboard and mine was folded in half. “stretch it,” hissed the angry gnome, and I’m not joking about the hissing. “What?” quoth I in bewildered tones. “Stretch it,” she said crossly, and so I unfolded the card, now stretched back to its full length again and handed it over.

Once you’ve done that, you go and sit anywhere you like at the back of the rather cavernous room and if you’re me, you gaze around pretending to check your phone frequently so that you can sneak a few photos. I carefully watched the gnome’s face at first, to see if she was peeved with everyone, or just me. Well hey, I’m bipolar, I’m constantly under the impression that people are cross with me. I was reassured to see that her demeanor remained aggressive. Once the current intake have all handed in their cards, the pharmacists do their honey badger impersonation again, organising everyone’s meds at once.

A tall man in a full bench under the TV with its padlocked straitjacket was looking our way. “If that man keeps staring,” said my friend, who doesn’t believe in lowered tones, “I’ll punch him.” We both stared back quietly until he looked away. It didn’t bother me, but I am a loyal friend. “How much shweshwe do you reckon is in here?” said my friend, and we looked around, counting skirts and headscarves; there weren’t many. “About three metres,” I guesstimated. Some more shweshwe clad women ambled in to add a few metres. The other people were mostly smartly dressed women, I only noticed one other psych outpatient. She looked utterly and sadly fucked, tottering about and calling, “buh-bye julle,” on her way out, clutching her meds. Nobody seemed to notice and there were probably very few afrikaans speakers there anyway. She was dressed all in purple, thin as a biltong stick, lined as a map. An old and very portly woman sat down opposite us, inspecting I don’t know how many boxes and packets of pills. Lots. We peer at them, whispering “heart,” and “thyroid.” A prisoner and a guard walk in, the guard large in brown, the prisoner small in orange, chains clanking. I’m not kidding about that either.

The gnome slammed open her window and grabbed her mic. She began calling names, bellowing indistinctly. Trying to separate names from their surrounding cacophony is an interesting and confusing exercise and I’m always incredibly anxious about hearing my own. If you miss the opportunity, you have to join the back of the queue and go through the whole process again. “Too long,” I mutter, or “definitely not me,” with an odd sort of relief when I know for sure that the garbled shout wasn’t aimed at me. I have four of the same letters in my first and surname combined and so that’s what I listen out for, so that I can scuttle nervously gnomewards when it comes.

Unlike the rest, she only barks out my surname only; my first name is unpronounceable by every single population group in South Africa. Everyone’s names are rapid fire repeated until their owners reach the counter. Thwack and my meds are before me, rattle and they’re mine. “Thank you,” I said merrily, for it is my habit to meet anger with charm in such situations; all of those people work very hard for not very much. She didnt hear me. I leaned forwards, smiled and said, “thank you so much,” and she smiled back. Acknowledge humanity with humanity; it causes smiles more often than not.

And I leave, relieved, my meds sorted for another 28 days.

32 responses to “free medication time

  1. oh you got a smile that is wonderful! Love your humanity :) And I had to google shweshwe, and now I know what my favourite patterns on skirts were! Love it!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Favourite patterns were when what etc? I love shweshwe, not only is it an important part of history and culture (and economy) here, it’s just lovely. They do very contemporary designs now, but the traditional stuff is still very much present. And you can tell immediately if it’s genuine or the Indian and Chinese ripoffs, just by feel and the very distinct smell of starch. The factory is ailing these days, which is sad as hell.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Indeed. I’m sorry, I write like an ox. I used to pine for those kinds of dresses and skirts, with those patterns. I didn’t come across them very often, it was mostly my dad bringing an occasional one back from different parts of Africa, alternating with batiks and other stuff. Come to think of it the one I had was probably from a trip of his to South Africa, it would make sense.
        In Italy there was a time when there were men from Senegal, in particular. Sometimes other parts of Africa, but I remember the Senegalese mostly. At first they got in miserable-looking deals whereby they sold cigarette lighters and stupid little things on the streets and beaches. Then the women started to follow them to Italy. And they were beautiful and proud and colourful and dressed with these wonderful patterns (admittedly the Senegalese were far more garish, not as elegant as these!). After them, the men started selling these wonderful fabrics, and finally the Italian women were raving about them, and bought them with pleasure. I desperately wanted to buy them too but I was worried the women would be offended by me wearing something so clearly traditionally theirs. And then I moved to London and was penniless anyway so they became inaccessible to me. Now I could probably afford them occasionally, though I’d still be worried I’d be insulting someone’s culture. They should sell them abroad! On the internet or something. It’s the sort of stuff I’d love to help sell myself :/. Beautiful.

        Liked by 1 person

        • You do not write like an ox, they just moo and low and so forth. It’s hard to get the right keyboard too. You can buy shweshwe on – it’s made about 90mins away from me. Three Cats and Three Leopards are the authentic brands.

          I’d written a whole long reply, which wp lost. I’m sulking.

          Liked by 1 person

          • ahahha sorry! I know how it feels when a long writ is lost you’re not about to write it all out again. Setting out for Winnat’s Pass today (by car, sadly, as I can’t trust myself to walk properly nowadays, but looking forward to it nonetheless :)

            Liked by 1 person

            • Ooh how was it? Did you see Odin’s circle? Not sure if it’s called circle or not, but it’s round anyway. I never went down a blue John mine (or cave or whatever its called lol).

              Liked by 1 person

              • We headed towards the sign for Blue John cavern and another cavern, but instead set out on a lovely open field and ended up on Mam Tor, incredible 360 degrees view, a fantastic day. The weirdest thing, it was so crowded, it didn’t bother me, but I tend to prefer these places in isolation. I sat down, and it all hushed. I lied down directly, felt all the bronze age tombs wiggling below me, and everything was so hushed it was eerie and wonderful. I loved it and will be returning there! Then on the way back my son and I found a small perfect cave, it wasn’t either of the signposted ones, but it was super!

                Liked by 1 person

  2. This is a very interesting way into your world. A view into another’s countries services. I’m so glad you did this piece and got a few photos in, also. Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Glad to hear the gnome was capable of some decent human interaction, because for a moment I was thinking of asking the Dragon to toast her. ;) It seems that things are pretty much the same in our neck of the woods. I think the world can do better. G-uno

    Liked by 1 person

    • I feel so sad when I hear things like that, because we’re using a first world healthcare model and aspiring to first world standards, but the more opinions I hear, the more it seems that there’s nothing to aspire to. I remember one doctor I saw at a state hospital in the Western Cape, who was swearing while he jammed the ampoule into the wrong size hypodermic, about how impossible it was to do a job with any efficiency at all when so much of the supplies were outdated and/or wrong. And he gestured to the guy next to me, who was split open from the base of his neck to the base of his spine and said that things were hellish for everyone.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. As always an honest and entertaining report on the reality of life for so many people. At least there is the opportunity to obtain free medication. How do you qualify?

    Here there is coverage for those on welfare or deemed to have a severe and persistent disability. If you don’t qualify for either and have no insurance you are on your own. My daughter purchases insurance privately but it is expensive and none of it covers more than 70%-80% of the cost less a co-pay. The homeless, the working poor have no other options. People often make the decision between medication and food. By contrast if you have employer paid insurance and a spouse with the same you generally pay little or nothing because what one person’s insurance doesn’t cover (the 20-30%) the other’s will.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s income based, so I qualify. I own my house, so I don’t qualify for disability.

      I’d reply more but I’ve just been assaulted by the beginnings of a migraine and I have to leave for the airport soon. Gonna go grab painkillers from c before I start to puke.


      Liked by 1 person

  5. Love how you remember vivid details that slip by most people….and love even more how you depict those observations in your epigrammatic (!) writing.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I could read what you share all day. You have such a way of describing the situation that I see clearly what you see. And I’m glad gnome smiled back. Yeah. That’s kinda my motto too: Kill them with kindness.

    Liked by 1 person

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