(Being sick under Apartheid)

I wake up in a cold sweat because the day has finally arrived.

“It looks better now, I don’t have to go anymore” I cry out to my mother.

“You have to go and you need to be brave” she firmly says.

“But it hurts!” I wail.

“I know, but try to be brave because it’s for your own good” she soothes.

My grandmother will be there to take me to the hospital. My mom has to work so she is unable to.

On the bus ride to the hospital, I am quiet. I don’t want to go. I want to cry but I have been told to be brave and so I am trying.

Time to get off the bus! I hold my grandmother’s hand tighter. My heart feels like a trapped bird. It’s beating so loudly and it feels as if it moved from my chest to my throat.

“Be brave!” My mom’s words resonate in my head.

I stumble as I look up and see the imposing building they call a hospital. The big red cross that sits atop the building seeming to mock me because it looks so calm compared to the butterflies in my stomach.

“Will it hurt this time gran?” I ask in a barely audible whisper.

“It won’t hurt if you’re a brave little girl,” she answers.

“I’m six, how can I be brave?” I cry.

“It’s for your own good,” she says.

I clutch her hand a little tighter because the perspiration dripping from my hand is making my little hand slippery as it enfolds in hers.

We walk into the big, brown doors. She hands over my hospital card and we sit down. It’s so noisy in there. I don’t like the smell of the hospital. Babies are crying with mothers trying to calm them down. Some children are running and laughing as their mothers try to get them to sit down.

Doctors and nurses walk up and down, some with folders in their hands and some without. None of them is smiling. The noise with people talking all over each other sounds like geese communicating. It’s so loud in there.

I keep looking at the clock and I hope that my name won’t be called because I don’t want to go in there.

I don’t like professors! Apparently, they are better than doctors. I don’t like doctors either.

My name is called just as I am about to fall asleep next to my gran. She jumps up, takes my hand and off we go.

I look down at the floor, at the machine cleaning it and the woman who is holding the heavy machine and letting it move as if in tune to some music in her head. Back and forth it slides across the floor. I jump over the wire.

“Follow the red line!” A nurse tells my grandmother. The red line on the floor, opposite the blue one, seems to go on forever. I have to walk faster as I can’t keep up with my grandmother.

Finally, the red line takes us to a door with benches outside of that door.

“Please, can we go home now?” I ask for the umpteenth time.

My grandmother ignores my cry.

“It’s not sore anymore!” I persist.

“Shh, be quiet now and don’t forget to be brave when we go into the room,” she says and smiles slightly.

My name is called! I need the toilet! I’m scared! It hurts! It’s not nice!

Suddenly I’m in the room, staring at the professor. He doesn’t return my grandmother’s greeting.

“Sit,” he orders.

Both of us automatically obey.

There is silence in the room as we wait for him to finish reading what is in my folder.

“Come over to the basin and put your hands into the water,” the professor says.

I look pleadingly at my grandmother and she suddenly looks as if she wants to cry, which makes me want to cry. She squeezes my shoulder and indicates with her eyes that I should listen and move to the basin.

I nervously place my hands in the water. It’s hot and I instinctively pull back. The professor grips my little wrist and holds my hands firmly under the water.

It’s burning! My eyes well with tears, ready to roll down my cheeks.

He is holding my wrist so tightly. The pain is indescribable. My little body starts shaking.

“Don’t move!” He commands as he holds a silver instrument in his other hand.

He starts pressing the pimple-like sores on my hand and squeezes them one by one until water seeps out of it.

I am dizzy. I want to cry. I want to run away. This isn’t helping me. The water is burning me and the tweezers are hurting me and making the sores bleed.

I don’t know how much longer, I can endure this agony. He hasn’t even started on the other hand.

Finally, after what seemed like hours, he puts the tweezers down and I can lift my hands out.

Are those my hands? It looks red, it’s bleeding and I can’t seem to move my fingers much. How am I going to eat? How am I going to play?

I sit down next to my grandmother and she squeezes my shoulder. “You’re so brave,” she says.

The professor finally looks up and stops writing in my folder.

“You need to bandage her hands, give her a pain tablet if she complains about pain and continue to change her bandages. I will see you in two weeks, he says.

” What does she have?” My grandmother timidly asks.

“Oh, nothing serious, its eczema,” he responds.

“Gran don’t forget to let my mom know how brave I was,” I say as we leave the hospital and head back home.