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Saving Murderers In South Africa

Being South African these days sometimes means we see things in a slightly skewed way. It seems to be the way we have become. I have touched on this before, but there is another story which illustrates the point.

The recent run of hijackings were fresh in all our minds because the perpetrators had shot and killed, execution style, a mother and her three year old child just the previous week. There were reports that one specific gang was working the area and were responsible for most if not all the hijackings and associated killings in the area. So when our patient came in, even before the police told us so, we just assumed he was one of this gang.

The story was the police had intercepted this guy just after he had relieved a car owner of his mode of transport. He was good enough not to kill the victim this time around which was nice. However, not being the law abiding type, he had driven off in haste with the police hot on his tail. According to the police he fired first. Whatever the truth was, bullets were moving liberally in both directions between our man and the law as they flew through the streets of Pretoria in a westerly direction. Unfortunately for the hijacker he had chosen the toll route and was forced to stop at the toll gate just outside Kalafong hospital. He jumped out and opened fire on the cops in the now multiple cars pursuing him. They shot back. They hit him four times. They gave me real reason for concern about the aim of our police force. The only wound which was anything more than a flesh wound was the shot to his left brachial artery (the main artery in the upper arm).

Ironically, the patient had comitted his initial crime in the drainage area of Pretoria academic hospital, a place with a dedicated vascular unit, but had fled into the drainage area of Kalafong hospital that had no vascular service at all. I thought this would have been divine justice, but, alas, his proximity to Kalafong at the time of the shooting along with the fact that his shooters, the police, immediately transported him to the nearest hospital ensured that he had prompt help. The fact that my friend and colleague on call that night just happened to have a knack with vascular surgery also swung the odds heavily in the favour of our patient. Obviously my views about karma were once again confirmed.

And so the next day when we went on rounds the patient was actually doing quite well. He sat up, looking at us as we stood around his bed to discuss his case. His ordeal had done nothing to his smooth mouth and arrogant attitude. In fact, the only sign of his life-saving and arm-saving operation in the dead of night was the large fasciotomy running along the length of his forearm (essentially a long open wound along the length of his forearm) and the police escort that lazily sat next to his bed.

My friend, the guy who had essentially saved the patient’s life and limb, felt the pulse. I thought he would be proud of its strong beat, but there was something else on his mind.

“The police of today don’t know how to shoot!” he said. “They shoot kak!” I think this was aimed at whoever wanted to listen. But the next statement was specifically for the patient. He turned to the patient and continued.”I, however don’t shoot that badly. If you come near me or mine, be warned I’ll kill you on the spot. My bullet won’t just take out some artery. I’ll hit you in your heart and you won’t see another sunrise. Just to let you know.”

I’m not even sure the patient knew this was the very person who had given up his night’s rest to meticulously repair the artery and thereby save the patient’s life. I don’t think he was the type to care, actually.

Two days later, before the fasciotomy could be closed, the patient escaped from the hospital while his police escort lay lazily around. I reflected that all we could really hope for was that his open wounds would turn septic and he would succumb to systemic sepsis. We all knew he was too bad a man for that to happen.

*This blog post was originally published at other things amanzi*


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