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Book Review: “Steeped In Blood: The Life And Times Of A Forensic Scientist”

This post is a bit of a diversion from my usual posts, but I think it may still be worthwhile. You see, I want to promote a book.

I’ve just read the book, “Steeped in Blood: The Life and Times of a Forensic Scientist“ by David Klatzow. What a stunning book. It really gives insight into the South Africa of old and possibly what South Africa of future may end up being like. I suggest that everyone get ahold of it and read it.

However, David, I do feel I must challenge you on one point. Towards the end of your book, you say one of your surgeon friends told you a story of one of our Cuban import surgeons who tried to do a tonsillectomy through the neck rather than through the mouth, the normal way of doing it. I know this story and have heard it often myself in the corridors in Pretoria. Unfortunately it’s urban legend and nothing more.

I have worked with the Cubans, and they aren’t too shabby. Don’t get me wrong — they aren’t a scratch on a South African specialist (although the standards are dropping as you rightly point out, and quite soon they may be far better than homegrown specialists), but the point is that they wouldn’t do something so bizarrely stupid. I even suspect I know who your surgeon friend might be, especially if he presently finds himself in Pretoria rather than Johannesburg, where you no doubt got to know him.

Anyway, still an absolutely brilliant read for anyone who wants to get a peek into the workings of the apartheid government of old. Go and buy it now.

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

Police-Escorted Paramedics?

This isn’t really my story, but in a sense it belongs to all South Africans. It’s our shame and may be part of our downfall.

We are a people at war. We war against ourselves and we war against peace. Each fights for himself and bugger the rest. But who heals the fallen? It seems in South Africa that quite soon it may be no one.

Recently a story made the news. It was shocking, but it actually gives an inclination of how morally decayed South African society has become. An ambulance was despatched to some informal settlement after a household fire burned a child. The caretakers of the child brought the child to an intersection that the ambulance would actually be able to find. quite soon the paramedics were hard at work stabilising the screaming child. At about this stage, two armed thugs turned up. They threatened the child’s caretakers with their lives and forced them to flee. Then, while the child continued to scream in pain, they raped the female paramedic. They were not caught. Read more »

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

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. Read more »

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

Trauma Victims In South Africa: Triaging The Dead

I noticed my use of the phrase ‘call it’ a few times recently. It is something I saw on American TV and not at all something that is common in my neck of the woods. The sort of scene that you would get in gray’s when the junior doctor is pumping the chest shouting ‘I will not let you die, dammit!’ while the senior doctors stand one side and instruct him to ‘call it!’ is pretty foreign to our way of doing things. I even got ragged a bit for using the phrase at all. I thought I’d relate a story from days gone by that illustrates this point.

It was the time of the taxi wars. Now taxis in our country are nothing like you might be thinking. They are fleets of mini-buses, quite often owned by people of questionable legal character. Occasionally rival groups try to take each other out (I mentioned this before here). But roughly at the turn of the millennium there was outright war. When the war came to Pretoria we saw quite a few of the victims, but neurosurgery got the most. A friend of mine was rotating through neurosurgery and this story came from him.

There had been a contact between two different taxi organisations. The casualties were streaming in. The neurosurgeon and my friend, his trusty lackey, were overworked and I think it had affected their sense of humour. So while they were getting another gunshot head ready for surgery and heard another four were en route, they were not amused. When the ambulances arrived the neurosurgeon said he wanted to go out and triage them in the ambulances before they were unloaded. And this is what they did.

The neurosurgeon looked at each patient in turn. The first three he told them to send into casualties for his attention. But the fourth…he took one look at the fourth and exclaimed;

“Vat hom weg! hierdie een is gefok!*”

My colleague laughed the next day when the newspapers reported: “On arrival at the hospital, one taxi driver was declared dead by the neurosurgeon on duty.” Fortunately they did not quote him verbatim.

*take him away! this one is f#@ked!

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

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

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How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

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Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

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The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

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Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

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