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Family Murders In South Africa

Of the things I encounter in my work, the one I find most disturbing is family murders. For some reason they happen with too much frequency in our country. It seems that some people, when life is too much for them are not happy to only put a bullet through their own head, but they feel the need to wipe out their entire family first. In my opinion it is a dastardly and cowardly act for which there is no excuse…ever.

The last one I was indirectly involved in was a typical story of a man that had lost it. He killed himself. But just before doing that he shot his wife and two children. His little girl made it to the hospital. I was asked to evaluate her, but she died before I even got to her. I was so disturbed I decided I didn’t want to see the body. I did, however see the scan. Besides the two bullet wounds through the head, the thing that struck me most were the two hair clips clearly visible on the scan in her hair on the back of her head. it was somehow disturbingly poignant and it stayed with me for some time.

But this post is about another attempted family murder that I thought much less disturbing and, truth be told, a bit humorous.

It started out as usual. The man felt he could no longer live (not sure that was a bad decision, actually) but he decided he was going to kill his wife first (that was a selfish shocking decision which I believe speaks of the character and substance of the man). Anyway, he got his wife on her knees, apparently begging for her life. He put a 9mm up against her head and pulled the trigger. The gun misfired. She was ok. He then put the gun up against his own chest where he believed his heart to be and pulled the trigger. Now suddenly the gun was working quite well.

I was rotating through thoracic surgery at the time so he became my patient. I have previously mentioned gunshot wounds to the chest and the general idea the public has that the heart is on the left, so let me not bore you further with anatomic considerations. Let me just say the patient shot himself through his left lung. He simply needed an intercostal drain and was otherwise fine. I suppose he thought he needed a bit of sympathy from me too. He didn’t get it.

The next day, when I was doing rounds he was clinically fine and doing well. He was feeling very sorry for himself and complaining about the intercostal drain. Seems he had no feelings towards his wife but was particularly concerned by matters pertaining to his own comfort. Again I can say I was not wearing my sympathy on my sleeve. I informed him the drain would be staying exactly where it was until I was happy to remove it. I explained the decision would be made purely on clinical grounds and not on whether he was whining and complaining. He then asked a strange question.

“Do you suspect any internal damage?”

“A bullet went straight through your lung! What do you think? Of course there is internal damage.”

Later I had a good laugh about his moronic comment. It is the only family murder scenario where the outcome was good, in my opinion.

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

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