When hospitals can only offer prayer

Zimbabwe’s economic crisis has has affected all sectors, not least the health sector. Philani Amadeus Nyoni narrates his experience.


If I exclude the day of my birth, I can count all the times I have been in a hospital on one hand. One was both glorious and divine, without the morphine; the birth of my niece who now manages to look both cute and snobbish beneath heart-shaped pink sunglasses. Three other occasions have been excruciating, necessitating the morphine; dislocated bones, an occupational hazard of being me. The last instance was the most daunting; I could have used the morphine, even though I wasn’t the one in pain.

I had come back home from university, for the holidays and enjoying time with family, away from words like jurisprudence, obiter dictum and the whole barrage of legal Latin. Two days before Christmas, I was visiting cousins in a quiet neighbourhood. The electricity had gone out and, with the radio and television comatose, we were bored. So we took a walk. The grownups were away. We left the house to the girls and headed for the street corner to share a blunt.

Bad omen

If you believe in omens, a few things foreshadowed the calamity which would consume the rest of the night and take the festive out of the season. First, there was an owl perched on the impotent power line, which hung across the road. The witch’s doppelganger, a favourite form to transform into, should one require powers of flight and an inconspicuous form to fulfil one’s nefarious designs.

There were three of us, the second quit smoking that night, in fact we all did, but he quit first after a revelation which will serve as the second omen.

Pass the dutch

We had been at it for a while – the smoking. Our eyes narrowed to slits and the laughter turned visceral, spontaneous and contagious. He proclaimed, right then, mid-high that he would die that night. We laughed like hags and patted the coward on his back.

The second man was to quit smoking last. He wore shorts and we could have been contended to sit there until the cows came home, or the moon rose but he slapped his calf. A mosquito he said, a damn huge one he would later add. More would attack his exposed legs so we walked homeward, no worry, no care.

The bite

As we passed beneath the power line where the owl was still pondering pensively, he remarked that he could feel the blood trickling down his leg. He swatted with his hand and shone his cell phone screen over his palm. A few drops clung onto it in a smear. We didn’t think much of it, there wasn’t much to think of, there were two lovers in the dark, so instead of worrying we made fun of them; yap brother, she’s so ugly you’ll only see her in the dark!

Soon we reached the gate. It’s an old ‘white’ neighbourhood, one of those in the east of the city which in colonial times had been strictly for makhiwas. The few blacks to be found then were the domestics. I only mention this because the streetlamps were of paramount importance, and those are in short supply in the suburbs built post-independence.

What bit me?

The streetlights came on with the power returning. My dear cousin, still bothered by his mosquito bite and starting to feel woozy, sat on the tarmac and inspected his leg. From there everything happened fast, darkness crept upon his face, he spat out names and asked us to give his love to them for he would not live through the night. Then he ran into the house screaming to high heaven. What had he seen? Fang marks… the irrevocable evidence of a snakebite.

To be continued…

Be sure to read part two of Philani’s story

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