I’m paying you to do your job

So Sunday dawned, as it does, to the sounds of St N sweeping the stoep. I’d fallen asleep on the couch the night before listening to Assange in conversation with Zizek. This is my current entertainment: I knit on the couch in front of the fire while listening to political philosophy. This I find multiply soothing: the reverie of suspended thought as I loop wool and the comfort of voices speaking truth to power.

When N knocks on the door, as he does, he tells me that he needs to go early today: his brother has been ill for a month and the government hospital is not giving him a diagnosis. The family are gathering to discuss what to do. We discuss the symptoms, which worsened visibly the previous day. I consult WebMD. We agree that I’ll make an appointment with whomever is on duty at my local doctors. His brother, M, cannot walk the distance from the taxi rank to the doctors’ rooms. So we’ll fetch him from Masi.

Yet, my first call to the local doctors’ rooms yields the audio recording. The first call to the paging service yields the reassurance that they’re probably just running late. The second call to the doctors yields the audio recording. The second call to the paging service yields “I can’t page them as then I’ll ruffle feathers over there.” 9.30 and two more calls yield the welcoming response from the receptionist: “Yes, just bring him in.”

N wants to sit in the back of the car but I’m refusing to be a taxi driver. We laugh. And I tell him that of course he can throw the stuff I’ve strewn on the passenger seat into the back. We’re buoyant: we’re going to get a diagnosis, and I trust our doctors and sing their praises en route.

M is visibly ill. He coughs in the back of the car, and we speak about his symptoms and how long he’s had them. I tell N that next time he mustn’t wait so long to ask me for help. He says: but you’ve been coming home late and so I didn’t feel that I could disturb you. I say: you can always text me. Such is our relationship: N and D live in the room behind my house. At his request, he moved in a year or so ago, and D followed. Masi isn’t safe for them. They’re Malawian. Our deal is that they live here and he does the garden once a week. D works in the area. She previously had a job over the mountain but the person she worked for was abusive. “Too much shouting,” N told me when he asked me to help her find another job. So, onto a local fb group I went and posted a pic of her. My narrative was that she lived with her boyfriend on my property and was looking for work in the area. My recommendation was that although she was not employed by me she was kind enough to sometimes help me when she saw things were getting out of control (this, especially after marathon Saturday afternoon lunches in the garden). We’re kind to one another. And I am deeply grateful for how gentle our relationship is.

At the doctors’ rooms, M insists that I fill out the form. I challenge him to do it, telling him that he is capable and I’m not his mother although he is the exact same age as my eldest son. But, he pleads with me and I relent. I have to tell him and N that they can take a seat. They choose the hard chairs. I plop down on the couch and take out my knitting, and M reminisces about the jersey his aunt made him. We speak of the long tradition of handwork among Malawian men, as tailors. But, M thinks knitting is too difficult. And N says: one must be able to put one’s mind there or you can’t do it. I agree. I knit to find a place to rest my mind.

The doctor calls M’s surname and I lead them to the passage that leads to his rooms. They’re tentative, but I encourage them to go it alone. I manage another few rows of the shawl I’m knitting. The waiting room is pleasant. The receptionist is an older woman. She’s calm and nice. I notice the other people: there’s a family speaking Afrikaans. Two children playing at the waiting room play table.

I hear snippets of the doctor’s voice down the passage. “Come back tomorrow….Next door…Have the tests done.” M and N return clutching a Pathcare form and a prescription. They sit on the hard chairs. They can’t tell me what the prescription is for, beyond to treat “the infection”, undetermined according to them. As for the blood tests, they don’t know why they’ve been ordered. M is worried about the cost of having to come back tomorrow. I ask if they’d like me to ask the doctor, now milling in the reception area inbetween appointments, what the tests are for. “Please,” they say.

The doctor is a tall, slim man. I’ve often taken my sons to see him when their preferred doctor is not available. This doctor is normally jocular, and although he likes to dominate conversation, my sons enjoy his banter. He frowns when I ask what he is looking for by ordering the tests and follows up with a small smile: “Well, I can’t tell YOU that.” “They’ve asked me to ask you,” I say. His voice rises, and now there’s a scowl: “Well, I can’t tell you that in the waiting room.” “Sure,” I say, my voice shaking from fright. “So, why don’t we step into the passage or your room?” For I’m old enough to have learnt that diffusion is always the better part of valour. But, alas, the young doctor cannot step off the path he has set himself upon. His body and voice enraged, he bellows his refusal to make any more time available: “I’ve told him that he must come back for more tests tomorrow and as you can see I have a waiting room of patients waiting to see me.”

I’m pleased that he storms off at that point. Shaken, we discuss our need to get a proper diagnosis. We decide to stay until he is finished with his patients. I entreat the receptionist to do what she needs to so that the doctor will speak with us when he’s done. I retreat to the car to calm myself telling the receptionist that there is no value in me meeting his anger with the same, although of course he is deserving of censure. We wait. A half hour. The doctor returns now and flashes a smile. I’m hopeful. Yet when I enter the room he stares at me with what my mother would call a dirty look, my sons – a death stare. I shake my head.

And, thus, splayed in his chair, while I refuse the seat that N offers me, he barks: “Instead of shaking your head, you could thank me for seeing someone who is not my patient on a Sunday when I should only be seeing emergencies.” “I’m paying you to do your job,” I say. “I am doing my job,” he says. And then I have to tell him to stop. “These other people do not want to hear this. I will take this up with you separately, but now we need the diagnosis.”  With a glance up at me, he predictably pretends to repeat the reasons for the tests: “As I told [insert surname]….”

But, we know what transpired previously. Perhaps, I think, he imagines that the word of two people whom he doesn’t choose to address as Mr is less valid than his. Perhaps when questioned about this incident, as surely he must be if the receptionist communicates freely, he will rely on their assumed poor English language skills. Yet, a lack of English is not what has prompted these men to ask for my help.

I ask about the prescription. He says, “It’s to treat the infection.” “What is the infection you are treating?” I ask. “It’s bronchitis.” “Okay,” I say, “Thank you.” And in response to his address to M about when he will call him with the results, “thanks, but we’ve decided that in future we will be seeing Dr …”. M and N have requested this when we discussed the waiting room shouting. Neither of them is comfortable now. Neither of them is happy that the diagnosis was not forthcoming. And, thus, I thank him for his time and we leave.

“Jissus” is N and my repeated lament. It takes a full hour of intermittent conversation to and from the pharmacy, and back to Masi, for us to eventually laugh at the rudeness of other people. They want me to drop them before the house. They are surprised that I’m not frightened to drive in Masi. We speak of my work in the schools in townships that frighten them. Of how to distinguish between a gangster and a well-meaning poor person. Of the fear that poverty and/or race inspires in some south africans who have been raised on fear, and made it loathing. Of the power of language to soothe or incite. Of xenophobia.

Lastly, we speak of the potentially long road of diagnosis and treatment. Of using the private practice’s diagnosis to get proper treatment at the government hospital. There is a way through this, we agree, but it starts with information. And, if we’re lucky, others we meet on this journey will be deserving of our admiration.

The bridge party later that afternoon raises the questions that were begged by this interlude. We discuss various compensation scenarios: two, separate, formal apologies; proof of censure; and a payment from the doctor’s personal bank account for the half hour he kept us waiting for the diagnosis. This is the minimum that is due , we agree, given the high cost of this doctor’s services and demeanour on what was to begin with a hopeful Sunday.

Next day my mother advises that I give him a piece of my mind. But that, too, would be costly. Instead, I tell her, we must find a way for this to be resolved that will also maintain this doctor’s self-esteem. “I’m just going to blog it,” I say. “And send that to the most senior doctor in the practice. Much context is always needed if one hopes to grow understanding.”

We are here, in part, to grow our understanding.










The limits of my language

Wittgenstein famously wrote: The limits of my language are the limits of my world. Well, that’s how I remember it. (I did a course once, and Wittgenstein and de Saussure were the venerables we had to study. Chomsky too, gratefully.) It’s stuck with me..no surprise given that language is my thing; and I’ve made “I’m good with language”  one of my key identifiers. People admire that. Some even possibly envy that. Others, yet, react to it. Too much language or a foreign language to describe ways of being or perspectives on any given thing can be an assault for those who don’t have that particular nomenclature. Back when I was intent on contorting myself so I could climb a corporate swing ladder (the things we think we should do!), the business coach I’d been sent to for “corporate assimilation” said: “people don’t understand what you’re saying to them. It freaks them out”. Who knew, I thought, that there could be too much language and that it could limit my world.

Recently I decided to get over a language barrier and learn another language. A common one. And I use it. With a huge disclaimer. It’s opened up relationships with others. They appreciate the effort, I see. I wonder if that’s why they throw their arms around me (some of them) and say: “I wish I could have you here forever”. Or, so preciously, “I think I’m in love with you.” and “We feel so comfortable with you.” Or is it that I speak the language of feelings with them. I say, variously, “I imagine you’re feeling stressed” and “Change is fearsome stuff” and “Don’t be scared, I’m here to help you.” and “I’m so grateful for how warm and kind you are to me. How welcome you make me feel when I visit you. It means so much to me.”

Yet, I forget that not everyone has this language. Or, at least, that many people have public and private language, friendship and business language, adult and children language, black and white language…., and do not integrate the two. And that the expectation, indeed the clamouring need that some others express, is that one splits oneself and offers only the half that they can integrate on any given day.

Thus, I am limited.



Love letters from a leaf

Love letters from a leaf I

This is the story I wanted to write – Edgy – Hurtling us to an edge – Because flying is compulsive. I wanted to describe you. As I got to observe you. – Remotely. – In few words. – A catching phrase that compelled.  – I stayed to read you. I wanted to contain you. –  Make you the image I could flit past in a corridor in my mind – I would see you fleetingly. As one does the bloom through the garden window. – The image that floods and ebbs as quickly. – But remains as a leaf. – One I can go back to. – Willingly – Sometimes even with a breath of regret. – Unwittingly greening a memory. I was grateful. – For you. – Myself. – A pause that flitted and lay in a glance. – Made us an idea. Am I worth saving? I write to the background of an unsophisticated late-night thriller. – The trapped shout of the girl screams. Am I worth saving? – I only ever hoped – I could save you. Not in binaries. – Nor from a cross – But as a smooth stone. – I could rest you on a writing table – A weight that could draw my mind.

Love letters from a leaf II

This is the story I didn’t want to write. About swimming with you. And nets. Sharp coral. Rose traces. Lines on my skin. Hooks. I could hang myself on.

We: Embryonic. Still life. Breathing staccato. The lining torn from mismatched intentions. Still moist yet burning.

Swimming was our thing. We were practiced at diving. Through arch phrases. We found fissures of being.

we write because we feel

in reflecting on writing one can become removed from its essential interiority

we write because we feel

sometimes to make sense of feeling, sometimes to shout out some passionate entreaty to others to pause and change course, or even retrace our steps to embed memory in experience

i write my interior life more lucidly than any email entreating others to act

and yet it is this hidden writing that doesn’t define me

i am rather clipped via email and wry social media posts

witty. urbane. incisively detached.

and yet i write my life in syllables that are warm and soft and trickle across lines that sometimes wants to sing themselves

to bring my selves

and set them in a pond

for you to see

w(r) = -b(UpV): no one wants to know what you’re wearing

while trawling the newsfeed news a few weeks ago, i came upon some blogging advice.. best was when i read:

no one wants to know what you’re wearing

if you’re going to write, write what you think

have an opinion

preferably an original one, but if lacking, then at least capture the essence of thought (i imagine she meant: contemporary and useful, but i favour even arcane and, for the majority, useless)

being a compulsive thinker who sometimes sends her thoughts  to a dinner table or a poem, even a receptive inbox now and then (words after all are the best seducers), i am riddled with opinions

as age (and graciousness?) increase, i present these sharings as wise and witty, urbane and even droll

i strip my words ..good writing (like righting) is bare and sparse with judgement

re-reading the blogging advice (in pjs of course) i’m delighted that i never remember what i’m wearing when i’m thinking, or speaking or writing ..perhaps, i tell myself, this means i might write (and be read) after all

so if this is writing (and righting) for me (today at least):

being lost to the self-consciousness of the body or at least reinventing it (if the body has to be a topic!) into a unique bearer of potential value

alternatively, w(r) = -b(UpV)

will you read me when i write?

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