A Diagnosis In A Jiffy


A typical rural clinic landscape like the ones Dad attended at Umniati Power Station, Redcliff and the Gaika and Connemara Mines from 1946 through to 1975. (Photo courtesy of the web)

A Diagnosis In A Jiffy

Dad liked company. Once I learned to behave and before I got into serious swimming I kept Dad company on the weekly trips to outlying afternoon clinics he had acquired at the Umniati Power Station, Redcliff,  and the Gaika and Connemara Mines.

A Diagnosis In A Jiffy

In the heat of the cocoon of our car Dad would croon like Bing (Crosby) his version of You Must Have Been a Beautiful Baby… Together we would make up our own words to popular songs and belt them out.   This way we ate up the miles.  In no time we would pull up in front of whitewashed stones and tree trunks leading to a white washed rectangular clinic: generally two rooms flanking an open area to do paper work and dispense.

For that afternoon there would be a nurse on hand to assist him as he ploughed through thirty to forty patients.

While he was busy I did my homework on my lap.   I climbed trees.  I trailed antlions.   I lay down on the ground and tickled their pits.  I tricked those sickle shaped jaws into thinking  something juicy was in the offering and hooked them out of their lairs.  A quick tea and Marie biscuits at three fortified us to see the line through to the end. On the way home Dad helped me with my unsolved problems.  We went over the spelling list for the day, and sang the times tables. Then we’d chat.

Sums were not my strong suite (actually nothing in the school line was my strong suite) but one day I observed, “Dad how come you need fifteen or even thirty minutes with a patient at the European surgery?  That’s sixteen patients at most in about four hours but at the clinics you make a diagnosis in a jiffy?  How many did you see today?”

“Well,” he said,  “The Europeans are harder to diagnose and treat. Often they aren’t actually sick.  They have financial troubles, marriage troubles, that sort of thing and you have to hear them out, offer solutions.  Once the problem is solved their aches and pains go away.  With the Natives, they’re coming as a last resort.  The nyanga’s (witch doctor) treatment hasn’t worked and they’re desperate.  Their disease is so advanced. I can make a diagnosis as soon as I walk through the door, or even before.”

“How come?”

“Often I can smell it.  Typhoid smells yeasty like Midlands bakery when the buns come out, the eyes nervous, searching, the color of the government issue tea cups at the hospital.  Lung abscess reeks of P.K. (picannini kia—lavatory) smells.  The cough, before you even percuss!  The fingers clubbed.

Then there’s the smell of Cape grapes from burns turned green.  Two today!  Children.  Fires in the huts.  Its criminal!

Liver failure smells like smelling salts, and the eyes again.  You can tell so much from the eyes: yellow.  So, in most cases, you don’t need a lot of time to make a diagnosis.

This medical practice is more interesting,” he went on.  “Everything in the text book:  all the advanced stages of all the parasitic infections.  This is tropical infection heaven!  I’ve quite a collection of microscope slides.  Its an on going collection since my university days.   I’ll show them to you if you like.”

“Dad, you know everything!   “Why don’t antlions have an anus?”

“I don’t know about those kinds of bugs,” he said. “That kind of zoology was never my strong suite.  You tell me.”










  • sue knight

    Reply Reply May 23, 2011

    I am really finding it interesting reading about your father and the various clinics. I have only a hazy recall of your parents. Your father was fairly short and wore glasses? Your mother I remember in a Girl Guide uniform. I think I even came with my mother to your house in Hillandale on several occasions. You had a very narrow kitchen? I think the GP my family went to was Dr Adlington who lived on the Gaika Mine Road behind Que Que High School.

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 23, 2011

      Sue, Oh good! The two clinics were symbolic of first and third world differences. You characterized my parents perfectly. The rambling mine house, having grown one room at a time according to need by the previous doctors that had occupied it and sported big high ceilinged rooms, a big huge kitchen (originally with a wood stove) and a central table to work on gave ‘the madam’ and the ‘cookboy’ plenty of room to work. There was a big walk in pantry as well. In contrast the Hillandale house was designed for efficiency with many built in cupboards custom designed by Mr. Lucky. The rooms were much smaller, something Mom really regretted. The view and the big windows were the thing. It was their Shangri-La.

      Dad purchased the Gaika Mine clinic contract as well as others from Dr. Mostert very soon after his arrival in QQ, as Dr. Mostert left to answer his calling to the leper colony near Fort Victoria. Overwhelmed with work Dad placed an ad in the British Medical Journal and soon after Dr. Adlington came out with his family from England. He was the first of 5 partners to join. The Adlingtons built a new house too in subsequent years. Interestingly the doctors kept their social and professional lives separate and I never visited!

      I remember your father was a rather intimidating figure at the school…a strict disciplinarian. Your mother I recall as almost red head, very nice looking and I picture her in the art classroom. I really enjoyed a class she taught in foiled copper which you tooled designs into and filled with bees wax. I made a picture frame which my Mom kept for many years. Funny how odd details stick.

  • betty

    Reply Reply May 25, 2011

    I so admire your dad, who was a good hearted and tireless man, always helping the needy and finding so many ways to lessen their plight! He gave so many dignity and a feeling of hope, no matter their station. He just was so increible! I know you miss him terribly. It is now that I am a total orphan, that I remember all the many ways that Mom and Dad touched my life and the lives of others through love, kindness, and good works….both you and I were very lucky !

    • Diana

      Reply Reply May 27, 2011

      Betty, Yes we were lucky. I think it is only after they are gone that one fully appreciates our parents efforts–great role models, but the times and places we find ourselves in are different and have a great influence on shaping who we are and what we become.

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