Who Me?

Dad had a lot of experience treating Africans from South Africa all the way north to Abyssinia before he settled in Que Que

Dad had a lot of experience treating Africans from South Africa all the way north to Abyssinia before he settled in Que Que

Who Me?

As I mentioned in my last blog Mrs. Tyzack handled the WWII ex-ambulance with great aplomb on the weekends.  During the week she was my dad’s indispensable nurse at his surgery, Stanley House, coping with all of his foibles.

Who Me?

She was wiry, spare in every way, except for a square smile that revealed widely spaced teeth.   Dad coaxed her into running BUN’s and sugars (blood urea nitrogen and blood sugars) and even hemoglobin’s amongst other things in a small laboratory my fiancé and I set up there after I joined Harare Hospital in Salisbury.   Despite her protests “I am a nurse not a medical technologist”, she was good.  In the afternoons she would occasionally stand-in for Cookie in interpreting at the native clinic in the back of the surgery.  She could speak Fanagolo, a pidgin language of Zulu, English and Afrikaans.

Dr. Gelfand had been instrumental in encouraging Dad to come to Rhodesia.  They had become close friends. He stayed in his house during the week for the first six months of his Parliamentary term before he bought a house in Salisbury.   But he did not share Gelfand’s fascination and empathy for the cultural differences between Europeans and Africans in response to disease.  He was imbued with the effectiveness of Western medicine, especially with the advances following WWII.

Africans attribute illness to supernatural causes, believing the cure is also supernatural. The African feared that by consulting a white doctor he further provoked the spirits of his ancestors.  The lack of patient confidence, Gelfand explains in his tome The Sick African ‘is practically impossible to overcome’ and ‘lack of cooperation with the white doctor one of the great difficulties of Native practice.’  Dad was enthusiastic about his ability to diagnose disease and dispense Western medicine.  He did not address the African cultural deficiency.

Mrs. Tyzack could curb Dad’s impatience with African traditional lengthy greetings and primitive evasiveness when there were forty or fifty patients to be seen in an afternoon.  The conversation would begin something like this:

“Kunjani?”  (How are you?) What’s the trouble here?”

“I am well. How are you.”

“Do you have a pain?”

“Who Me?”

“Yes, you!  Who do you think I am talking to?”

“Yes Nkos.”

“When you get the pain, where is the pain?”

“I am well.”

“What’s the trouble?”

“I need a certificate.”

“I can’t give you a certificate if you are not sick.  What is the trouble?” he would say testily.  Mrs Tyzack would be checking the vital signs: pumping up the blood pressure cuff, checking the pulse rate as the second hand on her man’s wrist watch ticked on.

“Say ah”, he’d say, as he thrust a tongue depressor down the throat, before the patient could ask  ‘Who me?’

The conversation would be interrupted as he listened to the heart, the chest front and back.

He palpated the abdomen, and the lymph nodes under the chin and neck.

While she interpreted and soothed both parties, he’d be noting the whites of the patient’s eyes.  Was he jaundiced? He’d flash his penlight to examine pupil response and ocular motion.

He’d pull down the eyelids, was he anemic?  A quick look with the auroscope at the ears.  Quick taps to record reflexes.

“Does it hurt here or there?” he would ask as he palpated the abdomen.

“Yes, Nkos,” again answering a factual question with African politeness.

“Ask him, Mrs Tyzack”.

He would pull up the stethoscope and slap the diaphragm on the abdomen and listen carefully for bowel sounds.

He’d move on to the extremities, looking for clubbing, cyanosis and edema.

He’d remind himself that not only did tropical diseases plague them, but a host of others could present in combination: pneumonia, TB, syphilis, gonorrhea, heart disease to name a few.   Generally, they were so much sicker than the Europeans on whom he lavished fifteen to thirty minute appointments in the mornings, although often the problem could be attributed to overindulgence of one sort or another. But the people in his mornings shared the same culture, understood the same facts and had confidence in them, with the same expectations.  It was tragic the African didn’t have the where-with-all to reject his own culture, and when they did they were conflicted.  The press of numbers in the face of such sickness made him testy.  If he did not keep his impatience in check, Mrs. Tyzack would reassure the patient and pull him up short.

It was all over in a matter of minutes.  “Sit up,” he would say.   He’d leave Mrs. Tyzack to give instructions.  They maintained a free lab and pharmacy service on the premises.  Finally she’d stress the importance of coming back.

“Who me?”



  • Chris Duckworth

    Reply Reply September 10, 2011

    1… Fascinating piece Diana… 2… There’s a Miss Chapman in one of the group G.and P photographs in our album… Know what happened to her?… She’s standing next to Dr. Zacks… And… 3… There’s also a rather imposing nurse in another photograph… No name given, know who she might be?…

    • Diana

      Reply Reply September 11, 2011

      No, Dr. Zacks was before my time. But I’m interested in pictures of the G and P, Que Que and its people.. they give you an idea of the clothes people wore the furniture of the times etc etc…have you got some pictures you could share? I have a lot of readers and someone might have your answers. I’m especially intrested in pictures of the G and P European Surgery and the Native Clinic and the Native compound. You know doubt have pictures of your mine managers house and QQ Stores and Main Street which would also be interesting. Did you look at the Map on my blog? Aaron and Morris Sloman and I made comments on the different landmarks? Diana

      • Sandy salomon

        Reply Reply September 15, 2011

        Dear Diana. Your stories touch my heart and make me think of my own childhood and my parents now long gone. Can’t wait to read them all. Love the site thanks. Sandy

        • Diana

          Reply Reply September 17, 2011

          Sandy, glad you are enjoying it. The blogs are little windows (seventy two to date) on that long forgotten time and place gaining momentum as others chime in with their stories too. I’m really enjoying it. I just must finish the book to give the big panorama all the way to the horizon. Just have to find the happy medium and stop before I go off into outer-space with it and it takes a orbit all of its own never to return to our atmosphere. Diana

  • Chris Duckworth

    Reply Reply September 12, 2011

    Regret no pictures of the surgeries or compound…Of the Mine Managers – Yes… And picnicing by the river – yes…

    • Diana

      Reply Reply September 12, 2011

      Chris, Must have been Sebakwe Poort. That was the favorite picnic spot…early on. Got a nice one to forward? I do have a good one of the Phoenix House already. Diana

  • Herbert E

    Reply Reply March 3, 2012

    Hi Diana,
    What a great site !
    Came across your “ONCE CALLED HOME” site by chance

    Left Southern Africa over 30 years ago and some of my fondest memories are from the Rhodesian countryside.
    Looks like as we “graceously age” – all these memories “of a past life” come flooding back.
    There is a group of friends I have [ here in Australia ] and we all share stories from time to time of ZIM or what we remember as “RHODESIA WAS SUPER !”

    Keep up the great work and I look forward to MAKING time to read more on your site

    Herbert E

    • Diana

      Reply Reply March 3, 2012

      Herbert, Lovely to hear from you in OZ. Yes, those are super days to look back on. Do feel free to share this site with your friends and send me your stories and photos they can be shared with a wide audience. Over the 95 weeks I have been blogging I have built up quite an audience. Diana

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