A Learning Curve


Students Glynis Reynolds L and Diana Hirsch R hard at work in the Biochemistry Laboratory, Harare Hospital, Salisbury, Southern Rhodesia, 1966

A Learning Curve

After a while at the Public health Laboratories on North Avenue in Salisbury, (described in my last blog) I got a chance to get a transfer to Harare Hospital in the industrial part of town servicing the African township.  It boasted the second largest outpatient intake in Southern Africa, after Baragwanath Hospital in Soweto township in Johannesburg serving a thousand outpatients a day.  I was sure to learn something there.

A Learning Curve

I arrived on the hospital transport from the Salisbury General Hospital bright and early in the morning eager for work.  The hospital was huge.  I could see the snake of African patients lined up outside the hospital even at that early hour.

The laboratory occupied one full wing of the hospital.  The Bacteriology lab was at the end of the long corridor of labs.  I made my way there.  A tall, excruciatingly thin man clad in a white coat stooped before a sea of petri dishes stacked six high with patient forms sandwiched between them for the whole sixteen foot length and 4 foot depth of the lab bench. On the side bench were stacked batteries of sugars for differentiation of Schigellas and Salmonellas (dysenteries and  typhoids).  He turned as I entered.  In a country obsessed with colour he was the whitest man I’d ever seen: in his mid twenties his hair ashen. The nose sharp, Roman.  His eyes were liquid blue, the rim of the eyelids almost pink, the skin almost transparent.  Every vein stood out clearly on his hands.  Instinctively it occurred to me that those veins would be easy to ‘stick’ if they didn’t roll.  I didn’t think they would.  He was taut.  A cigarette was gripped between the pencil thin line of his lips.  I stood transfixed.  “I’ve been waiting for you,” he said, as he released the cigarette and  balanced it on the edge of the bench and exhaled.  Through the cloud of smoke I groped for the the atlas in my bag.  “We won’t have time for that,” he said as I produced it.  “This is a test to see if you are ready to take over tomorrow.”

I saw everything in the book in one day from the golden halo’s of haemolitic streptococci on blood agar to  viewing Myco leprae on skin scrapings and Myco tuburculosis in sputum under the microscope.  My education in more ways than one had begun.

The hospital transport was too rigid in its schedule. The only one left the hospital for town at four o’clock on the dot with the X-Ray techs.  I applied to Harare Hospital Nurses Home for residence, an unheard of request for a medical technology student.   Soon after I left my friends at Sacks House, a boarding house in town.  It was a long time before I saw the shops again.  But there was a swimming pool at the nurses home which was shared by the housemen (medical interns and residents) from their residence.   That was the place to freshen up and where the well earned fun was found.