Where are all the nurses gone?

We took the young son of my friend to a trauma clinic after he had been badly smashed up in a collision. The father was speechless, his face pale, obviously in deep shock, the wife, mother of the boy, kept shaking her head “How can this have happened?”

By Fr Oskar Wermter sj

Actually, the answer is simple, he was too young to have had a licence, and, in fact, he did not have one. Everybody present knew that. A young doctor is busy with the injured boy. He prepares him for some surgical procedure in the theatre. In between handing the surgeon some instrument, the nurse puts her arms round the crying woman, shaking her gently. This is not the time for talking, for many words.

The young man’s cracked skull will take many weeks to mend, if ever.

A friend needs chemotherapy. The cancer patient has to take one dose every three weeks within half a year. He takes it lightly. The hospital staff are amused about my friend’s little jokes.

Few young men or women opt for such service, living so close to human misery, while looking tragedy and misfortune straight in the eye: who has he the strength to do that?
But we must be grateful for young women and men who jump into their ambulances as soon as the siren starts wailing, ready for service when needed, not for the sake of their wages, but because of their fellow men’s plight, the danger their lives are in.

Human life is infinitely precious. People expect that government services will be available as soon as called. That some public-minded citizens will gladly be the human face of public health care.

The actual workers concerned may never have thought about it, but it is part of our culture and humanity that we are equipped for such emergencies.

Jesus of Nazareth was surrounded by the lame and blind. He asked them: “What do you want me to do for you?” He left this as a legacy, as a deeply-rooted duty to us in our civilisation. He himself was the original “Good Samaritan”.

People may no longer know Jesus and hold him dear in their hearts, but they may remember this biblical parable called “the Good Samaritan” as a foundation stone of our humanity and compassion.

And even non-believers will want to prove that they too respect our culture of the heart.

That, of course, is not all. We must prove that we pay our public health workers respect as well as an adequate living wage, provide them with decent working and living condition.

I would not like to be the public administrator, who fires nurses, care givers and emergency crews, and then have an accident myself. Would I then deserve to be given first-class treatment?

Health care is more and more in the hands of private entrepreneurs. The chronically sick rely on private doctors and privately hired nursing staff.

Such a privatised health industry makes good use of our excellent medical facilities, as well as our well trained medical staff, trained locally as well as beyond the Limpopo or the Zambezi, beyond the Atlancic Ocean or the Mediterranean Sea.

But, it does not take much care of the impoverished, the outright poor and those who have been left out.

The Constitution enshrines good health care for all, long life and general solidarity with all who have no adequate health insurance and have to rely on the generosity of the community and their friends, relatives and friends.

We have to spread knowledge of good health, of medicines inherited from our ancestors, and our brothers and sisters, wives and mothers, husbands and colleagues, and all the poor and hungry in our neighbourhood.

Health is a gift for all of us to share. It is not a privilege, for just a few. All of us deserve it. All of us must receive part of it. It is also a question of justice and equality.

New leaders announce with much fanfare that their governments will invest fantastic sums of money for weapons, bombs and nuclear devices, so as to ensure their political and military superiority.

That money could eliminate many childhood diseases, build hospitals and clinics, train nurses, doctors and medical consultants the world over.
Nurses, physicians and surgeons are needed in every humane and compassionate society.

They are needed in every society that wishes to eradicate cruelty and inhumanity, hunger and ignorance.

The prime key value in every humane society is mercy and compassion, realised by medically qualified people and their patience and bigheartedness.

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