Health-e (Cape Town)

7 December 2012

South Africa: 'Go Home, Machine Isn't Working'

Boston Phiri (37) – immigrant worker from Zimbabwe living in the Johannesburg city centre.

Earlier this year Phiri went to the hospital with severe discomfort in his anus. Doctors originally thought he had a bad bout of haemorrhoids, but a colonoscopy revealed that he had cancer of the rectum. This condition was not only painful and didn’t allow him to sit down, but also made it nearly impossible to pass a stool.

According to Phiri, the doctors were optimistic and said that his cancer could be treated with radiation. They first operated on him and inserted a colostomy bag to drain the bowel and then sent him home. Four months later, with the cancer growing and causing excruciating pain, he returned to hospital to find out when his radiation treatment was due to start.

Phiri found out that he had been due to start radiation earlier, but was told he had been “lost” in the system. Phiri was initiated on treatment in early October but had not completed his first week when the machines broke down. At no point during his treatment was he offered anything more than mild painkillers to help him to cope with the discomfort and excruciating pain.

“I arrived at hospital at 5.45am and was standing in line for hours, because it is too painful for me to sit down. But nothing happened, and only at 4pm did they come to say we should go home because the machine isn’t working,” said Phiri.

“I was very disappointed – I know this cancer can kill you. I’ve been suffering for so long and I finally thought that things were going to get better.”

Phiri is a casual worker and doesn’t get paid if he doesn’t work. His family live in Zimbabwe and he has no one to take care of him here. The fact that he has been unable to work, has meant that he is struggling to make a living.

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