Thursday 7 December 2006

Bypassing sanity

I’m not sure what we’re doing. What’s going wrong? Why are we, as a nation, being so insane?

Yes, this week I’m going to go on and on, yet again, about road safety.

A couple of weeks ago I was outraged by encountering the aftermath of a traffic accident that took the lives of a mother and two children and was apparently caused by the recklessness of a government driver.

But this time it’s personal.

Last Monday one of the Consumer Watchdog team, in fact our longest serving team-member, narrowly avoided death. She was in a combi in Gaborone when the driver became distracted. Distracted by a junction? Distracted by another motorist? Distracted by one of the passengers?


The driver and his companion were busy discussing (and no, I’m not making this up, everyone heard it) the buttocks of a woman they had just passed. So busy was he gazing sideways and over his shoulder that he didn’t see the BMW that had stopped in front of him, waiting to turn right.

Well, not until he drove at great speed into the back of the BMW. Almost all the passengers were hurt and by a huge stroke of luck the accident happened about 60 seconds walk from the Princess Marina Hospital in Gaborone. An ambulance came along pretty quickly but unfortunately that’s where her luck ended.

I first got to the hospital about 15 minutes after she had arrived, only about 30 minutes after the accident and found her on a trolley, in some pain but patiently awaiting the attention of the emergency staff. That was at around 10am.

So when did she finally get some medical attention?

She didn’t.

Despite her being a formidable woman who rarely takes no for an answer, by 8pm that evening, 10 hours after the accident, she hadn’t even been assessed. I don’t mean treated, I mean just the first assessment. The assessment when they decide if you are already dead, dying or worthy of treatment.

When we called the hospital at 8pm they were not exactly optimistic or re-assuring. The nurse we spoke to, who refused to give her name, told us that there were only 2 doctors on duty and at that moment, 94 patients were awaiting attention. However I spent the first 8 years of my career in hospitals and have spent some time in Accident & Emergency Rooms. The Princess Marina A&E was NOT particularly busy during the day on Monday. The issue was staffing. There was only one nurse on the “shop floor” on the two occasions I was there. I refuse to criticise him because he was actually there doing his job but he was simply overwhelmed.

Now for some educated guesswork. I suspect that the Princess Marina must employ at least 100 doctors and maybe 500-600 nurses. I’m also sure that they don’t all work in A&E but surely we can expect some of them to be there? I also know that the A&E centre is used by many people as a primary health centre, arriving with headaches and minor cuts and bruises that should really be dealt with by a family doctor. I am also painfully aware of the impact of HIV/AIDS on the hospital.

But all I wanted was for my colleague and friend to be looked at by a doctor or nurse and to be given at least some indication that she would be treated at some point in her life.
By 8pm we had all had enough and we had her driven to the Gaborone Private Hospital where we are happy to pay for her to be examined. Luckily nothing was actually broken. Luckily there was no internal bleeding. Luckily she hadn’t sustained a head injury.

Not that anyone at the Princess Marina would have noticed.

So back to road safety. What are the authorities doing to curb the death toll? Well, no doubt over the Christmas break there will be police officers stopping us and giving out leaflets. No doubt there will be random licence checks, speed checks and the fire brigade there to deal with the results of recklessness.

But that’s just papering over the cracks. We need radical action.

What we don’t need is the frankly insane action of which ever authority it was that recently painted pedestrian crossings on the Western Bypass in Gaborone. Not crossing with lights, no, just zebras on the road. Nothing wrong with a little patriotic imagery on the road but are we all insane? They are at some of the fastest spots on that road. Yes, I know that the speed limit there is only 60 but we must face facts. If you build a dual carriageway that is meant to be a city bypass then people will use it for exactly that purpose. I assumed that the purpose of the Western Bypass was to allow people to drive past Gaborone swiftly and effectively so we can only expect people to do exactly that: to drive round it swiftly.

I’m not defending speeding motorists, I just think we should recognise what certain roads are for. City bypasses are there get people around a city, not through it. At the moment there are times when it’s quicker to drive from Game City to Broadhurst through the city than along the bypass and that’s a strange state of affairs.

Of course pedestrians need to cross the road. But surely if we really cared about them we would build them a bridge. Yes, the bridge would cost money but I think the time has come when we should begin to measure the cost of lost lives as well.

This week’s stars!

  • Staff Nurse Rosemary Makorie at the Gaborone Private Hospital for taking a decision that helped treat our Watch Puppy. You reminded us how patients should be treated.
  • Segametse at Nandos at Game City for being fantastic.
  • Tsaiamiso from FNB Main Mall who so overwhelmed a customer she thought she deserved a present. Don’t worry, we’ll give her one!
  • Edward at BPC for courtesy and reconnection!

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