Two-time award-winning South African documentary Doc-U-Mentally is finally available for purchase as a DVD and, let me tell you, you’re going to want to get your hands on it. by Grethe Kemp
As part of the Safe Working Hours campaign, the film looks at five junior doctors during one gruelling 30-hour shift at Ngwelezana Hospital in KwaZulu-Natal.
Thirty hours! Yup, our junior doctors typically work 30 hours straight when on call – more than double the hours of doctors in the UK, who work 12- to 16-hour shifts.
With wonderful, crisp cinematography, the film looks at doctors Lourens Wahl, Wanele Ganya, Yenzi Ngema, Amy Salvesen and Saishrien Rasen as they operate on burst appendixes, fight with administration for blood units, and sew up stab and panga wounds at three in the morning.
Like most South African public hospitals, Ngwelezana is desperately understaffed and under resourced, and you’ll find yourself in awe of these young medical practitioners who just keep going against the odds. Why? Because they’re the only ones there to do it.
The only time I saw them getting irritated was when Dr Wahl, at 03:00, had to attend to yet another stab wound on a drunken patient. On Friday nights, the hospital is inundated with men who have been injured after drunken spats, who take up an inordinate amount of the medical staff’s time. The brisk way Dr Wahl staples clamps into the man’s head, chastising him for screaming when it hurts (“Baba! Why are you crying? You’re a grown man!”) shows how worn out he is.
Some of the footage is harrowing, and reflects the most desperate ills of our society. A patient’s face is swollen beyond recognition because her boyfriend has beaten her up. Another arrives with horrific injuries after she fought off an attacker who wanted to sexually assault her.
These are the types of incidents these doctors see several times a day, and it must take a superhuman effort for them to stay level-headed.
But the documentary isn’t all doom and gloom – it also shows the spirit of the doctors we have in this country, who just want to help people get better. It’s a must-watch to get an idea of the state of our hospitals, and for all young people thinking of starting a medical career.
You can order the DVD for R200 from www.documentally.co.za.