“Wheelchair breaker! Fatty boom boom!” 

These are the words hurled at  42-year-old Nomakhephu Nelane when she had to board the patient transport to transfer her from Pelonomi to Botshabelo Hospital in August 2023. 

She has kidney failure and it is difficult for her to move around. The driver was getting impatient with how slow she was going. And was screaming insults at her in full view of the other patients who were waiting in the vehicle.

“He said I was big enough to break the wheelchair. He said there were no wheelchairs where I was going. I asked if I could take the one I was using and he vehemently refused,” she recalls. 

The other patients told him to stop what he was doing but he ignored them and did not listen to them

Nelane’s condition requires her to have a catheter bag which drains urine from her body. She says the driver refused for her to put the catheter bag on the seat next to her. 

“He said I already took up so much space with my big body and I should put the bag down on the floor or hold it in my hands. I wondered why he could do that to me,” she adds.

Upon arrival at Pelonomi Hospital, Nelane says the driver refused to drop her at the urology unit – even when he could see that it was hard for her to walk. 

“I was so hurt,” Nelane says.

Lodged a complaint

She penned a complaint and delivered it to the Botshabelo District Hospital ambulance station a week after the incident to her being admitted at the Pelonomi Hospital and weeks passed without her being called. She says she called the area manager of the station Thabo Mohlakoana who told her he had cancelled the complaint due to her and the driver being friends, an allegation that Nelane denies.

“I was humiliated by that guy and ever since that day I’m suffering with flashbacks due to what happened. It hurts to see that the government still hires wrong people to serve us. Both the driver and Mohlakoana need to be investigated,” she says.

The Treatment Action Campaign (TAC) coordinator in the province, Kebotsang Shuping, applauded her for her bravery to tell her story. She says public servants aren’t supposed to humiliate patients. 

“From what Nelane experienced, the body-shamer shouldn’t be working for the department, especially dealing with people every day.” 

Shuping adds that TAC has requested a meeting with the department to deal with the behaviour of the public servants.

Not the first time

 “We have so many similar cases of people who are body-shamed, while others are treated badly and they fail to be heard due to the fact that managers befriends their juniors and they fail to discipline them. We are calling for the public to report these cases and fight for their rights,” she adds.

Patients can report on the website of the Health Ombudsman or directly with the provincial health department. 

The driver in question whose name is Thabo Seala and his manager Thabo Mohlakoana both denied to comment saying they don’t have permission to speak to the media. The two also went to the victim’s house attempting to silence her to plead with her not to lodge the complaint on Sunday, October 1 2023. 

Health-E News can report that one of the officials who was present during the incident has written a witness testimony to her supervisor.

In her testimony the witness says Seala lacked professionalism: “The initial misconduct from my colleague began from our departure place, Botshabelo Hospital, wherein I requested we change the “Out of Condition” wheelchair to accommodate the patient and he flatly refused to do so, rather he asserted that I have to push the patient to the ambulance not mindful of the fact that the wheels of the wheelchair were no working. Upon arrival at Pelonomi, I requested him (Seala), my colleague, to look for an alternative wheelchair so we can fast-track delivering the patient to where she was headed.”

She adds that: “I must indicate that the patient is of “Severe [ill] weak patient” level, and to get such repulsive treatment under such conditions. To further explain the demise, the patient was carried on the “Go- cart” mode, [she was not taken to the transport with normal wheelchair] it had no pedals and as thus, it would have prompted the patient to drag her feet toward the entrance. The most hurtful thing for me as a woman, was to seeing another woman being treated like that and to some extent I had to cover her body properly due to the manner in which she was made sit, had it been professionally executed, such an unspeakable act of misconduct would not be made against the department.”

Meanwhile Free State Department of Health spokesperson Mondli Mvambi says the department services patients of all weights. “It is unfortunate what happened and we would like to follow what happened. We will meet the patient as soon as possible,” Mvambi says.

The patient has since reported that the department has not spoken to her. – Health-e News 

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