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‘I watched him die’: Our reporter Zama Khumalo tells how nurses at Middelburg hospital left helpless patient for dead

MATLAKALA: 013NEWS reporter Zama Khumalo has opened up about the trauma he experienced when he shared a hospital ward with a man named Johannes Matlakala who died in a painful and undignified way after being neglected by hospital staff while waiting to be operated on at the Middelburg Provincial Hospital. PICTURE BY 013NEWS/ZK

The man had been admitted for stomach pains.


013NEWS reporter Zama Khumalo this week told the story about how he witnessed the death of a patient who was admitted at the Middelburg Provincial Hospital.

Khumalo had also been admitted at the hospital and shared a ward with the man.

He said the nurses stopped “mistreating” him when they were told he was a journalist after he phoned hospital boss Maake Modise Friday midday to complain about a “rude” doctor who was assigned to look at his problem during the 6 days he spent at the hospital while being treated for complications in his reproductive system. 

The family of the patient who was buried last Thursday 3 July 2020 confirmed to 013NEWS that Khumalo phoned them and told them how their loved one had died a painful death, and said if they wanted to sue the department of health he was willing to give evidence in court.

013NEWS reporter Zama Khumalo at the Middelburg hospital where he was being treated for complications in his reproductive system witnessed the death of a patient he says was mistreated by staffers at the hospital

The man that Khumalo witnessed dying is identified as 52-year-old Johannes Matlakala and had been admitted at the hospital for stomach pains. 

Khumalo said he shared the same ward with Matlakala until his last breath at exactly 5h43 Saturday morning 27 June 2020.

He said the man was supposed to be operated on for holes in his intestines and had been calling on doctors and nurses to “help me please but nobody cared”. 

“Despite spending about 6 hours at the casualty before he was attended to because of the long queues and shortage of doctors at the hospital when he arrived at the hospital Wednesday 24 June 2020, Matlakala was taken to the ward where he was virtually brought to die,” said Khumalo Tuesday 30 June after being discharged.

“Doctors would just come to our ward in the morning and look at his file and then move to my file, ask me how I was feeling, write something, then leave,” Khumalo said.

The Middelburg hospital is one of Mpumalanga’s worst hospitals, plagued with shortages of medical equipments, specialist doctors and other staff as well as issues of long queues and dilapidating infrastructure.

Johannes Matlakala died on 27 June in front of our reporter Zama Khumalo and was buried Thursday last week 2 July 2020. PIC 013NEWS/ZK

In August 2018, the EFF marched to the hospital to complain about issues of patients being forced to take cold showers, sleep with dirty linen and chronic shortages of staff.

“There is shortage of doctors and nurses, beds and blankets. There is poor supply or total shortage of medicine. Patients are forced to take a cold shower because the geysers are not working and linen is dirty due to dysfunctional laundry machines, the list is endless,” then Nkangala EFF leader and now national deputy secretary Poppy Mailola said.

Khumalo said each time nurses arrived to change Matlakala’s drip and linen he would ask them this: “When are you going to operate me?”.

“The nurses answered that such a question was supposed to go to the doctors when they did rounds in the morning. He had not been able to eat since his admission Wednesday 24 June. 

“Even drinking water was a problem. Each time he tried to drink or put a spoon full of food he vomited immediately and there was even a bucket put there by the nurses specially for him to vomit into. 

“He told me that the doctors at the casualty explained to him on Wednesday 24 June that the reason they were admitting him was because they wanted to send him to the theatre to be operated to fix the problem in his intestines,” said Khumalo. 

Khumalo said Matlakala had basically came to the hospital in order to be “butchered to death and there was no difference between being at home and being at the hospital”.

“He had been asking for help during day and night. His situation terrified all of us and the nurses just watched and told us to leave him like that as they were not doctors.

“He was put on a drip and injected with pain-killers since arriving on Wednesday.

“His last words to me was that I should help him switch off his phone as it was making noise (his family kept calling) and I said he should tell them to come fetch him and try take him somewhere else. He switched off the phone himself and began crying, calling Molimo (God in Sepedi). Oh, Ntate, something like that,” Khumalo said.

His family confirmed they had sent Johannes Matlakala to hospital in order to be treated for holes in his intestines and had not been able to know what was happening to him as visitors are not allowed due to the Covid-19 pandemic

On Friday night, said Khumalo, the situation was bad and Matlakala was now experiencing really serious pains. 

“I went to the two nurses who were on duty at nurses station and told them the man was now unable to pronounce words and they said I should leave him alone, as I was not related to him. They told me they were not doctors, and that Matlakala was supposed to tell the doctors during the day and there is nothing they can do now at night as there are no doctors.

“I asked them to take him down to the doctors at the casualty and they said they would not do that as Matlakala failed to inform his doctor when she was doing rounds in the morning.

“That time was around 10 at night and the same nurses arrived to our wards and gave Matlakala an injection. He slept and woke up after about 35 minutes. Crying again. Pain in the stomach. No help. I asked him if the doctors knew, he said there was nothing they didn’t know and didn’t understand why they were not taking him for operation. That was the 3rd day Matlakala had been at the hospital,” Khumalo said.

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When Mahlakala died at exactly 5h43, Khumalo said, “he first fell off from his bed, breathed loudly and within a space of half a minute he was quiet. I could not hold my tears, that man died a painful death”.

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“At around 6h10,” Khumalo said, “one of the two nurses walked passed our ward and noticed Matlakala was no longer on his bed. They called his surname about 3 times and when he didn’t respond they came closer, found him still on the floor and they carried him out of the ward to the mortuary”.

Matlakala’s wife, 42-year-old Siki Matlakala, confirmed to 013NEWS that Khumalo phoned them and told them the whole story.

She said nobody had explained to them what really happened to him, “only Khumalo told us everything. The hospital notified us of his death on Saturday 27 June but didn’t tell us what happened exactly and we were also not allowed to visit because of the Corona Virus”.

“Since his phone got switched off we thought he was at the operation theatre but Khumalo told us what really happened as he was there and told us he got our numbers when he heard the nurses giving them to the mortuary department over the phone”.

(edited by MLM)

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