Recently, when I was a post-operative patient in an ultra-modern coastal hospital in South Africa, lying immobilized in a web of tubes, with ice-cold oxygen hissing into my nostrils, I shared the spacious ward with three black patients.
One afternoon as I dozed off, I was startled by clouds of acrid smoke rising from the floor next to me. There, squatted next to my neighbor’s bed, was a grotesque semi-naked figure, festooned in rattling cowry shells, with shriveled eagle talons and tortoise shells, dried snakes and feathers strung around his scrawny neck, a starkly white painted face, arms and legs covered in red and blue ochre smears, a jockstrap pulled tight between his wasted thighs.
I reached for the nurses’ bell, and minutes later the black supervisor arrived.
I had a litany of complaints: violating sterility, general unhygienic practice, anthrax from dead wild animals, stench, danger of open fires near oxygen tanks, rampant bacteria. . . .
The supervisor archly reminded me that “traditional medicine” was now officially legalized. Witchdoctors (now called healers) routinely called on and treated their patients in well-equipped first-world facilities.
My complaint was dismissed as “racist and unconstitutional.”[/quote]