The cancer ward that I have described in this book no longer exists.
A different oncology ward has taken its place. The sounds of vomit-
ing, suctioning, and laughter continue, as do the smells of antisep-
tic, rot, and air freshener. Mma M is still ward matron, and a force for
what Batswana call botho (humanity and care) in a crowded hospital.
Patients still sit on the broken chair and exam table in the chemo room,
tethered to the intravenous pole. Some patients are in remission. Some
are cured. Plenty are dying. The cancer epidemic continues. But there
is no crate of fruit in the office, and no one to slip Dintle a twenty- pula
banknote each time she comes for her blood tests. No one is there to say,
“This is a total disaster,” repeatedly throughout the day. Dr. P is gone. In
late 2009, after nearly a decade in exile, he completed his contract and
returned home to Bulawayo. A tentative calm had come to that city, and
Mpilo Hospital was busy rebuilding after the crisis years of 2006–8, when
Robert Mugabe’s government had brought Zimbabwe to the bloody
brink of collapse.
A Chinese oncologist, Dr. X, sent on a three- year contract as part of a
bilateral agreement between China and Botswana, has taken Dr. P’s place
in pmh oncology. Dr. K, the Zimbabwean radiation oncologist who
worked alongside Dr. P at Mpilo in the 1990s, now comes two mornings
a week to advise Dr. X and to help with the ever- growing volume of pmh
cancer patients. But Dr. X has no cytology experience and no desire to sit
at the microscope each evening. A crucial element of diagnosis was lost
Changing Wards,
Further Improvisations
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