Stab wounds in the face, gunshot wounds from which blood spurts, cold interventions on patients screaming in pain. A Quebec doctor returns from South Africa with nothing to fear from the flu that awaits him here.
“The experience I had in one night there is more than I have had in four years [de résidence de médecine] here, ”says Maguy Deslauriers, a young doctor from Saint-Hyacinthe.
The emergency room at Khayelitsha, where the Quebec native of Saint-Hyacinthe spent six weeks, looked like “a prison” according to the 28-year-old woman.
The newspaper met the 28-year-old woman when she returned from six weeks in an emergency room in Khayelitsha, a poor suburb of Cape Town in South Africa. His story illustrates that when we compare ourselves, we console ourselves.
“Sometimes I feel like people don’t realize how lucky we are here,” said the new doctor.
Not just for the quality of free care, but also for the quality of life, said the graduate from McGill University in Montreal.
In Khayelitsha, nearly 400,000 people live in crowded conditions, mostly in slums. Health care in this country is two-tier. There is the private sector, where specialists work at high cost, and free healthcare for the public, where “there are no resources”, explains Mme Deslauriers.
The emergency clinic where she worked 12 hours a night is public. But it has nothing to do with those in Quebec.
“My little cases were stab wounds in the chest, neck or head […] I spent my nights putting on chest drains or stitching up, making stitches, ”she explains.
On her first night in Africa, she installed seven chest drains on patients, which she had only done once in Quebec. They are used to drain fluid, such as blood, during serious internal injuries.
She was repairing “very deep lacerations that take a long time to sew,” often lingering for two hours on injured people needing 100 to 150 stitches.
Her meticulousness has earned her the nickname “plastic surgeon”.
“We do everything ourselves in the emergency room,” she said, because patients sent to specialists will never be able to afford the costs that would then be claimed.
Khayelitsha is the largest of townships surrounding Cape Town, about thirty minutes from opulent houses and paradisiacal landscapes. The population lives there in conditions of extreme poverty, which leads to enormous crime.
For her protection, Maguy Deslauriers had a driver who drove her directly from the clinic to her apartment in Cape Town, every day.
We warned her. Still, she found herself completely confused on her first night in the ER.
First, she was looking for soap to wash her hands. There were none.
The patients were screaming in pain because the clinic had nothing to relieve them. No morphine, even if they came with a knife in the forehead.
“You open with a scalpel, you stick your fingers in. I touched the lungs with two fingers […] For gunshot wounds, you dig with your fingers into the hole, ”she says, still a little stunned.
At night, doctors did not have access to x-rays, which could only be done during the day.
One of the most significant cases of the stay of the Dre Deslauriers in South Africa was that of a man who went to the emergency room with a long knife stuck in one eye.
“Patients cry out for murder […] And at two in the morning, there is blood everywhere, it’s a bathtub, “recalls the young woman.
Nothing is sterile either. The equipment is used from one patient to another. In a country with one of the most affected populations of HIV, gloves are essential.
Despite the risks and challenges, it was “one of the best experiences” of his life.
“I had finished my residence, no boyfriend, no children, it was time to do it,” she said.
These six weeks allowed her to have an intense experience in trauma, far from what she will see here.
“For real, I’m ready for anything,” says the doctor, who will soon start his practice in the emergency department of Honoré-Mercier Hospital in Saint-Hyacinthe, Montérégie.