Updated 23 June 2014

A cancer crisis and a fabulous state hospital

Brian wrote to Health24 to tell his story of their family’s shocking experience of a private hospital, followed by a surprise at a State hospital.

Here is his story:

My name is Brian. My wife is very ill and was in the Helen Joseph state hospital for over a week with a bad viral lung infection.

Unfortunately this was not the only problem as she also has stage-4 cancer.

She is struggling to get over the lung infection because of the cancer. And for this reason she is also not strong enough for the chemotherapy.

She is extremely weak and is basically bedridden and can only walk a few meters at a time.

We took her home, but the following Monday night she was experiencing breathing difficulties, so we rushed her to the Waterfall Hospital in Midrand, which is a private hospital.

Waterfall Hospital simply ignores her

We got there at about 19h00. Everyone ignored her and they let us wait. Eventually my son-in-law lost his cool and started shouting that we needed help urgently as my wife could not breathe properly. Her one lung basically does not work anymore, she has asthma and is diabetic.

There was a doctor, casually enjoying a cup of coffee, who told him to stop shouting.

Eventually somebody came to help, but we are still unsure if he was a doctor or a nurse.

He took some vitals, told her to stop hyperventilating (even though it was blatantly obvious she couldn’t breathe).

He then told her 'it wasn’t serious' and told us to open a file and they would see what they could do!

We sat there for a while, but it was obvious we were not going to get help anytime soon.

We were desperate and decided to try the Helen Joseph hospital (A government hospital)

Read: Hospital crisis: managers the solution

We left and the only concern the hospital staff had was whether they were going to get their their wheelchair back.

The lavish reception area of the Netcare Waterfall City Hospital. Image: VDO Consulting 
netcare waterfall hospital receiption

Fantastic staff at Helen Joseph Hospital

We raced through to Helen Joseph, arriving there at about 20h00.

They could see that she was in a bad way and they immediately pushed her ahead of other patients and admitted her.

They gave her oxygen, and morphine and did whatever was necessary. The admissions ranked her Triage - Orange, which means it’s serious.

The ICU ward at Helen Joseph Hospital in Westdene, Gauteng. Image: Citypress 

icu ward st josephs image citypress

Read: Emergency centre etiquette

The nurses at the Helen Joseph couldn't believe it when I told them that Waterfall Hospital had not been interested in helping my wife.

She is still in hospital and on Monday (16 June 2014) the doctor said that 'it was touch and go.'

I sent mails to Waterfall on Tuesday morning, and I received one automatic reply from the hospital manager to contact somebody else. They haven't responded and neither has the nursing manager.

I sent a mail to the private hospital association, but they have also not responded. I find it mind-boggling that they could think my wife was just acting, when she was really very ill. Anyone could see that.

Believe me, there’s nothing trivial about stage 4 cancer.

The State hospital was a thousand times more efficient than Waterfall hospital, and we are so grateful to them .


Note: Brian's wife was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 while they were in Qatar. Currently she has stage 4 metastatic breast cancer* that is affecting her breasts, liver, spleen and lungs. *Metastatic cancer is cancer that has spread from the place where it first started to another place in the body.

If you'd like to send your wishes or thoughts to Brian, email them to and we'll forward them to him. Alternatively, comment below. Also, have you had a good/bad experience at a government or private emergency ward? We'd love to hear how it went and how prompt the service was in relation to the severity of the medical need. Again, email us or comment below. 

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