Children born with Cerebral Palsy (CP)
often struggle to swallow, while medication for multi-drug resistant
tuberculosis makes some patients go deaf.
When hospital staff members find patients
with these problems, they call in speech and language pathologists to help
their patients to communicate.
A poor province
For the past four months, speech and
language pathologist Thaaniyah Gydien has been working mainly with paediatric
patients at a large hospital in the Northern Cape. (She was allowed to do the
interview on condition that the hospital isn’t named.)
“With CP patients, we have to teach them
the safest way to eat. We also see a lot of children with severe acute
malnourishment or SAM. Most of these children have developmental delays, with
not speaking on time. The SAM kids have to stay in the hospital for a while and
we have to make sure that they get stimulation.”
The Northern Cape is a vast and poor
province and Gydien says much of the malnourishment is related to poverty,
parental ignorance and alcoholism.
“There are a lot of social issues. Some of
the moms drink a lot, and some are teenagers who don’t know how to raise a
Trying to teach autistic children to
communicate is a particular challenge, especially as most are outpatients who
usually only get therapy a couple of times a month – and then for only 30 minutes.
“Sometimes it can take 15 minutes just to
calm a child,” says Gydien.
Insanely high patient load
“I was smacked hard by a seven-year-old
autistic child two days ago. My face was red and swollen. Another autistic
child punched me hard in the stomach. They don’t understand pragmatics. If you
say no, they get angry. It takes months to make any progress.”
The one thing Gydien struggles with is the
“The patient load is insanely high. We see
10 to 15 inpatients a day and four or five outpatients,” says 22-year-old
Gydien, who graduated from the University of Cape Town last year.
Therapy is a slow process, so each patient
needs at least 30 minutes of attention for the interaction to be meaningful.
“There are pages and pages of outpatients
waiting to be seen. We haven’t even got to the ones from November yet.”
'You have to prioritise'
Although there are four speech therapists
at the hospital, only one is permanent – the other three are doing community
service. When people take leave, patients get left behind.
“Over one long weekend, I was the only one
working. You get a pile of 50 patients, and it is impossible to see so many in
the day, so you have to prioritise,” said Gydien.
Despite the workload, Gydien says that the
speech therapists constantly remind doctors to refer patients to them and also
screen the wards for patients.
“Doctors are usually very curative. We need
to advocate for what we do to get them to think about therapy, and refer
patients to us who are struggling to eat, for example.
I can really see the impact of my work. I really want to continue to work in a
big hospital once my community service year is over.” – Health-e News.
Image credit: Health-e News