The History of Sabie Town Hospital

To practice medicine without adequate facilities and infrastructure cannot be too convenient or efficient, especially when an epidemic strikes a community; it could be catastrophic!

Flu Cartoon 1918

The 1918 Spanish Influenza epidemic did not spare Sabie, and by November 1918 the only practicing doctor had his hands full, what with visiting ill patients, as well as trying to manage a medical practice.

There was no known cure for the’flu. Circumstances deteriorated to such a degree that the coffin makers couldn’t cope with the demand. As a result mass graves had to be excavated to contain the number of decomposing corpses of people who had succumbed to the disease. Strange myths and superstitions abounded; for example, money had to be desanitized because it was said to spread the disease.

Mrs. Damant, the mine manager’s wife, took up the challenge as a nurse, diagnostician and sometimes the duties of doctor in an effort to help contain the emergency situation. Mrs. Kitty Nelson the only qualified dietician in the district visited as many ill patients in her “spider” as she could reach.

Child with Flu

Begun in a private home, the hospital in Sabie consisted of a bandage room which doubled as an operating theater, a drawing room used as a labour or intensive care ward, and a living room as a general ward with six beds. Of course antibiotics such as penicillin, or modern sterilization equipment were unheard of in those days. Dressing materials, bandages and bedding were boiled up in a massive pot on a coal stove, and then sometimes bake dried in an oven. This was where their brown colour originated. The first operations performed were appendectomies. One of the two rondavels in the backyard was used as a mortuary.

Glynn Family Sabie

A donations and funds drive for the building of a new and adequately equipped hospital was initiated of which the most popular scheme was the “Simmy’s Sweep”started by E.P.Simmons. This horse race was a yearly institution up to 1933.The Glynn family donated a plot of ground. Building operations commenced in 1923 with 1000 Pounds Sterling in the kitty, and the ablest artisans in the district were hired to execute the commission.

On the 12th June 1924 every conceivable means of automotive power (which consisted of seven vehicles) was assembled at the Sabie Railway Station to await the arrival of the South African Govenor General Lord Athlone. On his arrival the whole entourage proceeded along a track to the hospital in a swirl of dust. The Bishop’s toga took the most punishment.

Lord & Lady Athlone

Lord Athlone officially opened the hospital by unlocking the main doors with a flourish and a “Golden Key”. One inquisitive youngster who managed to slip past the guard of honour to take a closer look at this golden key was most surprised to find out that it was just an ordinary key that had been dipped in gold paint !

The “Glynn’s Lydenburg Goldmine Hospital” was in fact the first hospital in the region that could boast of an X-ray machine and related quarters.

Huntington Hal

Donations and funds for the hospital’s operating costs were perpetually meagre with the result that the situation weighed heavily on the shoulders of the community. Many patrons contributed voluntarily through authorizing deductions from their salaries at the rate of two shillings and sixpence a month in an effort to assist in bearing the financial burden.

Sabie Hospital Front

In the meantime the mines, forestry industry and other operations became successful which all helped to make Sabie flourish economically, resulting in a situation where the current hospital could no longer cope with the increasing needs of the community.

The Transvaal Province was approached for assistance. The Glynn family once again offered a plot of ground while the Glynn’s Lydenburg and Nestor Mines donated the first ambulance.

Sabie Hospital Outbuilding

A new hospital was opened on the 19th February 1941. There was a staff compliment of one medical doctor with five assistants. Today the enlarged Hospital in Sabie has a whole team of doctors and other professionals who are ably complimented by three other doctors in private practice as well as a full team of other personel who handle all the nursing and administration, a dispensary, dental clinic, eye care, welfare, dietary issues, physiotherapy and maternity section, as well as other services. This was called the Sabie War Memorial Hospital. In later years it became known as Sabie Hospital.

There are a few Occupational Therapists (OT) working at the hospital though.  Not a lot of people know what OT does…..we are life coaches teaching skills such as stress management, self-esteem, assertiveness, conflict management and other coping techniques, we form  part of the rehabilitation team that enables patients to be functional at home after injury or disease, thus enabling them to perform the tasks they used to before accident or disease, we  provide adaptive devices and hand therapy as well.

Sabie hospital choir entertaining guests

SABIE Hospital hallways rang with the singing of the choir in celebration for a generous donation. The Rotary Club of Sabie (D9250) in conjunction with the Rotary Club of Echternach et Moselle (D1630, Luxembourg), and The Rotary Foundation, had installed a ‘tele-medicine’ facility at the hospital.

Receiving the donation on behalf of Sabie hospital Dr. B.P. Nkosi medical manager Sabie (left), and Daisy Makofane hospital CEO (right center). Left center is Mr. Guy Braas (“Speedy”) president of the Echternach/Moselle Rotary club and right Brian Leslie president of the Sabie Rotary club.

This facility enables transmission of high quality images from Sabie to receiving hospitals and allows immediate assistance in analysis of x-rays or digitized photos as well as providing an aid for training. Powerful software can enhance and manipulate images to allow a specialist physician to efficiently diagnose complex problems. The equipment is ideal for rural hospitals such as Sabie, where access to specialist advice is limited.

The project is one of a number that the Luxembourg based club has assisted with in Sabie. The Rotary Foundation has been a well-used source of funds for many projects in District 9250 and Sabie Rotarians have taken advantage of this by partnering with clubs such as Echternach at Moselle.

The Luxembourg based club will now focus on assisting with completion of an HIV/AIDS orphanage in Harmony Hill just outside Sabie This project presently houses 10 children and has become the club’s centennial project.

Radiographer specialist Johanda vd Merve demonstrates use of the technology

Matching Grants enable another ‘Tele-Medicine’ installation. When complete, the facility will be home for 25 children and hopefully form the blueprint for other such facilities. The Sabie club is very active in the community and currently has five projects in progress.

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