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It happened to me

My name is Zolelwa Sifumba, I am 22 years old and am originally from the Eastern Cape. I attend university at the University of Cape Town, living in a student residence in Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. I am studying to become a medical doctor.

My name is Zolelwa Sifumba, I am 22 years old and am originally from the Eastern Cape. I attend university at the University of Cape Town, living in a student residence in Observatory, Cape Town, South Africa. I am studying to become a medical doctor.

My story starts when I was a young child who dreamt of becoming a doctor. I grew up and through my primary and high school years managed to fulfil the requirements to be accepted into my dream university, studying to be in the career I’d dreamed of. All this time not realising the danger to me of being exposed to sick people all day long for the rest of my life. The first 3 years of medical school went by and my clinical years were to follow. Clinical years meant I’d FINALLY made it to the hospital wards, which any doctor would say they longed for while in school.

I had always known a little bit about TB, the theory of it anyway, also that it was a very common disease and required 6 months of treatment. So my first day on the wards at orientation we were told to protect ourselves using the masks provided but when we entered the wards we saw that none of the doctors wore them so we followed suit and the bad habit began. So after a while of having been in the wards I tried my best to avoid TB patients and we were told we wouldn’t have to see any.

Early October 2012 a lump began to develop on my neck. I noticed because it was quite painful. Some of my friends and I would joke about it saying I had this or another disease, TB was one of them but I told myself it couldn’t be. I was not coughing, losing weight, having night sweats or any of the usual symptoms. I had not seen a TB patient so I had not worn a mask in the general wards as it was not required, so it couldn’t be…THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.

Later in the month I decided it was time to see the Dr because the lump had grown so big and hurt so bad. A needle was put into it and some cells were taken out then I left. It looked like TB but no, it couldn’t be. THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.  The lump kept growing so eventually they had to cut a bit out to make a clear diagnosis.

Weeks later I was called in by the doctor. Confirmation, it was TB. No but wait, THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME. Next few days I told some of my class mates I had TB and none of them believed me. The thought lingered for a while but most of them, including me, rejected it. It became real to me my first day at Dirky Uys TB clinic in Goodwood, Cape Town.

Suddenly I was no longer the student, suddenly I was the patient. No but wait, THAT COULD NEVER HAPPEN TO ME.

Folder number 130418684… Soon the procedures I had been practising were being done on me and for the first time I felt what it was like for the patient on the bed.

“Hello, I would like to speak to Miss Sifumba”… “Speaking…”… “You results have come back, your TB is resistant to both Isoniazid and Rifampicin. Please go let your TB clinic know”… I was diagnosed with multi-drug resistant [MDR] TB on the 15th of November 2012 and began treatment the next day.

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