Friday, February 1, 2008

2008. Post Apartheid Madness

When Fraser turned fifty in September 2003, a third of his life had been in KwaZulu-Natal medical, psychiatric and mental health institutions. By 2008, Fraser had spent nearly 2 years in Durban's Addington Hospital, then 9.5 years in Pietermaritzburg's Town Hill state madhouse, then 9.5 years at Sunnyside Farm near Maritzburg, run by Maritzburg Metal Health Society. Sunnyside Farm was the best placement for Fraser since his 1987 brain damaging accident at Verulam, near Durban, perhaps because the new Mental Health Care Bill 2001 had threatened madhouse keepers with the abuses they'd perpetuated during apartheid, and Mental Health carers had to adapt to more enlightened care for mad patients.

Since April Fool Day 1987, when brother Fraser was smashed up by a sugarcane trucker, constants in Fraser's life were his family in NZ; his 1987 sold home at 22 Chelsea Drive, Durban North, where he'd lived for 33 apartheid years; his long term memories; brain damage; his Durban curator and legal team.

Variables were mad apartheid and madder post apartheid SA, with state medical and psychiatric professionals who served Fraser, often indifferent to his social sufferings. Fraser was just another citizen: cared for, recorded, manipulated with mind-control drugs and behaviour modification, and forgotten, when state professionals departed.

During apartheid, whenever I'd asked what was going on, state carers avoided me. If pressed, a rare fob-off, or manipulating letter, or phone call, or poppycock report was grudgingly supplied, or a physiotherapist, or mental health chief, or social worker or two, or a nurse or three would obscure or stonewall matters for me. At no stage during the time Fraser was at Addington Hospital and Town Hill, were state medical and psychiatric professionals considerate enough to carefully explain to me what was really happening to Fraser, without me repeatedly asking for information. I was treated with shiftiness, evasions, delayed replies to my letters, hostility, contempt, spite, as if state professionals had something to hide.

During apartheid, the Mental Health Act 1973 had allowed magistrates and psychiatrists to do what they liked, regarding certification, detention and treatment of Fraser, with collusion from doctors, and without checks from Fraser's family: me. Rehabilitation for Fraser during apartheid was a joke.

Fraser's move to Sunnyside Farm appeared to be good, as his carers and curator said Fraser was happy, but I had no way of verifying that, unless I trekked from NZ to SA to visit Fraser. I had to believe the rare professional letters I asked for, and the rare social worker notes or emails sometimes replying to my emails, and erratic letters and few photos I'd received from Fraser.

As management had changed at Town Hill, in January 2003 I wrote to Town Hill's new superintendent Dr. Walker: "After a Verulam motor vehicle accident on 01.04.1987, my brother Fraser Esslemont convalesced at Addington Hospital for 20 months. Addington tried rehabilitating Fraser by sending him to a Durban Mental Health halfway house. Addington's rehabilitation failed, so Fraser was certified, and at the beginning of 1989, Fraser was sent to Town Hill for further management and rehabilitation.

Over intervening years, Town Hill appeared to neglect Fraser's rehabilitation, but detained Fraser in closed wards and the forensic security block for months, for piffling infractions, mainly walking and jogging in Maritzburg. After years of mainly carbamazapine drug therapy, reducing him to a sedated zombie condition, at the beginning of April 1998, Town Hill secretly sent Fraser to Sunnyside Farm, where Town Hill still controls his medical and psychiatric treatment.

At Sunnyside Farm, Fraser spends his days gardening and walking. There appears to be little cognitive stimulation for Fraser at Sunnyside Farm. His infrequent letters mention he reads old magazines. He has no access to computer technology, computer games, nor simple word processing on a computer. He's still being fed carbamazapine.

Fraser's infrequent letters to me from Sunnyside Farm indicate he's retained his clerical and writing abilities, yet these skills aren't used by Sunnyside nor Town Hill. Years ago, I suggested to Town Hill's former superintendent Dr. Ross, that Town Hill uses Fraser's clerical skills. Fraser's long term memory is intact, and Fraser shows an alert mind, interested in things I say and send to him from NZ.

As I'm concerned that Fraser is vegetating, and providing much work for carers, without much rehabilitation for Fraser, let me know by return of post, the following:

1. Has Fraser recovered from his brain damage?
2. What is Town Hill's rehabilitation plan for Fraser, and what rehabilitation has been effected?

I asked Town Hill question 2 in various ways over the years. Town Hill's rare responses have been belittling medical and neuro-psychological jargon, which explains nothing I don't already know, and fails to explain Town Hill's rehabilitation of Fraser.

Many of my letters were ignored by Town Hill's former superintendent Dr. Ross.

Fraser has no living relatives in SA. I, as Fraser's only brother, am the only relative concerned about Fraser and his rehabilitation. Fraser has distant relatives in UK, who show no interest in Fraser."

No reply from Dr. Walker. In 1987, soon after Fraser's brain damage, Fraser's curator ad litem had reported: "Fraser appeared to have the mental capacity of a very young child." Fifteen years later, despite huge improvements in Fraser's mental capacity, it appeared Fraser's carers still wanted to manage him like a child.

Copyright Mark JS Esslemont.

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