Missing Hospital!          - 28/ 9/ 2009      <--Prev : Next-->

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The Sister Roux Hospital

Imagine losing a Bulawayo hospital!? A whole building! A hospital where thousands of children - me included - were born. You think it's impossible? Believe me when I say...until recently it was swallowed up by the Ethernet of time and might have been lost forever.
BUT...we found it. In Bulawayo where it always was. Derelict, run down, left to decay! Admittedly, it was an old hospital that began its remarkable journey way back in 1910 or thereabouts. And it ceased to exist...as a hospital perhaps 50 years later. So why did it get lost? Probably because it never was a registered hospital. And it took a lot of fascinating people to add to the mystery before that was known.

So let me thank you - those who helped find it - and let me add - for anyone who reads this - why finding the hospital was important....please bear with me.
Thanks to...Mags Kriel for having the temerity to run a Bulawayo newspaper which I can confirm gets all over the world. I know because I received help from readers of the newspaper - all over the world. Thanks too to my Hospital angel...Leila Hunt, special girl, who did all the legwork, despite red herrings...took photographs, found plans, the research, dug up the archives and the undercover stuff in the dusty backrooms and cellars of Bulawayo and found the lion's share of the answer to my mystery. She didn't know me from a lump of coal. My admiration for her is without dimension. And not forgetting Leila's inside source, Mrs Mabena at the Historic History Library in Bulawayo.

AND...lets not forget, Adrian M, Betty C, Bob R, Debbie, Delvine A, Derek B, Dermot, Dianne E, Eddy N, Ellen Mc, Genevieve, James B, Jean T, Les M, Peter E, and Rob H. and Bothwell at Town Planning..so far. These are people who read the article and responded from - get this! - US, UK, Australia, South Africa, Middle East, New Zealand, Canada and even one who wrote (e-mail) to me while flying over the Atlantic! And of course Zimbabwe which - with my old school atlas I still cannot find. Mine says Rhodesia. Must get a new one. They all added bits and pieces of long lost information to the enigma.

You see, I was looking for the hospital where I was born In Bulawayo. And it was gone! All I had was a name: Sister Roux Nursing Home. I drew a real blank. Slowly drips and drabs, the information arrived. You understand back in those days a midwife was worth her weight in gold. Sister Roux was my delivery angel. Let's face it; many Rhodesians (my Grandmother included) were born at home with the help of hot water and the next door neighbour!!! So a midwife was an absolute blessing.

But, she moved in to 59a and b Fort Street, organised the place, let it be known what she could do...and got on and did it. Sister Roux the Maternity fundi, became its unopposed leader. She began delivering babies (Please! There were NO doctors then and Bulawayo had a population of less than 2000 in the early 1900) from the get go. It wasn't long before 59a with just 4 beds, where maternity activity was taking place was referred to as Sister Roux's Nursing Home. Makes sense to me!

And so it emerged. The readers- when they heard my plight - from all over the world searched their memories and scrambled to ask the really really old folk, Mom's mainly...who recall the naturally painful experience of bringing their children into this world at the Sister Roux Nursing Home. There were some blanks. But then some confirmed its existence. 'YES! It was a building - red brick (later painted white) white pillars in the front - red corrugated roof. It was on Fort Street.'
Yes, the road outside was Fort Street, red, rich earth that ran with mud, donkey, horse and cattle droppings when it rained and raised a haze of dust when it didn't. On either side of Fort Street were - of course - jacaranda saplings that had yet to produce their first blooms. Inside, confident Sister Roux welcomed out of breath moms-to-be and wide eyed dads-to-be with efficient instructions. Measured control!

If I am alone, quiet and thoughtful I can see - in my mind's eye - my mom and dad walking through those gates and into the entrance of the little Nursing Home...but that wasn't until 1944, and things were more primitive before I arrived. It was an austere interior, painted white enamel and without trimmings or decoration at all. Steel-frame black, shiny beds. White hand stitched no-nonsense sheets, coir mattresses and pillows filled with untreated cotton balls. Mother's today would run a mile!!

Privacy was at a premium just 4 beds two either side ...and you know that gliding modern surrounding curtain bed square?...well back then it was just a makeshift series of sheets, safety-pins joined together and then held by Sister Bedpan and Sister Kidney-Bowl whilst Sister Roux went about her serious business of shouting for 'more hot water'. Then came the stillness of day or night broken only by the sounds of a new born mite announcing that another life had arrived at the Sister Roux Nursing Home. Ten fingers ten toes.

Of course there were problems, never enough equipment, and lack of electricity (1897 was the first) or what little there was had to be directed at the emergency apparatus. And of course us humans - being human - there occasionally came to the entrance a desperate husband and wife who whispered in tears that they had a daughter who was, is, must be,....but isn't... married...and is pregnant. So, 59b which was the next door house where Sister Roux and her trainees, lived, slept, were on call 24/7 now also made arrangements for unwed mothers to find a bed...to be seen but not heard...in somewhat cramped conditions...and to have their babies without too much fuss. Or joy.
How times have changed.
In those days the Sister Roux Nursing Home looked out onto Fort Street and the block itself was lodged between 4th and 5th Streets,

And so us babies of Bulawayo arrived into this world with the admirable help of Sister Roux. There were no real hospital regulations, had she not been trained things might have been different, but, those of us who are here - because of her - can attest that she must have been pretty good at what she did, and very efficient. Hopefully she is at peace wherever she is. Her Nursing Home is remembered.

Eventually the trees outside grew, the road was tarred, and regulations were written to include a doctor in attendance...perhaps because Sister Roux was getting on a little. Equipment was upgraded, electricity was cleaner and the odd rumble of a car or a truck went by to add to the sounds of sparrows and blue jays in the massive lilac topped trees outside. And, in the early summer of 1944, I was born there.
So why all the fuss?

When you lose your birthplace hospital...you feel empty. It's a borrowed existence. Temporary. Uncertain, lacking in confidence when people say... 'I'm an American,,, I'm an Englishman.' And you think...well I'm not sure. Don't even know where I was born. When you find it again, there's remarkable sense of relief and attachment.

I don't live in Bulawayo or any other city or town nearby. But my desire to return and feel that washed down, comfortable sense of belonging, of finding my footprints in the rich red earth on Fort Street is so strong, it's difficult to put into words. But I speak for many when I say, having witnessed all I have in that part of the world in recent years... on behalf of the dispossessed... 'Next Year in Rhodesia!'

Graham. King

Foot note: Sister Roux passed away in about 1960. If you find her grave please put one of your flowers against its headstone and whisper thanks from me. The Nursing Home and its adjacent look-alike were left empty and fell into disrepair when the bigger hospitals (Lady Rodwell and Mater Dei) took over the intake...and when things changed in the country the little brick and tin roof buildings were temporarily taken over - as some believe - by the ladies of the night. Squatters live there now. So... if you go past them in Fort Street, spare a thought for Sister Roux and all of us who arrived in Bulawayo inside those once remarkable walls.

Gray King sirgraymail@gmail.com
A picture of the Sister Roux Hospital is on the website www.morningmirror.africanherd.com