Hon Paul Raymond Berenger and the Health Services

Dr Mala Modun Bissessur

On one of those weekdays in the late 1970s, soon after the general elections of 1976, while I was on duty in the Accident and Emergency Unit at the Civil Hospital, Port-Louis, I was called to attend to a patient with multiple injuries mostly on the face. The patient, a sturdy fellow, was accompanied by two equally well built persons.

I gathered from them that there was some trouble in the port area involving some trade union leaders, partisans of the Mouvement Militant Mauricien as well as those of the Labour Party and activists of the Parti Mauricien Social Democrate. He was aggressed during the scuffle. I was also made aware that in the hospital premises some cars full of fiery characters were waiting outside for the patient.

I was in a very delicate situation and understood that any slight delay in attending to him and or giving treatment other than what was expected of me would instantly spark off disturbance in the casualty unit; extra medical help was not at hand; I was the only practitioner on site.

While the patient was still under care, the attendant casually told me ‘Mr Bérenger dehors’. I walked towards Hon Bérenger who was standing in the waiting hall, keeping a stern eye all around him. After greeting him, I invited him to take a seat in my office with the following words ‘Donnez-vous la peine Monsieur, je vous cède mon bureau’; to which he replied ‘Non Madame, merci, faites votre travail.’

I repeated my invitation and stressed that my office was at his disposal; I got the same reply so I carried on as usual. Mr Bérenger patiently waited outside for the treatment to be over and he left with the injured man and others afterwards.

Later, I realised that by staying with the crowd in the hall, Hon Bérenger was actually putting in evidence his respect for an essential service where people come for relief of their suffering and he was passing on the code of good conduct, whilst ensuring the protection of the health care providers. Very often, especially during politically tense situations, the health services become the ideal target of certain politicians and their followers; some would at any time of day or night show their might and demand that we immediately leave all our commitments and give them priority over all else at the risk of facing their muscle power with ‘Descende l’hospital, craze partout’.

Some may even display their political/administrative connections if the practitioner does not bend to their diktats: ‘dire dokter la li pas cone qui mo ete, taleur mo transfer li’ or make their erroneous prescriptions in the belief that they are more knowledgeable on medical issues than the one who, after years of study, has earned due qualifications : ‘Qui dokter la cone, bizin faire coume sa, appele specialiste la…’, all comments at times spiced with a downgrading casteist attitude. But with Hon PR Bérenger, nothing more was expected of me than to go on with my work. There was never any questioning nor threats nor any other difficulties, everything went on smoothly.

The strange absence of the responsible officers of the hospital while Mr Bérenger was in the waiting hall intrigued me. Usually, the minute a politician of the ruling party appears in the vicinity, all would leave their office and flock around him. Strangely enough, a report on the case was not requested from me and this is against the established practice…

Dr Mala Modun Bissessur

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