Working morning shift on a Saturday morning, Matthew left his office for an inspection on the 68% Sulphuric Acid Diluters.
On his way out he walked within the Control Room and noticed that it needed to be cleaned. Instructing Koos Theron, Senior Operator, to make it happen, and left for the diluters.
A while later, Theron called him over the Walkie-Talkie requesting that he return to the control room as he needed assistance with a labour problem. Arriving, he found Theron and two African cleaning attendants waiting for him. Theron told him that the one guy refused to work complaining that he was ill. The incumbent doing the translation work from Xhosa to Afrikaans blurted out;
“Morena it is the women!”
At first, Matthew had a problem to understand what the problem was rendering the poor soul unable to work. The incumbent pointed to the region of his groin, and Matthew finally realised that he complained of having syphilis and was in pain, especially if he had to go on his knees to wash the floors! Matthew was not convinced and thought that the incumbent was looking for an excuse to avoid cleaning the Control Room floor.
The incumbent, noticing unbelief, offered to drop his pants for closer inspection of his penis and summarily started to loosen his belt.
Matthew stopped him in his tracks and told the incumbent to wait in the Change- House until the Ambulance arrives; he was not prepared to look at the incumbent’s penis. Matthew turned around and said to Theron; “F#@k man, this guy is giving me the creeps!’ The problem facing Matthew was that the guy might have been telling him a fib about having syphilis.
Contacting the Modderfontein Hospital, Matthew spoke to the Sister on duty and told her of his predicament.
The Sister was kind and said that it was not a problem, that she would send the ambulance to fetch the incumbent and get the Doctor to check him out. The red VW Beatle with the Modderfontein Hospital insignia soon arrived and took the incumbent away.
About an hour later the Hospital Sister called informing Matthew that the doctor had checked the incumbent and that he had a severe attack of sinus and flu!
He could not believe his ears and asked her to repeat what she said. He could not believe what she told him to be true. Before going to the Hospital, the incumbent said to him that he had syphilis and now must have changed his story when the doctor spoke to him.
The Sister suddenly got upset and shouted in disgust that she was not a liar.
He knew that he now had a more severe problem and tried to explain to her exactly what had happened, but she was not listening, was upset and slammed the telephone down in his ear.
Later that morning, the Sister called again, confirming that the incumbent had in fact syphilis and that he was to be kept in hospital for an operation on Monday morning. Matthew, now terribly confused, asked her what about her previous story that the incumbent had ‘sinus and flu’ when she had rung him earlier. The Sister denied that. Matthew was adamant that she had spoken to him earlier and told her so!
‘The Sister, now overwhelming upset, slammed the phone down in his ear.
He sat at his desk for almost an hour to try and figure out what has happened, but his mind was blank, he just could not put it together. On Sunday morning, Matthew put pen to paper and recorded in detail his observations, noting what the Sister said on two occasions when speaking to him.
Monday morning, Matthew took over the shift from the night-shift Foreman, when Hector Skinner, an operator on the Acid Section, walked into his office and handed Mattheus his ‘Sick Certificate’! Skinner had been away from work for more than three days. Matthew told him that he technically fired himself and that the rules about absence from work clearly states that Management notified within 24 hours of your location.
It was only when Skinner spoke, with noticeable anger that he realized something had happened;
‘My wife phoned you on Saturday morning and informed you that I was booked off sick because I had sinus and flu! You instead told my wife (Anne) repeatedly that I had syphilis and implied that she was a liar!
Matthew understood that he had a big shit on his hands and profusely begged Skinner forgiveness. When Len Larson, (Sulphuric Section Manager) arrived at about 8 am, Matthew, told him what happened and was expected to be ‘shat out from a dizzy height’, but Larson instead burst out in unbroken laughter, finally having trouble breathing. Clinging to the top of the office door, he tried to speak but all in vain. Eventually, laughing intermittently,
Larson regained his composure and told Matthew to get in his car and apologies to Anne.
Hector went along. He explained the circumstances leading to the miss-communication and was pleased when Anne accepted his apology. In the end, they all laughed, and all forgotten, but a few months later, Anne divorced Hector. Matthew always had a nagging feeling that he may have had something to do with the divorce.
This incident was a valuable lesson in communication, and he took great care to make sure who he was talking to in the future, especially if it was over the landline phone!