From witch doctors to treating Howickians

The 93-year-old’s a memoir is entitled: A Life Less Ordinary-Memoirs of Dr Una Grieve.

It is a tad tricky to diagnose an ailment when a patient says he has a snake in his stomach and it gets even more mind-boggling when he complains that the pain has persisted since the last thunderstorm.

From dealing with patients mired in superstition to incurring the wrath of witch doctors conversing with ancestral spirits, Dr Una Grieve, one of Howick’s most popular GPs, has led a challenging and remarkable life.

It’s almost certainly why the 93-year-old’s a memoir has been titled: A Life Less Ordinary-Memoirs of Dr Una Grieve.

Sharp as a dart, the Howick resident still plays the violin along with her mates, a talented quartet made up of an 85-year- old, a 93, a 94 and a 95-year-old.

“I started playing the violin when I was eight-years-old and still play the violin in the orchestra group that once used to be the Howick Orchestra,” says the retired GP who was born in Swellendam, a beautiful town in South Africa.

She gives credit to her step-father, a doctor too. “The nearest violin teacher in those days was 75 miles (120km) away.

The roads were all gravel but my father drove me all that distance once a fortnight for my violin lessons. He was very academic,” she says in praise of her dad, Dr George Reid who ran a surgery in the backyard of their home.

“Music has always been a great part of my life.”

Una immigrated to New Zealand in 1961 with her husband and three children under five.

One of the highlights of her medical life has been working at Mt Coke Mission Hospital in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, and also as a senior registrar during her five years in England.

“We would treat 80-90 in-patients every day at the Mission Hospital. A lot of them didn’t trust white medicine.

I remember driving all the way to a kraal (complex of huts and stocks) in a Dodge van to persuade a girl’s father, a witch doctor, to let his daughter who had pneumonia get some treatment.

And though it was difficult to give a guarantee that the child wouldn’t die, it was her only chance at living. But we had to be very careful not to get them cross with us.”

Talking about her husband, a kind hearted man, Una says he was a Minister and would take services at the coal mines in Witbank, South Africa.

“He hoped to continue the same when we came to New Zealand but, sadly, there was an attitude in NZ that all white men were involved in apartheid.

“People didn’t realise that we left Africa because of apartheid. We had protested against apartheid.

“We had to face many challenges when we came here since we had no money and my husband found it difficult to get a job. There weren’t many South African here then.”

With a shortage of female doctors, Una started working a couple of hours at different surgeries till she started her own practice at Cook Street in 1965 and continued until 1991.

Una’s memoir is published by local publishing company, Arthur Publishing House. To purchase a book contact Marilyn J Bakker on 021 707 066.

  • The memoir is also available at Classy Crafts Market on the 1st and 3rd Saturday of the month, All Saints Community Centre, 30 Cook Street, Howick Village.