Taxi Tales

They should teach us Math in medical school.

Oh, hush. I can already imagine everyone throwing up their arms in dissent. We fought through all that Mathematcs just to prove we were smart enough to get into medical school, why torture us after the fact? We do enough, we barely sleep, what use would Mathematics be in a cardiac arrest???

While these are all valid points, let me tell you a little story about The Medical Student Who Couldn’t.

A few years ago, a group of medical students who lived on their medical campus without any private means of transport, decided they were tired of shopping at the nearest mall. It was hardly safe (it included a twenty to thirty minute trek through the crime-filled streets of the community which the hospital was built to serve) and hardly worth the risk when they arrived at the two-story building that only offered two options of grocers and very little variety otherwise. Then they had to carry all of their groceries back through the streets back to campus, which meant they could never buy everything they needed, only what they could carry. Again, hardly worth it.

They decided they would brave the horrors of public transport and grab a taxi (read: minibus death trap) to a mall that was a little farther away which offered greater variety and was in a much safer area.

(Note that these students were still in the theory-intensive phase of their training and had yet to be exposed to the wonders of ward-work.)

They hopped into one such taxi enthusiastically and began fiddling with their pocket change as all the other patrons passed their fare to the front of the taxi.

Since they were seated in the back seats, by convention they were required to pay first.

“How much?” one brave medical student enquired in a hushed voice. You should never ask how much a taxi costs in the more suspect areas. It identifies you as a stranger and you become a target for criminals who may just be chilling in the taxi waiting for easy pickings.

“Seven fifty,” the other said, passing her ten rand note down the row.

“I also only have a ten rand,” the first said. The others all flashed their variants of single ten rand notes and double five rand coins. “We can’t all pay like this. The driver will get annoyed.”

“Okay,” a different medical student said. “There are six of us. We should just send down enough to pay for that and we can sort it out later.”

“Okay,” the rest chorused. Followed by a pause. And then a shifty exchange of glances. And then the clearing of throats.

And then, “So, that means I should just…?”

“What’s seven fifty times six?” someone mumbled.


“No, it’s thirty seven fifty.”

“That’s dumb, we’re an even number there can’t be a fifty cents in the answer.”

“Two times seven fifty is fifteen. So three times that is…”


“Forty five,” someone said, grabbing everyone else’s ten rands and subtracting fifteen rand from the pile before sending it forward. “So everyone should get two-fifty from this change.”

“But only five people paid.”

“No, only five people’s money was used. Everyone paid.”

At this point one of the students leaned over to her peer and whispered, “Is it possible that all the studying has caused our brains to atrophy?”

“Makes sense,” the other replied. “All we do is memorise and regurgitate. I haven’t had to think for myself since I got here, let alone do any maths other than trying to work out how much I need in a test to pass the module.” They all nodded gravely.

Flash forward to the present. One of these medical students is doing her elective two taxi rides away from her place of residence. She decides she wants to change her route to include one taxi that she has just learned drives right past her home so she doesn’t need to get off at a shopping center and walk the rest of the way.

But she doesn’t know how much it costs and she’s alone carrying an expensive stethoscope and opthalmoscopy/otoscopy kit that she’d much rather not be relieved of in the buzzing mass of bodies surging through the taxi-lined streets at the rank.

So she hops into the taxi, sits two rows from the front, pulls out a twenty and waits.

Someone passes forward a fifty rand note and says “Three.”

That doesn’t mean anything. A ride could be anything from five rand to fifteen rand. She waits. Another fifty rand comes past. “Two.” Then a five rand comes back from the front with the word, “Three.” It is followed by a twenty rand and, “Two.”

So. If I were still in high school and having my brain regularly stimulated by the coursework, I might have thought, oh, this is easy. It’s obvious how much I have to pay.


A medical student carrying a R20 note wants to know how much to pay for her taxi. Someone pays R50 for three passengers and receives R5 change. Someone else pays R50 for two passengers and receives R20 change. If the cost of a taxi ride is x, solve for x and then state whether the student should expect change or add to her current amount.

50 = 3x + 5


50 = 2x + 20


3x = 50 – 5 And 2x = 50 – 20


3x = 45 And 2x = 30

If we can assume that the medical student can do division, we can solve this problem. However, she s completely useless and only able to add or subtract. Therefore,

3x – 2x = 45 – 30


x = 15

20 – 15 = 5. Therefore she must pay fifteen rands and expect five rands change.

Oh, who am I kidding?

I just passed my R20 on to the girl beside me and accepted it when she gave me five rand from her fare. I only managed to do the math about ten minutes later.

The only thing more embarrassing than needing an equation to solve a fifth grade math problem is thinking that, a few years ago, I probably would have given up at the first therefore.

Medical education is so stimulating, no?


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