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Nola D Muller

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   Recent stories by Nola D Muller
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Full Circle
By Nola D Muller
Thursday, August 06, 2009

Rated "G" by the Author.

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A story of a Mother's love

FULL CIRCLE                                                                                                 21 June 2002




Fourteen months ago, in a tiny village called Bergville, nestling in the foothills of the Drakensberg, a little boy was born.  His devoted parents looked upon his beautiful ebony body and called him Lwazi, the Zulu word for "knowledge". 


While his mother was out working in a shop in town, he was left in the care of his loving Grandmother.  Unbeknown to her, Lwazi wandered into the kitchen and opened one of the cupboards.  Squatting down on his sturdy little haunches he peered into the darkness and saw a bottle.  As most inquisitive youngsters would do, he reached for it and tried to open it without success.  At this stage he put the neck of the bottle into his mouth and tried to pry the plastic top off with his teeth. 


What he didn't know was that the bottle was filled with Potassium Permanganate, an extremely caustic chemical that his Grandmother used, in a very diluted form, to feed her chickens to keep them healthy and to promote good strong eggs.  As the lid lifted, he managed to pour the entire contents of the bottle into his mouth.  The burning as it went down his esophagus must have been unbelievable.  How he managed to survive the initial pain and suffering is a miracle on its own, but somehow he did.  He was rushed from there to Grey's Hospital in Pietermaritzburg and after stabilising, was put into the Intensive Care Unit.  This is where I met Lwazi and his mother, Dudu.


Irrespective of the outside temperature it is always comfortably warm in the ICU.  Patients are lightly covered by a sheet and wear very little else.  Lwazi was lying spread-eagled on a cot, not moving, but the machines that were keeping him alive made regular, comforting sounds.  On a straight-backed chair at the side of the bed sat his mother, twenty something years old, immaculately dressed and unmoving.   Each day, as I visited a friend, I noticed her there but somehow it seemed bad manners to look on another's grief, so I averted my eyes and thanked God it was not my child lying in that large ward, dwarfed by all the machinery.


After three weeks, there was a change.  On arriving I noticed a lot more activity around Lwazi's bed and realised that they were actually getting him ready to leave the ward to go to a general ward for further treatment.  Knowing that he was no longer in immediate danger was such a relief for me, that when they pushed his cot past my chair, I smiled up at Dudu and congratulated her on her obvious happiness.  She politely thanked me for my concern, smiled and followed the bed down the passage with a lightness of step.


Sadly the reprieve was short lived.  On Sunday he was once again wheeled back into ICU and his monitoring and intensive treatment had to be continued.  The Potassium Permanganate had done a lot of damage to his body and his little chest was just filling up with fluid that had to be constantly suctioned.  He quickly realised that when they switched on the suctioning machine he would be inconvenienced, and smartly kept his mouth closed!  It took a combined effort from the sisters to get him to open his mouth!  


Dudu and I sat in the waiting room for a while on this day and I managed to find out more about them.  Her husband Ernest, the breadwinner, was unable to stay in Pietermaritzburg to keep her company but tried to phone her every day.  She was permitted to stay in the hospital with her son, and was being fed the meal that he was entitled to, but was unable to eat.  Anyone sitting in hospital day after day is aware of how draining the experience is, but this did not deter her in the least.   Mothers nursing their babies are allowed to remain in hospital with their children as this enables the nurses to spend more time with other patients.  A room is provided for them where they are able to sleep.  Dudu had left home a month before with only the clothes that she was wearing and although she was always beautifully dressed, she was happy to receive a second set of clothing from me to change into.


While Dudu was out of the ward trying to catch up on a little sleep and I was visiting my friend, it became apparent that something had gone very wrong with Lwazi.  The entire staff were rallying around his bed.  His doctor was summoned and after a while peace once again returned to the ward when one could hear his vital signs resume.  It was decided that to prevent this occurrence from recurring a tracheotomy would be performed on him.  This would enable them to remove the air pipe from his tiny nose and also to allow the nursing staff direct access when suctioning.


The procedure was a success and Lwazi was once again transferred to a general ward to complete his recovery.  Each day I would pop in to check on his progress.  On Wednesday I arrived there at the same time that Dudu was carrying a big blue plastic basin filled with warm water into his ward.  She placed it on the chair next to his cot and proceeded to give him a sponge bath.  Looking at the pair of them I was touched at the complete love that flowed between them. There was no doubt as to who the mother of the child was, he was a miniature of her and I thought that resemblance was uncanny.


Just before midnight as I was settling down to sleep that night, the phone rang.  It was a heartbroken Dudu telling me that Lwazi had just died.  She was unable to get hold of her family as they did not have telephones and she just needed someone to talk to.   I immediately went to hospital and fetched her to come and spend the night with me.  Early the next morning I returned her to the hospital where, as fate would have it, her husband was to visit that day to see his son.  Sadly that meeting was not to take place as he had envisaged and I was told that he and Dudu had returned to Bergville that afternoon without Lwazi.


Although Lwazi had been treated in the hospital for the entire month, the death, when it came, was considered an "unnatural" one.  When I phoned on the Thursday afternoon I found out that the body had been transferred to the State Mortuary where an autopsy would have to be carried out to ascertain the cause of death.  Dudu was devastated that she had to abandon him at this stage, but she phoned me and asked for my help.  On Friday morning, at eight-o clock, I paid my first visit to the Mortuary.  I was told that there was a large backlog of autopsies to be performed, but with the help of the extremely helpful workers there I was able to appeal to the Doctor to work on Lwazi that day.  After identifying him and filling out endless forms I went to work.


In South Africa it is seldom that we hear of good work between the various races.  Criticism and bad experiences travel with lightning speed but this was one time when race, creed and colour all worked well together.  I needed to purchase a little coffin to transport Lwazi home to his family and did a whip-around the office. Within fifteen minutes I had managed to collect the money needed.  It was not a very fancy coffin though, and when I saw it I phoned another of my friends who called around and collected the unpainted chip-board box and returned it to me later that evening with a beautiful white satin sheen to it.  My next-door-neighbour came over and handed me a little posy of the last picking of her winter roses, and this was gratefully received.  My son who now lives in London had given my mother a beautiful rose as a gift and she in turn had made a cutting of it for my garden.  Somehow it seemed fitting that the very first bud should have been blooming at this particular time.  I cut the single, long stemmed bud from the bush and kept it aside to place on the coffin.


Saturday morning was beautiful.  The sky was azure blue, without a glimpse of a cloud.  The crisp winter morning somehow seemed fitting for the work that lay ahead.


I arrived at the Mortuary well before eight o'clock and presented the necessary forms to collect little Lwazi for his last trip home.  I was led into the morgue and was granted the privilege of removing him from the cold slab and gently wrapping him in a clean towel.  I gently laid him into his little coffin and screwed the lid on, and helped by one of the workers we transferred this special box into the back of my Chico and I started my lonely ride to Bergville.


We had organised to meet at the Bergville Police Station at 10.00 and as I arrived I found two old couples, wrapped up in their mourning blankets, waiting stoically for my arrival.  The father, dressed somberly in black arrived and held out his hand and took mine and we met for the first time.


The truck that they had hired to collect Lwazi was pulled up next to my car and when I opened the back door, one of the Grandmothers came forward and placed a blanket over the coffin, then she stood back.  The grandfather, with permission from his son, bent down and picked up a bunch of dried herbs, which had been collected from Lwazi's home, and approached the open car.   With concentration, he lit a candle and proceeded to set fire to the herbs.  As they started to smolder he stepped forward and the sweet smell of the herbs filled my nostrils.  He then started to speak to Lwazi, in beautiful strong words, full of emotion, he explained to the child that he had been away from his home and had been in Pietermaritzburg in hospital.  That he was no longer to be afraid, that he was once again home with his family.


Ernest, the father, then lifted the little coffin out of my car, and with tears streaming down his face he placed the coffin into the truck where the single long stemmed rose was gently placed on top of the blanket.  He then turned to me and embraced me and thanked me for helping them.  At this stage I left.  Their grieving was private and needed to be done alone.  As for Lwazi, his life had been short but meaningful.  Under the snow-capped mountains of the Drakensburg, where a short 14 months earlier he had been born, the circle had now been completed.  He had come home.



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