Could be, Should be, Would Be. The Year that was – 2020
– the very long and short of it.
This is my retrospective of annus horribilis – the year that was 2020. To approach it, I wriggle my fingers into kid gloves and swallow heaped spoons of political correctness. Kindness and empathy I have, but, I also have a liberal sprinkling of anger, disappointment and regret. How many times must we be reminded that life throws curve balls? A million. 2020 produced our most difficult life lesson. Our planet, it seems, is rejecting us and not even the fittest may survive.
At first, the lockdown seemed like an unexpected gift—an undeserved holiday. In April, I started a Writing Course, being forced into semi-quarantine suited me. I could spend all my energy and time on writing. Early mornings were spent doing daily chores, and then I'd retreat to my study where I'd be surrounded by books, photographs and nicknacks collected over the years. These, I thought, would be my inspiration. How wrong I was. I needed a thesaurus and dictionaries, books with clever quotes, words and stories to inspire me.
The course proved to be far more challenging and taxing on my creativity. But, I persevered, and would submit my stories. Criticism is a bitter pill to swallow, and the twist of the thin, sharp blade in my heart often led to tears of frustration, melancholy and heartache. I was inconsolable every time I received my papers back. Butch doggedly insists I was mistaken. I think he has a thick skin.
We were advised to start a diary, recording interesting conversations, our moods, general observations, tracking the landscapes of our minds, in an attempt to memorise our experiences. This is what writers do. Stories are based on people's experiences.
My entries became horrid, critical of everyone around me. Days dragged into weeks. I found fault with the unemployed, sullen, young man smoking his vile, illegal, cigarettes while I doggedly marched around our building. His moroseness twisting my stomach into a cantankerous knot as I speeded up or slowed down my strides in an attempt to avoid him. Like my father's diary, mine may only be read a year after my demise. Some days I was insufferable to myself.
I pummeled bread dough into submission, rolled and folded pastries, with feathery light fingers. I turned buttery crumbs into scones, rolled, twisted, folded a sticky, messy, dough into swirls for Pasteis de Nata and whipped up cakes and puddings. All were presented to Butch to savour, nibble and he'd give an honest opinion. He's never disappointed. A Covid feast. While the wine flowed copiously and then trickled as restrictions increased our scales reached new heights.
Conversations with friends resumed. We hooked up on Zoom. We'd have lovely coffee dates, tea parties and sundowners with friends and family from all over the world. Initially, all we spoke about was Covid19; we'd debate the pro's and con's of lockdown, the economy, what our Government was doing right and wrong. We lamented our loss of freedom, criticised the cigarette and booze bans, hailing everyone, including the judiciary, idiots, crooks and thieves. I did not sink so low that I thought this was a plot by the Illuminati, Bill Gates or the Chinese (maybe I can blame the Chinese, a little bit, I must confess).
Nothing could prepare me for the web of lies conspiracy theorists came up with, but, more importantly, who believed the bollocks being brandied about. My life turned into a war of words. Butch, very diplomatically, advised that I should ignore the deluge engulfing us. My mouth and my good senses aren't synchronised.
There were, of course, joys and celebrations too. Anna and Bertus, Butch’s daughter and lovely son-in-law, gave birth to a beautiful, healthy, bouncing baby boy. His name is Liam. He looks just like his Grandpa, even sporting his dimple.
The days rolled on relentlessly, and hospitals filled up, Doctors were swamped with 60% of their patients diagnosed with Covid, many patients were deteriorating swiftly. Consultations with patients happened in parking areas, we were told. Long queues snaked up to the Lab's doors for tests, field hospitals filled up. Ambulance sirens could be heard more frequently. Receptionists, exhausted nurses and Doctors were being infected, and one lady was dispatched to the ICTCC. Yet we proceeded nonchalantly as if nothing had changed. Why? Because Covid had not touched our skins.
To stress the severity of Covid and my anxiety about it, I will tell you about my brother, Mark's ordeal. It's a long saga. I hope you will read it. This is a personal account transcribed through messaging.
A young, extremely handsome, fit, single, man. Mark lives a quiet life. He loves to travel and has a favourite spot on a secret beach, exercises regularly, his exquisite home, his garden and the flocks of birds he feeds are his passion. He had no comorbidities. Mom's favourite child.
14th May, In a text, I asked Mark; a pharmacist, who was becoming extremely anxious as he saw increasing numbers of Covid19 patients and colleagues. "Mark, how're you doing? How’s your sidekick? Holding thumbs. You're going to be just fine. Xxx"
"Morning Maricha, I'm in lockdown 'till I get results. Hopefully, tomorrow back to work. Been extremely stressful of late with uncertainty in all aspects of work. A rudderless ship sailing into uncharted waters."
3rd July, instead of a birthday greeting I received this note from Mark. "Things are getting worse by the day, but the business wheel must turn relentlessly. We are here to serve, listen and console. Somehow have a blessed birthday."
I can't remember what we did to celebrate the day although I'm sure we did.
Winter sets in.
20th July, "I have been diagnosed with Covid19." Mark writes. I remind him to inform his friend, Lana He says "I tried phoning, and I wrote her a letter. She won't take this well in all aspects." Lana is currently undergoing chemotherapy and is a high-risk candidate.
"I must follow my doctor's orders and tomorrow hopefully a scan and Xrays of my chest and organs. My chest is the biggest worry, and that's the main priority now. There are protocols to be followed, and I must be patient and trust my doctor at this stage."
Tues 21st July, a sliver of faint pink light enters my bedroom, and for a few seconds the world feels normal, and then reality hits me. Nothing is normal. We are spinning off our axle.
At 07h47 my phone lights up and pings. "Hi, Maricha. Didn't sleep much but got 3 hours and another 2 in. I'm fragile today; my eyes are sore and terrible headaches, fever and general body pains. My breathing is ok. Shallow but steady. No wheezing. Thanks for the support and I'll keep you posted. Today I really don't know how I'm going to manage to go for Xrays and scans. My body isn't my own at present. Lol."
My stomach clenches every time I receive a message. Trying to be upbeat, I assure him it's good he slept. I ask him to keep on breathing and hope an ambulance can transport him to the hospital for tests.
Winter has set in, and our mountains are covered in icing sugar layers of snow. On the other side of the Du Toits Kloof mountains, Mark is feverishly burning up.
8h07 In a voicemail, a friend asks me "Can Mark test his saturation as it's an indication of how far the virus has gone and the damage to the lungs? His oxygen saturation should be in the high 80's and '90s if it goes below that he must get to a hospital. TIME NOT TO BE WASTED. Shallow breathing is a bad indication. He must get an Oximeter."
I relay the message and emphasise the need to test oxygen levels.
08H26 "I'm off to the hospital. Gardens Medi Clinic. Will keep you posted. Must shower and pack an overnight bag etc."
10h09 "All sorted, thanks. En route now."
11h48 "Had Xrays done. Blood has been drawn. The doctor examined me thoroughly."
11h50 I ask him "Is it your 60th Birthday in September? Think so! Big celebrations this year."
11h51 "No!!! Only 59 this year!!! Got good news, no need for oxygen from blood tests. They're really jacked up here."
11h52 "I never celebrate birthdays by the way!"
15h59 "Discovery 'phoned me today about the oximeter, and I will most likely get one as it goes off a particular benefit because I'm Covid positive. We also sell them at work. A friend did my groceries, and now I'm ready for bed. I have extreme fatigue syndrome!!! Love Mark"
Wednesday 22nd July 08h52 "I suppose each day will have its challenges and today I really feel vrot to the max, but breathing is fine at least. Going to just lie in bed and listen to the radio. Thanks for the air vibes!"
I try not to panic and ask about his oxygen levels, insisting he gets the oximeter. He assures me he's breathing is fine. He does admit "I wish I could have those drips again. Those really perked me up quickly. Take care, enjoy the lovely sunshine. I'll stay in bed today. I have weird feelings. My body dictates my actions. Love Mark. PS I have wonderful white noise CDs, been playing them for years. Google binaural sounds."
Being an avid reader, I suggest he listens to Audiobooks. He doesn't have the energy nor the ability to concentrate on that. He slips in and out of sleep.
Thursday 23rd 09H40 "Hi M, Bad night and feel vrot to the max. Going to get hold of Discovery now for an Oximeter. Thanks for your support. Mark"
I tell him about Alan Winde and his use of aspirin (Ecotrin) to thin his blood. There's evidence that blood clotting happens. Telling him that I love him seems so inconsequential, I want to help him. Be there with him. But can't.
09h52 "I will get what's necessary today. Just scared to put extra strain on my liver with more meds."
16h34 "Maricha, I dunno what to say. I'm weak, fatigued, a headache from hell, strange sensations over my body and fevers of note. Really not pleasant and no improvement as yet. Going to sit in a hot bath now, as I'm cold, despite Eskimo outfit etc. Time will tell. Thanks for your concern."
16h40 "Oximeters are totally unavailable due to high demand."
Friday 24th "Hi M, It's with regret that I'm feeling worse daily. I was in contact with my doctor, and I'm going on Antibiotics again and cortisone and pain meds. I slept possibly 2 hours. Take care, and enjoy the glorious day. Love Mark."
Panic wells up inside me, and I beg him to let me assist him. I ask whether Dr has been to see him.
09h07 "Maricha no doctor is allowed to my home. It's protocol. If I get worse, I'm going to the hospital, and that's it. I'll never put your life or anyone else's at risk. I'm now highly contagious."
09h36 "Going to hospital."
Alfred, Mark’s good friend, the one he calls “His brother from another mother.” Offers to drive Mark to the hospital again. He painstakingly lines the entire back area of his car in a cocoon of black plastic, to prevent the spread of Covid19 to him. 30 minutes later, he drops Mark off at the hospital. Only patients are admitted.
Saturday 25th July. 08h30 "Morning Dad, Mum, Maricha and Percy – well firstly, my fever has broken. From 39֠ to 37֠, that alone has made a huge difference. The weird conversations in my head have gone! So, on administration, it turns out I was completely dehydrated and undernourished, and I have been on bags (vacolitres) of rehydration fluids, and nutrition and I'm still on them. I have had so many injections for various things… nausea, anti-inflammatories, pain, blood thinners (to stop any clots in my lungs) to name a few.
When my doctor comes on duty today, I'm sure I will be informed what's going on.
My oxygen levels have not dropped again, and that’s the best news ever. I'm experiencing lower abdominal pain and backache, and it seems it's my kidneys and bladder. But today that will be attended to. Urine samples have been taken, as well.
I had intermittent sleep bouts between being checked regularly, blood is drawn, and meds injected at 5 am. I'm still pretty knackered. The radical headaches are under control and bearable. I feel so sorry for the staff attending me, as every time they enter my room, they have to remove all their clothes etc. and sanitise. The doctor yesterday had 3 showers!! I have a large bedroom all to myself with a spectacular view of Table Mountain. I can just thank God my Dr Ismail made the call that I must get here, as I don't know what would've happened if I stayed another day at home. He has phoned me twice already, and he knows my present Doctor Govender. Please pass this message on to family as I haven't got the strength. Love Mark"
Ironically Anna and Bertus stayed in a similar room with the same view only a few months ago. Theirs was a joyful experience, and we all celebrated the birth of their son Liam, Butch's first grandson. How quickly the worms turn.
Although we're all relieved that Mark has been admitted to hospital, we're anxious. My parents have to come to terms with not being able to visit him. My Mum, who has dementia, does not fully grasp the magnitude of events, although at times she has moments of clarity.
15h48 he writes "I do have moments of fear. It's not easy when no one can tell me where I'm going with this disease, and there's no cure. Love you too, and thanks for prayers. Ti's all I can wish for."
I attempt to encourage him to remain positive, "you’ve done everything possible to ensure you’re healthy and to prevent Covid19. There’s nothing more you could’ve done. You’re strong of mind and spirit; no Covid can destroy that. You have a strong will to recover. You’re our inspiration and hero. So just breathe and @#$% the virus.” Is my message of inspiration.
15h56 “It’s easier said than done unfortunately and I wish I had a living will in place if it gets too unbearable. Being this ill is daunting trust me and with what’s happening globally, imagine Maricha. But, time will tell.”
I have learned that it’s better to confront one’s fears than to sugarcoat them. As difficult as it is, I respond by acknowledging Mark’s fears. “things will probably get worse before better. Yes, it’s always challenging to be positive. If you’re worried about being kept on life support and there's no possibility of recovery speak to your doctor about your wishes. I have a living will for the same reasons.”
A little later I add “ Must say you still look very peachy with the tubes up your nose. Still a hunk.”
18h38 “you are so funny Maricha.”
“True words. Plus you have the three-day stubble…. Nurses will swoon!”
He responds at 18h54 “I’m in a mask entire time. I look terrible, and my body feels not my own at all. I don’t care how I look at this stage!”
Saturday 25th July – 19h18 – he suffers terrible bouts of nausea. “ Maricha depending on how long I stay, I might need a few Pick ‘n Pay undies, few basic long tees and a tracksuit pant or two. I will reimburse you gladly. My tummy is messed up etc., etc. I will keep you informed when I get some direction. Thank you.”
19h21 “I’m on a smorgasbord of meds for everything at this stage. Zofer in drip every 8 hours for nausea, pain meds and fever. Doc says, “ unfortunately it’s, part of Covid.” Everyone reacts differently and hence no clear answers. Very anxious tonight and I can’t take tranquilisers, as it could suppress my breathing and heart. Love you, Sister, and I’m pooped to the max.”
At last, I can do something for him. I grab a pen and paper and make lists of his requirements; we discuss sizes and preferences. We make arrangements to have the parcel delivered. Anna, without missing a beat, offers to be the delivery guy. I Google and find a 24-hour laundry service.
Cape Laundry Online immediately respond and they agree to wash, iron and return his laundry within 24 hours. The hospital will bag and clearly mark the bag with warnings “Covid19. Danger. Contaminated.”
20h49 “All Medium, please. Boxers, please. Oh Maricha, my oxygen levels have dropped by 3 points over the last few hours! They’ve got hold of a physician now. Extremely anxious and feel my life draining out of me fast. I don’t expect miracles, as I am a realist. Thank you.”
20h57 “they put ice packs around me while increasing the oxygen. Fuckit.”
Sunday 26th July 08h04
“Dad and family,
Not going to write long. Extremely fatigued and weak. Had ice packs around me last night which helped slightly. This fever is beyond imagination, and I’m told it can still be with me for a while as the virus works havoc through my body. My oxygen levels dropped 5 points last night but thank God it has gone up again this morning. The oxygen helps me. I haven’t eaten solids in days and can’t bear the thought of eating yet. The nausea is nothing like I could describe. I sip on the protein shakes, and I manage 3 a day. My clothes are soaked. I just lie in one position and don’t move except to go to pee. With all the pipes and drips in me, even that is extremely tiring, and I must compose myself to think what I’m doing as I’m confused. My thoughts are numb, and I have little emotion. It’s too draining to try focus on a subject.
Please pass the message on to Maricha and Percival.
Thank you for your prayers, and well wishes.
Got no idea where this Covid is taking me nor can anyone say.
Love to all
08h06 I ask whether there’s anything else he needs, e.g. lip ice or a moisturiser. Helplessness overcomes us.
08h18 “Marich. Please get me 2 fleecy track pants. I only have one. Medium. I’ll reimburse you in due time. Boxers please and fleecy track pants. I’m so cold.”
He starts hallucinating and writes 08h31 “Diarrhoea. It only happened once since day one, and now I have constipation from pain meds. I don’t eat so I don’t go to the loo at all.”
08h56 “everything is contaminated, so I just leave my soiled laundry in my cupboard here. When I start feeling perkier, I will wash a few things. I have a big bathroom and will leave it to dry. Oh Maricha, something I forgot. A body wash and a sponge.”
In an attempt to cheer him up I say “ sending prayers on angels wings to/for you my precious xxx everyone sends love and prayers (even the atheists are praying! Shows you what you’re capable of.) PS you sound perkier.”
09h27 he responds “Thanks Maricha. It’s baby steps, I suppose. My oxygen levels are nice and high today, so it does give me hope. I’m pumped full of meds for all kinds of things, and I suppose it also makes me drowsy. After taking Zofran half hour ago for nausea, I was staring at breakfast, but I simply can’t eat. It’s so weird. But I’m reassured it’s normal and mustn’t force myself, as long as I drink water. I am on constant drips 24 hours for nutrition and rehydration.
Please be extra cautious when Mum and Dad visit today. Sterilise any foodstuffs from shops etc... Love Mark”
12h07 “Dearest Maricha,
Wow. Thank you ever so much. A clean set of clothing is exactly what I need. Please convey my deepest thanks to Anna, Bertus and lil’ Liam. You’re a lady of your word and extremely proud to have such a wonderful family.
His gratitude overwhelms me even now as I read these texts. I try to be encouraging “they say it takes a village to raise a child. We’re putting the theory to the test! It’s a huge pleasure. Wish we could do more. At least a little bit of us is there with you now. Even if it’s only a boxer.”
12h13 “I’m so thin already. I might have to get suspenders!”
“Suspenders sound good. One wears them with a bow tie for added appeal. I’m sure it’s nice to just slip into something fresh. Waiting for the folks. Butch made some lovely mulled wine for Mom. Keeping spirits up here.” I quip to cheer him up.
12h20 “Give Mum a stiff Gin beforehand. She loves it. Enjoy and thank you sincerely.”
13h14 I send him photographs of our parents. He writes. “Gosh, I miss them. I am crying now.”
17H28 we’re all terribly emotional, and this prompts Butch to write a short message of encouragement. “Hi Mark, Maricha has been keeping me in the loop about your battle with Covid, and I don’t know what I can say that will lighten your burden other than that I’m extremely sorry that you have been struck with it and that you’re facing it alone. Know that we all wish you the strength to win this fight. If there’s anything I can do to help lessen your distress, don’t hesitate to call on me. Take care Mark and keep up the fight. WE ARE ALL ROOTING FOR YOU.”
I load more data on his phone, afraid he runs out. Modern technology is our lifeline with him.
18h34 “Thank you, Butch. Truly means a lot to me. Unfortunately, no one can see or visit me at this stage, and isolation is the key. The poor staff have to disrobe every time they enter my room and get sanitised head to toe. Butch, please convey my thanks to Anna and Bertus. I had a bath now now, and what a pleasure to have clean clothes.
My bed has just been made, and I’m staring at my supper. I just can’t stomach any solids. I get instant gag reaction. The soup smells so alien that I would never even attempt it!
Glad you had a lovely day with Mum and Dad, and I know they love being there.
I will ask Dad to reimburse you for passing onto Anna and Bertus.
My fever is slightly down 38.7, and oxygen levels dropped only by 3 points today.
Love to all,
Monday 27th July 08h27
“I did sleep on-off, and today I just want to sleep. Chronic fatigue and headaches. But fever through night lower. Only 37.8 Oxygen levels fluctuate but not critical. Chest killing me and body sore. Want to nap the whole day if possible.
Will keep you posted.
My Dad sends this message “Baab and Butch, thank you for the kind words, especially for your fabulous support I’m just sorry that I have to lean so heavily on you. Mum forgets and wonders, knowing something is desperately wrong then we have to go through from the start all over again. But ever the optimist I press on with faith. Sorry pushed the wrong button again! Sleep tight, night night dad.”
Tuesday 28th July 09h28
“There are only 6 of us here. Interesting.”
Messages are becoming shorter and less frequently. All I can think of is this quote “ For you today from me. “If I were blood, I’d live in your heart.” I send.
08h22 “that’s lovely M.”
09h03 “Dad and family,
A dreadful evening. Temperature the highest it’s been 39.1 at midnight and oxygen levels dropped 10 points! They immediately increased my oxygen intake. Meds keep my fever at bay for max 1.5 hours then spikes again. Extremely exhausted and despondent now. It’s really not easy when your body isn’t your own anymore. Let’s hope all the blood cultures and CT scans can reveal something and Physician can get some direction. I feel in a dwaal and look around me and think where I am for a second. The nausea is terrible, and even water makes me bilious. But I sip a little and force my protein drinks down. I have a smoothie for breakfast, and it’s my challenge to finish it. My sugar levels are perfect and shows the virus hasn’t damaged my pancreas.
I need to lie down again as I’m weak to the core today after last night’s episode.
Dad, please forward to all. I don’t have the energy to repeat myself. Love to everyone worldwide, and thank you for your love and prayers. Mark.”
10h35 “Hi, Mark has just phoned. He said his CT scan showed his lungs are riddled with Covid. The Dr said out of 6 Covid patients in hospital he was the worst case. They have upped his oxygen intake. All the other pains lower down in his body are all caused by the virus. He said he was frail; it’s not looking good. Have a good day Dad.
12h40 “I can’t stress. My fever spikes like clockwork and consumes me completely.”
12h52 “I listen to music 24 hours with earphones. Going to sleep now.”
I send short messages asking how he is.
18h54 “Ag under the circumstances, not bad Maricha. The fevers are terrible. But it’s one of those things I must just work through. Hopefully, end week, there could be a shift. Sleep tight, and thank you for just being freaking awesome. Thank you, sleep tight, Mark.”
Wednesday 29th July 09h17
“I will write to Dad and forward it.”
I wait impatiently to hear from my Dad. We don’t know what to expect.
09h54 “Just had a message from Mark. It seems as if he’s turned a corner, even though ever so slightly? Love Dad”
Intermittent sleep bouts. Fever didn’t spike over 39 at least. Oxygen this morning was in the 80’s and now told to sit at 45֠ all the time, which raised it over into 90’s my chest is very sore on coughing, and I try to suppress it as much as I can. Body aches and headaches a mystery. I feel I have a little taste returning. I am so tired already and just want to rest again. I have someone else in my room now, at least at the far end from me. Both he and his mother are here.
Hope all goes smoothly today and don’t forget the visors at all times. I managed a smoothie for breakfast, and the protein drink is staring at me!! I got very bilious last night for no reason, and meds helped fast. How will I ever work again if these pains in my hands and joints don’t go away?
Pass on to family please Dad.
Love to Mummy and get home asap today.
I’ll phone later this afternoon.
Some positive news. Our euphoria was short-lived.
10h33 “Physician just checked me over. He is concerned my chest is getting worse. Had 8 vials of blood taken. Thinks I could be developing a secondary bacterial chest infection. Will start on antibiotics and S6 pain meds immediately. Got no energy to resist what comes my way and just go with the flow. Out of everyone here, of course, I’m the worst. My wonderful draw in life.”
The following quotes are verbatim.
12h55 “A colleague at work’s wife will drop clean clothes. Maricha, not doing well. Oxygen dropped way into the 80s and on full mouth and nose ventilator. It does push it up. Feeling worse by the day so far, to be honest. On Temgesic S6 for pain, zonks me completely.”
13h34 “Dad. Taken a turn again. Oxygen fell into low 80s. Now on full mouth and nose ventilator. It helps. Feeling quite spaced out. Room spinning! Hope u home and safely.”
Mark sends me a selfie-and waves of shock and grief wash over me. I gasp. Seeing his face covered in a brushed acrylic baby blue beanie and an oxygen mask brings the reality home. I’m sucker punched. Thank goodness his noggin’ is warm I tell him. Although thoughts and prayers are immaterial to him at this stage, I assure him we’re all praying and rooting for him.
13h00 he writes “Much appreciated. I’m just taking whatever comes now. No expectations and high hopes.”
17h39 fevers rack his emaciated body. “by Thursday, I can have a good load to wash. I only have wet sweats. Just put onto an unknown antibiotic, call PIPTAZ which is administered through a fancy contraption. Must be closely controlled and monitored.”
Thursday 30th July, he writes to Dad “ I’m writing at this ungodly hour as it’s impossible to sleep. Just after midnight, all hell broke loose and my oxygen dropped by 12 points. They rallied around me, and Physician was phoned immediately to get advice. A new oxygen machine was sent from ICU, and this thing blows really hard. If I close my mouth, my cheeks blow up like a trumpet player. Tomorrow physician will make the call if I should be placed in ICU. IF so I will be placed under an induced coma.
Not allowed to walk anymore, and my skin is crawling and is itchy all over. I am wet throughout again.
I am in God’s hands and will take what comes. I don’t know how I feel anymore. All this oxygen blowing is noisy and could blow balloons up in no time! My oxygen levels up into 90’s again. Talking brings on terrible coughing spells. What’s in store for me next? With these machines beeping away, it sounds like an airport terminal.
Hold thumbs please Dad.
PS at least temperature kept at bay.” Mark.
16h38 “Feeling terrible. Fever climbing again.”
By now he’s got pipes in almost every orifice. Although disturbing, he knows they’re keeping him alive.
Friday 31st July, 07h16 “I have two ppl round the clock watching me. Bad night. Told I must not talk anymore to reserve all oxygen. Chest very sore and headaches. Weaker by the day still. More blood is drawn. Drip came out of my arm, and the entire bed was soaked in blood. Ice packs and cold wash-downs help. Not much else to report.”
He’s still alive. That’s the only thing that counts. I ask him whether he needs anything and learn he’s in ICU now.
“07h52 “the ICU has controlled environment, and I just need a sheet, tee and boxers.
13h00 “I’ve just had a small operation to install CVA LINE into my neck. All meds will go straight into my lungs now. Pass on to Dad, please.”
We decide to get out and go camping not far from home on a farm in the Rawsonville district. My brother Percy and sister-in-law Sue and mutual friends join us. We all wait. Our conversations centre around Mark, our childhood, adulthood and our interwoven relationships with him. Of course, we have many regrets, life is so very short, and we come to terms with the possibility that we might lose him.
The thought of him being alone, afraid and uncertain while his life is in the hands of strangers who, although kind, and are highly qualified professionals, doing a job under the most stressful, unprecedented times, is frightening. To appease ourselves, we send him photographs.
18h24 “Looks wonderful, the first time I’ve seen Percy’s set up. Wow!! Envious as the green grass!” he cheerfully responds.
That is the last time I speak to my brother Mark.
Saturday 01st August. Worried I ask my Dad whether he’d had news from Mark.
09h14 “Hi Baab, I’m sorry I missed our call. Just too slow! I’ve heard nothing from Mark this morning. I will send him a message now. Enjoy your breakfast. Love Dad.”
09h15 “Hi Dad, I’ve just phoned the hospital, Mark is on a ventilator now. Staff can’t give any more information. We can send voice messages to him which he can listen to. He is probably in an induced coma. We must be strong for him, he needs our support. He is courageous and strong-willed. He is fighting bravely, but, his enemy is unpredictable. M”
12h56 my parents have had no news from the hospital. It’s as if Mark has vaporised. “Hi Baab, Mum had a little wobbly during breakfast; otherwise, we are managing. We just pray for Mark, it must be pretty unpleasant and uncomfortable for him? Love Dad”
My Mum has dementia, and my father is the primary caregiver. His struggle is very real, but, uncomplainingly he soldiers on. He writes “Hi Baab, we are managing it. Mum and I have fully discussed Mark’s position, fortunately, or not, the conversation doesn’t last long in Mum’s memory. I’m handling it in my way! Love, Dad.”
Mark doesn’t need clean laundry anymore, he’s dressed in hospital garb, and on adult diapers, the sister on duty tells me kindly.
Sunday 02 August, 07h46 we all slept badly worried about Mark and we're fretting about my parents, who’re as confused as we are. We’re all muddling along trying to make sense of this new development.
“Morning, I’m not up yet, both Mum and I never really slept last night. Mum is sleeping now. I’ll leave her to sleep till whenever. We will hear during the day from the doctor I hope? Love Dad.”
I receive a message from my father at 13h50, unusual for him to write especially since he knows we’re out of town. The seriousness of the situation must be getting to him. I can feel his anxiety and uncertainty.
“Dear Baab, the reality of Mark’s illness, and where he is at the moment on life support and the possibility that he could die has hit Mum really badly since lunchtime. I hope that Mum can manage to get her composure back, it’s affecting me too. I just hope the Doctor phones this afternoon, I’m now a bit better prepared for him than last evening. What’s worrying us, we can’t be with Mark should and/or when he dies. Being a mother, you will understand, you carried for 9 months and brought children into the world. Get home safely. Love Dad.”
A little later, he writes. “At 4 0’clock we’re off on our walk. We have had our rest. Mum seems much more relaxed. The strange thing with memory loss, literally in a matter of a minute Mum will lose the thread of an incident. Heard nothing from the doctor yet. No news good news? Dad.”
On the 4th August there is a devastating explosion in a warehouse in Beirut killing at least 200 people and injuring around 5000 others. But our immediate thoughts are constantly with Mark.
Although my Dad was Mark’s next of kin and person to contact, the hospital staff were not at liberty to divulge any news regarding Mark’s progress. We had to reassure ourselves that “no news was good news.” All we could do was wait. Messages were left for the Dr. We all sent regular voice messages to Mark. I sent short video clips from nieces and nephews and grandchildren who regularly wished him well. Messages poured in from friends, acquaintances, family, forgotten friends heard about Mark and called in. Prayer chains and prayer groups prayed fervently. The days dragged on.
On Thursday 06th August 12h45 Dad sent news. “Hi Baab, just spoken to the doctor. He said he is regulating the oxygen very carefully and Mark is being turned regularly to prevent bedsores. Since yesterday morning, he has not had any fevers. He sounds more optimistic but warned. “this virus is very unpredictable”. He also said there is still a very long way to go yet before Mark is better. It appears Mark still has a fight on the go with the virus, I think he was saying not to be too complacent. Love Dad.”
And so life goes on relentlessly. Dr Govender, in conversation with my father, promised that he'd treat Mark as if he's his own son. All decisions would be based on that premise. Although Mark was very sick he thought there was still a sliver of hope. Mark has Covid pneumonia. Bed sores develop.
11th August, 14h18 Dr Govender checks in with my father who writes a general note to everyone “I’ve just had a call from Dr Govender. He said that he had lowered the oxygen rate to 40%, starting rate the previous Saturday was 100%. He had a secondary infection late last Saturday but seemed to be getting better from the antibiotics being administered. He further said that he hopes to have Mark off the oxygen by the weekend. Dr’s whole attitude on the phone sounded quite positive. As I understand the Doc, we have a good chance to see Mark a lot better in two or three weeks? Your prayers and thoughts are a great help to us at this extremely anxious time. Love to all Ilse and Tim K”
Thursday, 13th August, 12h52 – “Hi Baab, just back from the traffic dept to renew my disc. I got some muti for Mum from the GP to ease the stress, hope it helps? Otherwise all fine. Heard nothing new. I’m a machine. I just keep charging along. Love Dad”
On Monday, 17th August – “Good news! After 17 days, Mark has been brought around and is conscious but very confused. The anaesthetist is with him. She’ll administer a mild sedative until this afternoon when he’ll be able to talk to Dad. She says he’s looking good. We’re thrilled and excited. Mom in tears. All good. Thanks for your continued messages, thoughts and prayers. We will keep you posted. Maricha” I send this message far and wide. We are all overjoyed.
August 18th, Tuesday. I receive 7 missed calls from Mark. I call back, but he doesn’t respond. His phone is switched off. I assume the battery’s flat.
August 20th Again, I receive a missed call. I can’t return a call. We’re off the grid. We’re taking an impromptu trip to Namaqualand to see the daisies in bloom. It’s a spectacular year and not one to be missed.
I switch my phone on once we’re settled in Kamieskroon and receive these desperate messages from Mark.
19h45 “Please phone!”
19h47 “Maricha phone me, please.”
20h42 “So I made it, please phone me, please.”
I call but receive no answer. We are desperate.
On Friday 21 August at 10h50 another message “Please phone Maricha.”
I call Mark. He is bewildered. He tells me he’s being kept in the hospital against his wishes and under duress. He has no memory of events, only of being dropped off at the hospital door. He’s frail, can’t walk, and he says, giggling, “I'm in adult diapers!” He has difficulty concentrating, has no strength to type and is extremely tired. I realise he has no idea what day it is nor how long he’s been in hospital.
He insists on informing me about his Last Will and Testament. He’s paranoid and hysterical. Exhaustion engulfs him as we end the conversation.
Sunday 23rd August 18h25 I hear from him again. “Was a better day mentally and realise I have a tough road ahead, to learn to walk is going to be difficult. I had two physio sessions and did about 10 meters with a walker and my feet less floppy but still ridiculously weak. I sweat and have to rest for 5 minutes after each little attempt. My calves look terrible. Sleep tight.”
I know he’s on the mend when he starts complaining about his difficulty sleeping due to all the protocols that have to be followed. “they check my BP, then it’s oxygen levels and its beeps and buzzes and then at 5 am they come to wash me, and so it goes. Noise, all the time and they, just switch lights on when they enter whatever time.
I get terribly emotional. To think what I put my family through and how you all rallied around me without me even knowing. Love you, sister and love, to Butch.”
19h10 “Bawling eyes out… but you, my family are all I have, and I will never take life for granted nor have I in the past. I will fight this, and I will overcome it somehow.”
I remind him that it’s good to cry. I believe that he has to mourn his life because life as he knew it will never be the same again. This time around, it’s going to be better. He’s lost so much, and there are stages of loss that he needs to come to terms with, e.g. anger, anxiety, denial, acceptance and sadness.
This consoles him, and he responds by telling me “The entire hospital thinks I’m a miracle to have made it with my Covid and then that chest infection. Doctors and nurses who I don’t even know come to congratulate me. So yes… God was with me all the way.”
He ends his message by saying “I’m just an old man, but they (the staff) have been tremendous… I’m trying not to wear adult diapers and am learning to control my bowels and bladder by sheer determination. I need my life back. I miss my flat and my birds. I don’t expect to run a marathon soon, but I just want to walk as I did before. Basics… to live a simple life and private like Dad and thank goodness for that.”
On August 27th at 08h33 after a botched attempt, the previous day to secure an ambulance Mark was rewarded with a bath. “Morning Maricha. It seems all will hopefully go to plan. Eating breakfast. Have a shower today. To think for 5 weeks I haven’t had a decent shower. My scalp and ears were filthy. Got clean clothes on and ready for the next part of the journey. Just wish I could walk properly, but it will happen. In one week due to sheer determination, I have pushed myself. I am stiff, similar to a workout. I must get my independence back asap. I pray nothing like this happens to anyone.”
Eleven days after coming out of an induced coma, Mark was transferred, by ambulance, to Oasis, a step-down clinic. Still weak, confused, unable to walk independently. His body emaciated. He suffers partial paralysis on his left side, Dr’s confirmed his suspicions, he suffered a stroke. His breathing is laboured, shallow, and he wheezes easily after the smallest exertion.
On Friday he says things are going well. “Pushing it hard. My confidence is getting better. Slowly I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Had a haircut and looked a lot better. Eating all my food. I'm determined. This I want to forget about and move on. I have been through some traumatic events before.
His recuperation was slow although he was determined. During his time at Oasis, he received daily physiotherapy and could walk short distances unaided, and managed a series of light exercises, and walked 100 lengths of his bedroom. Determined to regain the 12kgs lost in weight, he ate lustily. He continued to feel fatigued and suffered dreadful nightmares and symptoms of PTSD. To get back the use of his fine motor skills, Mark goes back to the drawing board and teaches himself to draw again.
An unsightly, black scar on his cheek, where a feeding tube was attached, was successfully removed by a plastic surgeon while the tracheotomy slash faded rapidly and when I saw him, it was barely visible.
After one of his check-ups, he was told he has mild fibrosis and scarring of the lungs. High cortisone tablets and a corticosteroid inhaler were prescribed. He takes Melatonin (induces sleep) and suffers the effects of anaesthesia and prolonged doses of morphine.
In November he went camping. Two days of bliss.
Mark returned to work at the beginning of December, having regained much of his strength. He continues to suffer bouts of anxiety, nightmares and depression. All of which he needs medication for. He has regained the use of his left side but, at times, his memory fails him and simple tasks seem impossible. During that first week, four pharmacists died in George. No mention or fuss was made of them.
In his last messages to me, he says “write your blog Maricha, and if I tell you the last few weeks have been a nightmare, it’s an understatement. The long haul effects of Covid are dreadful, and I feel I’m losing it some days." He continues with a warning "You’ve no idea. The worst is yet to come. This is the beginning.”
This morning he wrote “ My colleague, standing next to me at work, tested positive. Sad.”
For a few weeks now Butch and I have heard of close friends, neighbours, immediate family, acquaintances, famous and infamous people being diagnosed with Covid19, the worst of it is that every day we hear of at least two people we know who've succumbed to this dreaded disease.
I hate being an alarmist, but, I brace myself and ask “are we going to be around by the time there’s a vaccine?” You see, I’m done with platitudes and empty promises.
Note: some names have been changed to protect Mark's friends.
It would be amiss of me not to thank all our friends, family, acquaintances and colleagues who prayed, sent messages, phoned and thought of Mark. Thank you, your support meant the world to us and lifted our flagging spirits. I know the universe, and Mark worked in unison fighting for his life and continues to do battle. Every day I hear from someone who asks after him. Thank you.