Journey: 2

(The next 1000 words covers what was, for me, the very worst part of the nightmare. Bear with me. It gets better. EN)


An ambulance is parked in front of the police station. I struggle to get out of the car with Aniek in my arms – she is slippery and suddenly very heavy. There is a man in the ambulance with bandages around his head. He looks drunk. He is immediately bustled out of the ambulance to make room for us. He protests loudly against this injustice. I want to apologise to him, but the words don’t seem to come out: my lips move soundlessly.

I place Aniek on the stretcher in the ambulance. Finally we have a blanket for her. I am blinded by the bright light, after all the time in the dark.

“We have to go back to the cabin which burnt down – my husband and two other children are still there. Please, we must fetch them. My husband is also injured.” I feel the panic rising in me.

There isn’t enough burnshield[1]. They put a few pieces on Aniek’s back. She screams loudly. Her eyes are glassy and roll back at times. Her face, her whole body is red, raw. She is almost unrecognisable. Her long, straight blond hair has turned into wild grey candyfloss.

We race through the town. I am disoriented. It feels as if I am in an unknown place, nothing looks familiar. I try to explain the route.

“Kogelberg, there’s a signpost. There’s the turn-off.”

Time and distance fade. The mountains are all in the wrong places. I see the fire. There are many vehicles on the gravel road. We stop.

Paul tries to get in.

“Help him, someone please help him, he can’t get in by himself!”

He lies down, broken. His face is red and grey and black. Hair is gone. Clothes are gone. Hands shredded to bits. Thick, loose pieces of skin grey and purple. Fingernails. Horrible.

“Don’t look at it,” I tell him.

I climb down the steps of the ambulance and stagger outside, still disoriented. The cabin is still burning – but there is a fire engine.

“Is there something we can do for you?” a man asks me. “We are from Stellenbosch.”

I shake my head. I can’t think or talk.

Someone asks: “Ma’am, are you all going to the hospital together?”

I realise that Roald and Mila have to go somewhere, but where? We don’t know anyone in Kleinmond. Police station? No! I hesitate, backwards and forwards in my mind. I have to decide. I don’t want to leave them. We all bundle into the ambulance. Then a face appears at the door.

“I am Jaco Stemmet, of the Kleinmond traffic police. I’ll take your children to my house; my wife and I will take care of them.”

I look into his eyes and say immediately: “Thank you very much.”

He writes his cell phone number on a small piece of paper and puts it in my hand.

I put Mila in Roald’s arms.

“See if someone can find a number two Nuk dummy for her so that she can sleep, please.”

Typical mother. Details. She still so small. I have to leave her with a total stranger. My heart rips in two. I console myself that her big brother is with her.

Now the ambulance has to do a u-turn in the narrow road, amongst all the other cars. It seems to take hours just to do that. “Are we almost at the hospital?” Aniek asks. She is crying and screaming the whole time. Paul prays: “Lord-mercy-strength. Lord-mercy-strength. Lord-mercy-strength.” I touch his leg, try to comfort him. He is in great pain. Aniek is a little animal; screaming and crying with raw pain. We stop somewhere to pick up a paramedic. Pierre Crafford. A young man in a blue uniform. And lots of burn dressing. He wants to go straight to Red Cross Hospital. Radio instructions fly back and forth.

“Do you have medical aid?” he asks me.


Thus, to Caledon. I don’t know how far it is. Aniek is covered with burn dressing. Paul also gets some on his hands. Aniek is screaming blue murder. Cries that she is cold. More blankets. Her feet are on my lap. They are blood red and wet and raw. My child, my child. Paul prays. It’s far to Caledon. Aniek’s eyes roll back. Pierre tries to get a drip into her arm. She screams and screams. I try to comfort her but have no words.

“Mummy I want to die. I want to die.”

Oh, God. Everywhere I look is pain, blood, skin. Pierre can’t get the drip in, he can’t find a vein. He keeps her talking, better than I can. He asks about her friends. Her teacher. School. I see the sweat pouring off him.

I look into his eyes and ask, between Aniek’s screams: “She will be OK, won’t she?”

His reply is vague.

I start to faint, so I put my head between my knees, but the smell of my blood-soaked shirt makes me so nauseous that I feel even more worse. I sit upright, then slump over again. It’s all too much. It is such a long way. There is nothing to do but give comfort. Aniek’s face is so red, everything is so raw. I can’t comprehend what I am seeing.

A long long long time passes. We arrive at Caledon hospital. We enter a brightly lit ward, where a doctor dressed in shorts and a printed holiday shirt awaits us. There’s a scurry of nurses around us. I have to fill in forms asking my income and address. Someone brings me some sweet tea. Aniek is in good hands. They wrap her from head to toes in burn dressing and bandages. Paul has been given an oxygen mask and a drip. He gestures that I should stay with Aniek. Aniek asks for water. She sits upright and drinks it by herself. She’s not screaming anymore. Paul receives morphine in the drip. He is calmer. I ask for some burn dressing for his face, and drape it across his cheeks. Aniek is given morphine drops, after which she finally falls asleep.

[1] Burnshield: sterile wound dressing with teatree oil for the treatment of burns.

Erica Neser © 2011


2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Yoga with Nicci
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 21:29:05

    Erica. You are an amazing woman. I was shocked when I saw the date of post 1 as 2004. I didn’t realise it was so recent. This ambulance drive sounds like one of the most haunting experiences any person, especially any mother, could ever take. I know how stressed I get when my little ones cry, even when I know that they are clean, fed, warm (or cool) enough, safe, not in pain, just wanting to be held or because they are bored. I simply cannot comprehend how you didn’t lose your mind hearing your own baby crying like that, having handed your other babies over to strangers, and being the one that was thrust into the position of ‘responsibility’ or decision maker, with even your partner so incapacitated. RESPECT.


    • ericanexpress
      Dec 07, 2011 @ 21:55:25

      Ai Nicci, when something like that happens, you are instantly thrown into the deepest end, and you flounder up so that you can breathe, and you just keep floundering. You are either completely numb, in order to function, or you are howling and tearing your heart to bits. But mostly, just numb autopilot, which is Mother Nature’s way of helping us carry on and do what needs to be done…Feels like a really really long time ago…xx


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