Journey: 3

Then back into the ambulance to Red Cross and Tygerberg Hospitals. Someone drapes a blanket around my shoulders. It is middle of the night.

Paul says: “Don’t phone your or my parents now. They can do nothing for us now except to worry.”

“OK, I’ll wait.”

“See if they have anything to cover my eyes. The light is too bright.”

I find a small piece of cloth and put it over his eyes.

“The morphine isn’t helping at all – I need marijuana.” Seems at least he hasn’t lost his sense of humour.

Pierre is sitting on the floor of the ambulance between the two stretchers. He looks a bit more at ease now. We talk a little.

Paul is asleep. Aniek is asleep. The road is long and winding. I open the piece of paper with Jaco’s number and fold it again, repeatedly. My only link with my children. I feel nauseous, I want to throw up.

“Can I please go and sit in front?”

The ambulance pulls over and I jump out the back and climb into the front seat. We set off again. Fresh air rushes past my face. I sneak a sideways look at the driver, say to him in my heart, thank you, thank you, thank you. Through Somerset West, familiar area. N2. We are travelling at 120km/h; flashing red lights on. “Whee-hoo” lights as Roald called them when he was small.

The ambulance arrives at Red Cross Children’s Hospital and I have to take leave of Paul. “See you in about a month, I guess,” he says, despondently.

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” I reassure him.

We walk into the Trauma ward. It’s forsaken. Pierre calls, “Hello?”

Suddenly there is much movement. People, voices, curtains being drawn. I am led away.

Aniek is surrounded by seven pairs of feet behind a brightly printed curtain. I am taken to reception to do the paperwork. Pierre comes back to say goodbye: he is going to Tygerberg Hospital with Paul. I give him a quick hug.

I am alone. Alone in a small office. I am curled up in my hospital blanket on an uncomfortable chair. It is half past two. Everyone is still busy with Aniek. I see flashes of bandages with a lot of blood. Doctors with stethoscopes come and go, their faces stark. I wait. I decide to phone someone at six o’clock. Not so long. Three hours. I can make it. I sit. I wait. The blood on my shirt has dried. There are bloodstains on my feet. My eyelashes are singed and there are blisters underneath my eyes and on my hands. I wander up and down the corridor. I try to find a bathroom for some tissues. I wonder whether Jaco and his wife managed to get Mila to sleep. Wonder how Roald is doing. How Paul is doing. Watch the busy-ness around Aniek and pray without words.

I walk back to reception to ask for pen and paper, and start to write down every single name and telephone number that I can think of. I can recall more than I would have under normal circumstances. I make lists of things I need. Shoes. Pants. Shirt. Underwear. Try to figure out how to get Mila and Roald back home. A hundred and one small details. I try to keep my thoughts away from the fear, because it is too big, it won’t fit inside my body.

I phone Tygerberg, to ask how Paul is doing. Answers are vague, they don’t say much.

At four o’clock dr. Brown comes into the little office. He is tall and thin, and seems like a friendly father figure. I am relieved to have someone to talk to. But only for a moment. He doesn’t bring good news.

“We estimate that your daughter has suffered 85% burns, but we can’t yet be sure about how deep the burns are. It won’t help to put our heads in the sand like ostriches – I don’t want to give you false hope. It may be that we can’t do anything more to save her life, and if the face and hands are gone… We’ll have to see. Who can be here with you, right now?”

I hand him my list of names and numbers, pointing to a few. He phones one number after the other, until he finally gets through to my friend Karna. I also talk to her briefly. She assures me that she will come as soon as she can, and she will bring another friend as well.

Then dr. Brown asks: “What about your parents?”

“They live in Pretoria.”

“I am going to phone them, they have to come down.”

I feel more and more scared, an icy cold empty feeling in my gut. That is what they say when they know your child is going to die, so that you don’t have to face the news alone. Dr. Brown phones my dad. It’s just after four a.m. He explains what has happened and gives him directions from the airport to the hospital. Then he hands me the phone. When I hear my dad’s voice, I start to cry again.

“We’ll be there on the first possible flight,” my dad says. I try to prevent the hysteria from exploding in full force.

Later Aniek is taken up to Intensive Care. A big ward, brightly lit. There is constant movement and friendly, soft faces everywhere. The curtains are printed with happy pictures and there are mobiles with little fish hanging from the ceiling. It is quiet except for the monitors: an electronic frog choir. I stagger around trying not to faint. Then I am given a chair, where I sit in desolation with my bloodstained clothes and bare feet, self-conscious. Wait. Wait, wait, wait. Someone comes up to me. I don’t see her face, but I am wrapped up in a big and warm embrace, and she softly cries with me. People walk past and squeeze my hand or stroke my back.

Later I think I am hallucinating. Or am I seeing ghosts? I see a young man sitting next to Aniek’s bed. He looks a bit like my brother, Walter, with brown hair down to his shoulders. He is singing to Aniek. I close my eyes and open them again a few seconds later – there is no-one there. I think it is Luke, the little boy I lost four years ago in a miscarriage.

Erica Neser © 2011


6 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. meladjusted
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 21:03:48

    This. Story. Slays. Me. Every. Time. I’m so grateful for it’s happy ending but it still touches the very core. Tears. Again.


  2. AutumnVine
    Nov 30, 2011 @ 21:56:31

    I want to swear; scream. Tears flow over my cheeks, again… everytime I read this story. I hate it, that it happened… that it’s still part of our lives. It’s such a long time ago, just “yesterday.


  3. Yoga with Nicci
    Dec 07, 2011 @ 21:39:54

    If I didn’t know you now, I don’t know if I could carry on reading this. The Erica I met three years ago when my son was born, and then the Erica I re-met when I started with my baby massage and you became my guru (!) – you are so calm, normal, grounded, humorous, self-deprecating, fun, funny, balanced (well, at least you seem to be all those things – I’m sure you’re actually really weird) – and to think that you have been through this sort of trauma. The fact that you are a brilliant writer does make it even more harrowing as you really recreate what it must have been like, although of course no-one will ever know just how intense it was. I am doing little respectful bows to you and your whole family right now. And looking forward to reading on… xxx


    • ericanexpress
      Dec 07, 2011 @ 21:57:43

      I probably am quite weird, but I can be balanced, calm, frazzled, crazy, bedonnerd and full of s**t just like everyone else. And I guess the old cliche, what doesn’t kill you (or make you kill yourself) makes you stronger. I was just determined to get normal…xx


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