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My Journey as a paraplegic II – the hospital

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It’s May 10, 09:30a.m and still in bed having a lazy Sunday… which I’m guessing we all are. It was quite an eventful weekend hey? What were you up to? Inaugurating your new president? Celebrating with your favorite pop idol/s?  Chiefs? Celtics? Well… I chose to spend my weekend just pondering……. about my journeys thus far…

(Would’ve loved to spend it with my mom though…ill take advantage of the platform to holla at mommy …happy mom’s day! love oweiz, Zux…(lol)

This weekend I took a trip to 2007 February, Sunninghill hospital, ICU, “Bed 7”. That’s what they used to refer me as at times “bed 7”, sort of like in prison, where you are no longer Rholihlahla, but 46664J.

Prior to Sunninghill:

I was in between jobs, just signed my appointment letter with TCTA on the 14th and was out to celebrate my new job with peers on Friday the 16th.  Had cancelled my previous medical aid with the previous employer and was in the process of searching a new medical aid.

Moving along….I cannot confirm the number of days or weeks, (I’m told about 3 weeks) that I was out for, but I remember waking up seeing my entire family in front of me and my elder brother saying “can you believe we took the Gautrain to get here?”  And my response was “What year is it?” The entire room was filled with laughter.

That’s just a brief introduction of my family and how they handle tragic matters, which is the attitude that best explains my speedy recovery.

My first clear  memory was when I was woken up at 6 in the morning by a certain sister Connie, who later established a good relationship with my entire family, infect she just wished me a happy mothers day , in her words “ happy mothers day to the mother to be..Yes in God’s name, you will be a mother one day”…True! It is medically possible. (Another topic)

She came into my room and said we are going to take a bath, “in bed? I thought” but I didn’t ask any questions, not because I didn’t want to, but because I couldn’t…. I couldn’t speak can you believe it…so if I had to ask any questions, it would have to firstly be….”why can’t I speak?”…the likely answer would be “because of a tracheostomy[1], next question “what is that?” “Why do I have it”…so I just decided to give in.

She then unfastens my hands from the bed…I thought no way! This time I’m speaking out! “Why are my hands fastened, I’m not a prisoner!” I shouted, but no one reacted or responded. … Of course, they couldn’t hear me! Shux!

I later learned that my hands were fastened because I was a wrestles patient,  pulling all the pipes that were in me and around me all the time, which created more work for the nurses, because they had to keep on putting the pipes back in J

Visiting hour came; my parents and brothers drove all the way from Potch every single weekend, and sometimes during the week, religiously! And my boyfriend never missed a day, as well as a friend who was with me at the time of the incident, who never missed a weekday.  This was on a Friday, I remember, because I asked, they always had to try and read my lips. My boyfriend told me he was driving to the eastern cape for the weekend, I asked him to wait for me to be discharged so that I can come along…. (He laughs at me till this day about what I said then)… that’s when I learned that I was still going to be there for a long time.

I still didn’t know what the big idea was, why was I in this room? With so many pipes? Why was I getting bed baths, I know how to bathe myself!? Why were there so many people coming to this room every hour? Some came to beat my chest, which they refer to as percussions[2]– I didn’t care what the correct term was, they were beating my chest and it was tiring and painful at times!  Why were my friends crying when they came to see me? (My family was always jolly though), there were just too many questions and it was frustrating me, even more frustrating was the fact that I couldn’t talk.   I had to repeat myself every time, simply because they were struggling to read my lips, that too was tiring, so I learned to keep quiet and only speak when necessary. Those who know me know that is a difficult task for me.

There wasn’t much for me to do, but lie and face the ceiling and think, think, think…I still didn’t know what was up..i recall telling the nurse one day that I needed to go to the bathroom, she asked “why”, I said I needed to urinate, she then told me I didn’t need to go to the bathroom to pass urine, it still didn’t register that I couldn’t walk, I simply wanted to walk out of bed and go to the bathroom, it didn’t register that the days have gone by without me having gone to the bathroom, it was a very confusing time for me, things didn’t quite add up, but I didn’t question them that much.

I remember also asking for food, and I was told that I was already getting food through a feeding pipe… that sucked because I wanted to taste some KFC, McDonalds’, ice cream, and water for crying out loud!

One day I decided not to fight the system and try and figure out a way to deal with the situation at hand. I studied the daily routine (physiotherapist, medication, suction[3] time, visitors( I always looked forward to visiting hours) , more medication, more baths,  ( why I had to take  a bath two to three times a day , beat me! I was lying in bed all the time for Piet sakes…), more beatings from physiotherapist, doctors rounds, more suction (this was the most painful experience of them all, but if it wasn’t done, the phlegm would block my airway and I would struggle to breathe….catch 22!).

I asked for a notepad and paper, so I could communicate better with my visitors and nurses, Asked for a radio so I could listen to music, read magazines, asked for a TV in my room, so I had enough entertainment.

I was already establishing a relationship with Sister Connie, she was there every morning, talking to me about everything, seeing her come in that door always put a smile on my face, she was a true believer in God, and she would read the bible with me and pray with me all the time. Until one day I saw a new face come in my room, “where is Sister Connie “I cried? They changed shifts apparently, I thought I had figured out the whole routine, I was getting comfortable with the routine…but it changed. Oh well… not all’s lost, noted that down and everything went back to normal.

One day, It all made sense, but why didn’t anyone tell me? Why would they leave me to figure it out on my own? Sister Connie came to my room prayed out loud “God please perform a miracle and make Zuki walk again” … WHAT?!!!

Weeks went by, I was still stuck there, Sister Connie kept coming, and we got along very well until she started talking about God, I was polite and listened, but it all came in one ear and out the other “what God?”  I kept thinking… suddenly everyone that came to see me started talking about God!! They probably did talk about God all the time, but I wasn’t aware and now that I had learned that I couldn’t walk, I blamed “their” God, and yet they still came to me to tell me that I should thank him for sparing my life!   What good was this life to be without the use of my legs…he should’ve just taken my life! And I must thank him for sparing it???   It suddenly felt like I was the only sane one in this world…THEY JUST DIDN’T GET IT!

Sister Connie came again one day and asked “close your eyes and tell me which of your toes I’m touching, indicate by showing your fingers “for obvious reasons of course.  The doctor came in while doing his rounds and Sister Connie uttered “doctor, she can feel” he then confirmed it and told me that“having some feeling is a good sign, give it 18 months and there might be progress”, he wasn’t very particular about what he meant by “progress” but the general assumption was that I would be able to walk again in 18 months with continuous physiotherapy.

There was hope! We all thought. I started looking forward to my physiotherapy everyday, days went by, new patients came and left, I was still stuck there, I knew each nurse by name , I was no longer “bed 7” but Zuki/Zux/Zinhle or even “first lady”  I would be called. Had I been there for that long?

The days were fine, for they were busy, but the nights were lonely, lying there in bed staring at the ceiling with gazillion thoughts running in your mind is not a pleasant feeling to go through. I had to come up with a way to deal with the sleepless nights and thoughts, I was given very strong medication for pain and most of it would put me to sleep, but I learned that I had limited dosages, so I would work out when to start feeling the pain, which would be the time when I needed to sleep.  I knew that everyday I had to spare a dosage for after 8:00 pm, then I would “feel pain” and ask for my evening dosage of morphine or Methadone/PethadeneJ

Some days were bearable in hospital but some not, I made some progress and then had a few relapses. I was starting to feel like hospital furniture, envied those patients who left, but I learned to accept and be patient.  About 4 months later, I was moved to the rehabilitation centre…on my way out of the hospital, I was on the look-out for the Gautrain…Thank God! (how ironic) Haven’t missed it.

I later learned that meanwhile while I was busy trying to come to terms with what had happened to me, and enjoying the luxuries and excellent care of being in a top private hospital, my work (TCTA),  were involved in my stay there (and I had only been officially employed with them for less than a month). I learned that they organized funds to have them keep me at Sunninghill instead of move me to a public hospital and not only that; they were having prayers at least once a week at work for my recovery. WOW! And I was angry at God!

I also later learned that while I was lying in bed 7, and the hospital was trying to have me moved,  for TCTA couldn’t keep up with the expenses that I was incurring in ICU, my neurosurgeon put his foot down and was not about to let them move me!

Now, should I take full credit for my recovery NO! Which is another reason why I write this column, to give thanks to everyone that has played a role in this journey? In this chapter alone, I thank Sister Connie, ICU nurses, physiotherapists, my special friend who was with me at the incident, my neurosurgeon, and special thanks to my work/manager (TCTA) five brothers, boyfriend and parents.

Lesson Learned: God will never throw you in a ditch without a rope f! I’m sure we’ve all, always wondered how Mc gyver always had a knife or rope or something to help him get out of a trapped situation…well, I guess God was always there with himJ

Have I answered most of your questions? I look forward to more comments and questions/emails.

To be continued……


[1] A tracheostomy is a surgical procedure to create an opening through the neck into the trachea (windpipe). A tube is usually placed through this opening to provide an airway and to remove secretions from the lungs. This tube is called a tracheostomy tube or trach tube. General anesthesia is used. The neck is cleaned and draped. Surgical cuts are made to expose the tough cartilage rings that make up the outer wall of the trachea. The surgeon then creates an opening into the trachea and inserts a tracheostomy tube.

[2] Percussion is a part of chest physio therapy (CPT) designed to improve respiratory efficiency, promote expansion of the lungs, strengthen respiratory muscles, and eliminate secretions from the respiratory system.

[3] Suction – An act of inserting a suction pipe down the trachea to suck our the phlegm from the lungs

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