I am a 54 year old widow, have seven children, some of whom are married and have given me wonderful grandchildren. I live on a (farm) north of Eshowe in kwaZulu/Natal.
Three years ago my husband passed away; and so I have to take care of our children alone, who are still at school. One day I was working diligently in the field where I grow vegetables to feed my family; suddenly I had this terrible headache. It was exceptionally hot, so I didn't take much notice of the pain, thinking it was just a normal headache because of the sun. When I finished weeding for the day and watered the vegetables, I went home tired. I was exhausted and sweaty. The children were back from school and hungry, as usual. The pots of uPuthu (maize porridge) and stew were by the fire and the food was almost ready. Pain, oh, such pain! My head is bursting. I remember my eldest daughter calling me from some distance away. "Mummy, mummy!" I have to go to her, she is in trouble and needs me. There is no one else to help her. "Mama, mama!" I have to go to her, but it is so hard, so dark, like having to swim through soup.
I open my eyes and there is Thokozile, my little baby. Tears were streaming down her face. I tried to lift my hand to wipe the tears away, but my hand would not obey me. My head commanded my arm to move, but nothing happened. Slowly it dawned on me: something was seriously wrong. I tried to ask my family what had happened, but the words that came out sounded twisted and no one could understand me. Finally, a man dressed in white came into the room. Then I realised I was in a hospital. "You have had a stroke," he said to me. "You are paralysed on the left side." He did some examinations.
My face, arm and hand and leg wouldn't move.
That must have been one of the worst moments of my life. I had never thought that something like that could happen to me.
The days passed. The programme was the same every day. The physiotherapists were so nice and friendly. They encouraged me to continue with my exercises. Very soon the doctor discharged me from the hospital where I felt safe and secure. The family took me home to the (farm). "How am I going to manage?" I thought. I was so tired after the journey that I fell asleep. The next morning I woke up because my little daughter was crying. She was hungry. I tried to get up to help her, but I could not. I fell on the floor. Sobbing, I dragged myself to her on the floor and tried to comfort her. We sat together for a long time. When she had calmed down again, I asked her to help me and to do exactly what I told her. She was a little angel. She did everything I asked her to do, but a four-year-old child can only help you so much. The older children had already left for school. So I sat on the cold cement floor of my hut for hours until the older children came home.
How was I supposed to manage?
Somehow we got through the next week, but conditions at home became more and more complicated and difficult. Is that a car I hear? Please, Lord, let that be a visitor! What a relief, it's my daughter Dudu and her husband from Mandeni. There is not much discussion, they put my children and me in the car and drive me to their home. The house is small, it has only four rooms: two bedrooms, a living room and a kitchen. We had to reorganise a lot to fit all of us into the small flat. My daughter, her husband and their two children now sleep in one room and my three children and I sleep in the other. Ngiyabonga, Nkosi! Thank you, Lord(God)! You have really blessed me with good children. Now if only I could become independent again!
One day my son-in-law came home with the news that there was help for me and accurately so in Mandeni. A new centre had been opened with volunteers ready to help. Simon told the family that he had spoken to the people at Blessed Gerhard's Care and Social Centre and that they would come to see me early the next day. The morning comes, it is a beautiful sunny day and I feel happy for the first time in months. The anticipation is almost unbearable.
Finally, the ladies in white and black arrive at nine o'clock. They seem so nice. But they speak English. How am I supposed to explain to them what I want and how I feel?
It doesn't matter. Simon tells them what happened instead of me. One woman takes my blood pressure and asks a lot of questions. The other one shows so much compassion that tears come to my eyes.
They promise to come the next day and take me to this centre in Mandeni. Although I am happy, I am also nervous. What will it be like? Will they speak Zulu? Is it a hospital? What will happen if I want something, maybe a cup of tea? Will they take me home again? Will I ever be independent again?
I shouldn't have worried at all. When we arrived at Blessed Gérard's Care and Social Centre the next day, there were other people there like me. I had never realised that I was not the only one in the world who had suffered a stroke.
I was so caught up in my own pain and self-pity, as it were, that I had never considered that there might be someone worse off than me. The (volunteer) helpers are so friendly; and even the language barrier, which is there, doesn't matter. We get tea and biscuits, and then the therapy starts. It is not difficult because we are all together in a group and everyone is laughing and happy. After lunch we are asked if we would like to have a nap. Only one man says yes. The others are so excited that we can't rest. We go back out to the terrace to do more exercises with fun, laughter and joy.
For a short time, all the pain and suffering are forgotten. By now it has become 4 pm and it is time to return home. That night I slept like I haven't for months. There really is help for me. I can't wait until I am allowed to continue my rehabilitation the next morning.
For four weeks now, it has been going on in the same pattern. I am able to stand up and walk with a crutch, which was lent to me by the Brotherhood of Blessed Gerard. My arm is still very stiff, but day by day my condition is improving. I can now speak (again), but more important than anything is that I have made new friends.
Now I don't go to the care and social centre anymore, but the (volunteer) helpers follow up and visit me every week. I look forward to every Tuesday because I know my friends will come. My leg and my ability to speak are improving visibly, and now I walk short distances without my crutch. Soon I will be able to go home.
Thank you, Lord!