Experience – Unexpected, Part 1

2014 had started quite bleak for me. My last colleague and friend at my previous company had left us in January, one of 9 people who had moved on to greener pastures throughout 2013. I was completely on my own and the mercy of a somewhat unreasonable boss.  I was doing the work of 3 sales persons, monitoring all of the projects the veterinarians had started and doing grunt work like delivering product because our teams couldn’t dispatch anything in time.

I was at wits end come February 2014, travelling more than 8000km (5000 miles) per month. On one particular journey in February, I was rushing from the small town of Swartruggens to Zeerust (another small town) when I got a tyre puncture. Now, something I have to add is that this is quite a regular thing for me. I considered waiting like a damsel in distress on this dirt road in the middle of nowhere but then I realised that I a) didn’t have the patients to do so and b) didn’t want to risk being mugged. So, I got into my overalls that I normally keep for farm visits, changed the tyre and set on my merry way. I didn’t even think about it twice, apart from the grumbled realisation that I was going to have to replace another tyre.

The next morning however, I woke up in pain. I had been in an unfamiliar bed and had thought that I had simply slept the wrong way on my left shoulder. The bed and breakfast lady, (who treats me like a daughter rather than a client) volunteered to rub my shoulder for me. I allowed her to do so for about a minute but upon manipulation of the joint the pain was so excruciating that I soon bid her to stop. I drank an anti-inflammatory and went to my car where I discovered another problem. The shoulder refused to move. I couldn’t lift it, couldn’t change the gears, couldn’t even raise my arm to the steering wheel. As I sat there in my car, more than 300km from home, I began to suspect that I might have a problem. I went to the local doctor, hoping for an emergency consultation but the good town of Zeerust has only 3 doctors and on that particular day, only one was working. The secretary immediately pinned me for a foreigner and sweetly said that she could only help me the next morning. I explained that it would be a very quick consultation, but no. I had to wait till the morning. The pain in my shoulder was getting worse at that stage and because I had to drive home, I didn’t want to take too many pain medication so I lost my temper with Zeerust and decided to head back to civilisation. I called my friend and physiotherapist on the way home and requested that she sees me when I returned. She was able to fit me in immediately.

As luck would have it, with only one arm and no way to safely change gears, I was struck in one of the worst rains storms I had ever driven in that day. A journey that usually took me two and a half hours now took me four and I’ll be the first to confess that I was crying from frustration and pain by the time I reached my friend. She looked at the shoulder but her prognosis wasn’t good or comforting. I either had bursitis, an inflammation in the shoulder joint, or I had somehow torn my rotator cuff ligaments. I had to go to the emergency room but as I didn’t have the strength for it that evening, I stalled till the next day.

Which happened to be a Friday.

In hindsight, my timing probably wasn’t as well thought out as it should’ve been, but I still feel that regardless of what time one arrives at an emergency room, the level of service should always be professional. As it was, my experience hadn’t been very pleasant.

For one thing, because I’m not in the habit of putting up a performance, the emergency staff didn’t take me very seriously, thinking that I was there to waste their time. My shoulder was in agony, I could hardly close my hand from the pain, but I didn’t sit there with a moaning expression on my face declaring how much it hurt. I was friendly to the admittance staff, joked a bit and very clinical with the doctor as I described my symptoms. Her doubt was clear immediately and I would never forget how she had looked at me and said:

“Well, you realise that we will have to do a scan. And take x-rays. If it’s not serious and we don’t admit you, you will have to pay for it.” She had said it with so much doubt, implying that I was lying that I was angry immediately.

“I’ve brought my credit card,” I had told her and gave her its limit. “I’m pretty sure I’ll be able to cover whatever expenses I have. And I know that I’ll be scanned, that’s why I came here because despite my many talents it’s the one thing I can’t do on my own.”

In hind sight, I might’ve been grumpy because of the pain that I was in, but with a sceptical look, the doctor had taken me to radiology and left me at their Friday staff’s mercy. They were the ones who had the pleasure of delivering the blow of bad news to me. A hasty scan later, the radiology department confirmed that I had indeed torn all of the ligaments in my shoulder. The only treatment was surgery and I was lead back to the emergency room, with the knowledge that my life had suddenly changed in the blink of an eye.

You see, I knew that this surgery was complicated and it took months to recover from. The icing on the cake was that a few months prior, my CEO had fired one of our previous employees because had he had torn all of the ligaments in his knee and the CEO didn’t want to allocate him the given amount of leave. With my left shoulder out of action, knowing how difficult it as for me to drive, I couldn’t imagine that my CEO would spare me.

The emergency room doctor had turned a corner in her behaviour however. Upon seeing the results, she was suddenly concerned, even asking me in how much pain I was exactly. Despite my shock, I couldn’t help but be a little bit snarky.

“As much as I was in when you first saw me,” I had said. “More so now that my shoulder’s been moved for the scan.”

She had the grace to apologise to me and even offer pain medication. But, it was a very thin salve for a deep wound. They wanted to admit me to the hospital immediately, to schedule surgery but the orthopaedic surgeon was out of town and none of the other alternatives were available. I was scheduled to see the hospital’s orthopaedic surgeon the Monday and booked off for a week. Surgery was tentatively scheduled for that Tuesday and I was send home for the weekend to sort out my life that felt as if it had been irreparable turned upside down.

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Power and a Reflection

I had one of my long business trips this week to a part of our rural countryside in the North West of our country. I travel there quite often and have come to have a standing arrangement with a Bed and Breakfast who take me in as their daughter, who sees that I am fed and who gives me treats which are not put on the tab of my account. I appreciate this, as it’s tough being on the road.
And, admittedly, as someone who eats most of her meals alone, it’s nice to sometimes sit down and have a family meal.
When I joined these people on Wednesday I was pleasantly surprised to find another addition to the family. A 19 year old American had joined them to experience the art of working and doing hunting in South Africa. It’s a part of a summer school project which had him and other youngsters placed out on farms in the surrounding area where they are to work with the owners so that they could learn what conservation was all about. This American, whom I shall name Sonny to protect his privacy, came from the city of New Jersey and have, to my knowledge, not had a lot of farm experience so this was all very new to him.
Something else that was new to him was the lack of computers and internet in his life because the family that he lives with comes from the BC age.
Before Computers.
In a strange way, I immediately found a strange kinship with Sonny – even though I didn’t express this to him. He was a foreigner, cut off from everything that he took for granted back home, and he was in an area where they not only spoke English just as a means of self defense, but he had no access to his friends or family if they didn’t phone (and the telephones lines are down more often than not in that area).
I felt sorry for him because I sensed in him the isolation that I had lived in for a short time in England. I had realized there how dependent we had become on the internet to keep in touch, to link up our lives with others. And, I had used it to communicate with my family – something he thought that he’d be able to do as well.
So, that night – as I was looking at him across the dinner table, feeling sorry for him that the family kept talking in a language that he didn’t understand, I offered him my work computer and internet connection – telling him that he could use it for as long as the battery held. He looked at me suddenly in a whole new light, in a way that could only be expressed as gratitude.
The thing was that, even though it was a bit of an inconvenience for me (I really needed to work), I realized that universally – we have to be other people’s family if they do not have their own close by. It’s something that carried me in England, where I went out with a kamakazi like attitude and build myself a family that rivals no other. People whom I love and depend on.
I saw a reflection of myself in this young man and realized that the best kindness that I could do for him, was to help him find some touch of normality in this foreign, isolated bit of the world. Even if it meant playing around on Facebook, it would give him some stability, some touch to the life he left behind.
Just as I had found ways to keep in touch with mine when I was far from home.

There’s Rain in Africa

I felt a little bit exposed to the elements this week.
I live in a summer rainfall area of South Africa and normally, we don’t really have rain until the 10th of October. But, this year – we didn’t really have rain at all until the 16th of December. And since then, it’s been coming down in buckets.
I’m not complaining about the rain, naturally. If I complain about that, then I am never allowed to complain about the fact that it doesn’t rain ever again. I love rain and on the odd occasion, I even like getting caught in the rain. There’s something invigorating about standing in the pouring sheets of water. The rain drops are cool and sweet, much better than any normal shower.
Of course, I do not appreciate having rain in my car…

I’m taking a few steps back.

I started work again on Tuesday after having the week off between Christmas and New Years. My first day was spent in the office, catching up with beginning of the year paperwork and assignments that I neglected to do before I took my leave. Wednesday I decided to start my traveling again to the chicken farms where I do my business. I drove to an area relatively close to us (about two hours drive) and I could tell right off that it was going to be a very wet day as the thick white clouds followed me wherever I went.

The roads were also in a terrible condition (though I should add that they were bad to begin with). As things are in my country, the tax payer’s money rarely reaches its designation and our municipalities do not see the value of fixing roads. (They’d much rather all drive shiny cars). I took these pictures coming back from my appointments to show to my work as proof why I had been late for more than half of my appointments. My traveling time was almost doubled because I had to constantly stop, dodge pot holes, get off the side of the road, crawl through some poor farmer’s maize field and then finally get onto the road again only to be held up by some poor soul who needed to change a tire… It was harrowing to say the least and not for the first time, I found myself wishing that I had a 4×4, not a small little hatchback Opel Corsa Lite.

But, I came past all the literal pit falls in my road safely, without even loosing one of my tires, a feet very few people accomplished that day. If you look at the photos, I would like to point out that most of the road looked like this

I was pretty fed up with driving by the time I turned home, but Mother Nature was not done with me yet. The clouds, which had disappeared over lunch time, came back with a vengeance and pretty soon, dark clouds stole my sunshine and anointed me with more rain. This would’ve been fine if I had that 4×4 but sadly, my tiny little Corsa isn’t very rainproof. Or rain friendly. In order to keep my windows from fogging up, I have to keep one window open. I don’t mind getting wet all that much, but this was no ordinary storm. Before long, I was driving (slowly) through knee deep water, keeping my eyes fixed on the car in front of me, trying to take comfort in the fact that the car behind me was a jeep and could pull me out of the mud if I sailed into any trouble. To add to my discomfort, a truck stormed by me, sending a wave of muddy brown water into my lap because I had to keep my window open…

Again, I’m not complaining about the rain. For all the flooding that’s been happening (which wouldn’t have happened if people build things correctly and kept nature’s water ways in mind when they put up settlements…) it’s been a blessing. On the farm where I keep my horse we’ve really had a grazing problem because there was just no grass for the animals to eat. The wonder is how quickly everything just suddenly started growing! Grass which looked barely alive a couple of weeks ago now stood almost ankle high, lush and green, the bare ground almost completely covered. I am thankful for it every day and there’s no such thing as too much rain. There is, however, something like an inefficient car…