The loss of Beauty

2012-11-08 17:32

Georgina Guedes

Last week Beauty died. She was our domestic worker and my children's nanny, and we loved her dearly. Although her passing has left a gaping hole in our lives that we won't fill in a millennium of trying, our loss is incomparable to what her two children, her sisters and her brother are going through.

Beauty, or Nobuhle, was aptly named; she was a beautiful person, both inside and out. She was one of five women that the employment agency sent for an interview, and as soon as I saw her face, I felt a connection. She immediately engaged with my children, and we bonded over a love of cooking – during her breaks, she would browse through the pages of my cookbooks.

She was with me for my daughter's first day of school and the birth of my son, and I shared her joy (and consternation) at the birth of her second grandchild, and her son's successes at university. While I was on maternity leave, I followed her around the house, chatting about this and that, while my baby slept in my arms.

Then, when Henry was around three months old, Beauty got sick. What seemed like a sore foot and a chest cold turned out to be a heart infection that required months of hospitalisation and rehabilitation. Her sister came to help us out for a while, but after four months, a thinner, slower Beauty came back to us.

And then she improved. She had a monthly clinic appointment to assess the healing of her foot – the first telltale sign of her heart complaint lingered to haunt her. Progress was slow, but she was getting better. She gained weight and she had more energy. I believed that everything was going to be OK.

Then, two weeks ago, I could see that she was struggling again. I asked her what was wrong, and she said her foot was troubling her. I told her to go back to the clinic and she made an appointment for the Saturday. I said goodbye to her on Friday afternoon, having no idea that that would be the last time that I saw her.

They turned her away at the clinic. They told her that she had her scheduled appointment the following week and that they would see her then. She went home. She called me on Sunday to say that she wasn't feeling well, and I told her to go straight to the hospital. The hospital called me on Monday morning to say that she had died in the night. They couldn't explain what had happened.

Losing a loved one is a terrible experience no matter what age the person or what the surrounding circumstances are. But the tragedy is compounded when the death is senseless. I don't know what killed Beauty, but I do know that when she was feeling so terrible she went to a medical facility for help and they turned her away.

There are so many issues that made this possible. The legacy of our past and a blatant lack of respect for human life and individual suffering among those in the medical fraternity combined to result in a wonderful woman being sent home to die without so much as an aspirin.

I know that the government is assessing ways to bring healthcare to everyone in this country and I applaud their efforts even as I question the affordability of doing so with so small a tax base. At the same time, I appeal to the doctors and nurses who treat the masses to remember their humanity and compassion, and do the best that they can at the most important job that they do – preserving life and dignity.

Beauty, you will be sorely missed, and I will do what I can to help your family now that you, your strength, your determination and your love have been taken from them.

- Georgina Guedes is a freelance writer. You can follow @georginaguedes on Twitter.

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  • penny.sachs - 2012-11-08 19:04

    I was so moved to read this compassionate piece.

  • roussouw.badenhorst - 2012-11-08 23:23

    The colonial life... Having a servant, that can mean so much and make such a difference to the lives of so many. Just think dear, in which other country (outside of Africa) can you still get such a dedicated person running your life, educating your kids and maintaining your household for less than $5 dollars a day. Yeah, know the down votes will come, but there is SO much to loose :-)

      jomar.delange - 2012-11-08 23:29

      I can't afford to lose the woman who takes care of my kids yet I cannot afford to pay her a 'proper' living wage (she earns R4500pm). She can't afford not to work. It is what it is.

      jcoetzee1975 - 2012-11-09 08:07


  • montebenard - 2012-11-09 07:53

    My question....what did you do uniquely to create a difference? Did you take her to a good hospital and spend R500 or less on a cardiologist for her to get proper diagnosis instead of sending her to the pathetic government clinic? NO. If she was that close to you, did you increase your household medical cover premium by at most R112 to include her in the cover as a domestic worker as an option.....I say, you loved her, your kids may have loved her more.....see what you can do to help her kids....

  • judith.taylor.56 - 2012-11-09 08:11

    Dear Georgina - I really feel for you and for her family. Your story is deeply moving

  • lucille.bowman.50 - 2012-11-09 09:12

    I understand your loss, our domestic worker is a blessing in our lives. I would ask however that you refrain from using such sweeping statements as "blatant lack of respect for human life and individual suffering among those in the medical fraternity". Being one of those " in the medical fraternity", I can assure you that we have a very high regard for human life and do our upmost in every situation to help our patients. Many of us work long hours with few breaks to try and help as many as we humanly can. We wouldn't be here if we didn't care deeply about our patients. And yes, unfortunately we are faced with lack of services and facilities, and much to our frustration people do die. But please don't think that we turn a blind eye and continue unaware of the impact of this on families and communities. We are burdened by the loss of life we face, we carry it with us in our hearts everyday but we try look ahead and focus on the the next human life that we are entrusted to care for.

      celia.lister.5 - 2012-11-10 20:03

      I too am a health care worker and have seen some shocking lack of service delivery in the public sector - so bad that I could no longer be a part of the system that just 'didn't care'. i have heard from friends who work in ICU in the public sector who have damning evidence of lack of care. And so I have turned back to the private sector for job satisfaction. How sad to see that nursing has just become a job where all the employee gets out of it is a pay packet at the end of the month. It is definitely no longer a calling where people care - those are very few and far between.

  • Lucyfire - 2012-11-09 14:18

    Reading the comments on this post makes me believe that the human race has lost it's compassion. Turning it into a political or blaming the writer for not doing more? I human life was lost senselessly! Why bicker about it??? You all disgust me.\r\n\r\nGeorgina, so terribly sorry for your loss.

  • gerhard.uys.7 - 2012-11-10 10:08

    One can sense the compassion in your writing, Georgina. It is touching. Keep hoping and believing - this world is not heaven. . But we can keep imparting bits of heaven with actions such as yours.

  • warrenhardwick1 - 2012-11-14 15:00

    Your Beauty OUR Beauty GODS Beauty

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