A mosquito bite wrecked my life

By Drum Digital
10 November 2010

SHE glances at her child outside and unhappiness spreads across her face. It's been four long years since Nana Ntobela has been able to get out of bed and spend time in the sunshine with her daughter.

"I've watched my little girl grow into a young woman from this bed," Nana (37) says, as a tear trickles down her face. She wipes it away as her husband, Sandile, appears at the door, carrying a soothing cup of tea. She smiles at him gratefully and takes a sip. Ever since Sandile quit his job as a plumber's assistant two years ago, he has served as her helper here in their modest house on the rolling hills of Gcilima near Margate on KwaZulu-Natal's south coast.

Nana suffers from a severe case of elephantiasis, which has caused her left leg to swell beyond recognition. It lies on the queen-sized bed beside her like a separate swollen body. The skin is dark and covered in blisters that constantly ooze a pale liquid and then dry out and peel.

In her case, an infected mosquito bite caused the illness (see box) which has severely affected her life. Her weight has ballooned and her dress size has increased from 48 to 55 in four years.

Now unable to walk, she only leaves her bed once a month to collect her social grant. It's a task her family dreads, because moving her needs nine people and it can take up to an hour just to get her to the vehicle. But the trip is essential as it brings in R1 080 each month – the only income the family has – of which R200 goes on electricity, R800 on food and the balance on medication and transport for Nana's hospital trips.

"It breaks my heart that I'm not able to fulfil my obligations as a wife and a mother," she says. "Sandile baths me and takes care of my every need, including buying my sanitary needs and helping me relieve myself in the bucket. My 15-year-old daughter is now forced to cook and wash my underwear," Nana says.

Her sickness has also robbed her of romance, as Sandile (39) has to sleep in a separate room. "I would love to have more children and live a normal life," she says. But at this stage, normal life seems like a distant dream.

NANA's plight began on the morning of 10 April 2006. She was hanging her family's clothes out to dry when she began to feel strange.

"At first it felt like I was getting a severe cold. Next thing, I was trembling like a leaf," she recalls. She went into the house and lay down, piling blankets on top of herself to get warm.

"Soon a throbbing pain began in my left leg and I noticed it was turning a purple-red colour." Then blisters the size of golf balls began forming on her legs and, with rising panic, she screamed for help. A neighbour heard her and called an ambulance. "It happened so fast. I was in a state of shock by the timeI was rushed to the clinic," she says. "From there I was transferred to Port Shepstone Provincial Hospital."

Read the full article in DRUM of 18 November 2010

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