Weekends WITH SIFISO

2016-12-13 09:42
Christmas came early in our house that year as an excited Sifiso opened the gifts we’d bought him.

Christmas came early in our house that year as an excited Sifiso opened the gifts we’d bought him. (Supplied)

Multimedia   ·   User Galleries   ·   News in Pictures Send us your pictures  ·  Send us your stories

The telephone rang on Thursday afternoon — the day before the Easter weekend.

“There’s a strike at Edendale Hospital. All patients have been moved to other hospitals, but a number of abandoned babies need to be cared for just until the strike ends — maybe for the Easter weekend”.

So it was that three of us arrived at the eerily dark and deserted hospital a short time later.

Instead of the noise, bustle and distressing sights of a busy hospital, all floors were unlit, except for the paediatric ward on the third floor.

We were greeted by the sight of rows of cots, each with a tiny occupant, and a solitary man bending over one of them. He introduced himself as Dr Neil McKerrow, paediatrician in charge at Edendale Hospital.

He’d been on leave when the news came through. “What else could I do? I couldn’t leave these babies unfed and uncared for.”

Colin and Pam, an amazing couple who always have a home full of abandoned babies and children, offered to take in three more. Debbie also fetched one baby whom she and her mother would care for.

Never having coped with small babies before, I was nervous of taking home an infant. So Dr McKerrow brought me one of the older children, Nkosi, a sturdy little boy aged about three years old.

I opted to care for two toddlers — deciding, correctly as it turned out, that they would be company for each other. Neil then suggested Sifiso, about the same age, but warned that he was HIV+.

So Colin, Debbie and I loaded four babies and two toddlers into the back of his station wagon. We were handed some packs of disposable nappies (infant size, so no good for our untoilet-trained tots), and some baby formula, and we set off for home.

We were totally unprepared for the arrival of two bewildered, sleepy little boys who screamed at the sight of our small, tail-wagging dogs. They’d obviously never seen dogs before.

Nkosi and Sifiso had lived all their short lives at Edendale Hospital. They had never experienced anything other than a hospital ward.

We got some basic supplies for the night and tucked them up in the double bed in our spare room, where they quickly fell asleep. But we were rudely woken at first light next morning by hysterical screams, as they found themselves in a totally alien environment.

We calmed them down and brought them through to our bedroom, where we watched with amusement as they suddenly noticed themselves in the big mirror. Nkosi, the more outgoing, immediately figured out he could get the other “person” to copy his movements. Before long he was strutting and showing off. It took shy Sifiso a while before he stopped peeping through his fingers at this strange sight.

A call for help at the Good Friday service brought an array of beautiful clothes for the boys. I dressed each of them (ineptly at first) in whatever clothes were to hand. But I quickly learnt that, once an item had been worn by one, the other accepted it belonged to that child.

If I put a beautiful jersey on Nkosi he would resist and point to Sifiso, until I realised Sifiso had worn it first!

Among the donated clothing was only one pair of slippers. We were amazed the next morning when they came through to us — each wearing just one slipper! No such thing as grabbing for themselves with these two disadvantaged tots!

A shirt or pair of shorts with a pocket, was highly prized. A little hand would find the pocket, there’d be a beaming smile and he’d say: “Squam” (isiquama).

Our Zulu vocabulary improved by leaps and bounds, but their English went from zero to communicating much more rapidly.

Caring for an HIV+ child soon had us realise what a stigma some people live with. We learnt what we could do (most things), but the reactions of some to his status amazed and saddened us.

I was not prepared to don gloves to blow Sifiso’s nose, for example.

In fact, having a supply of gloves to hand became a game, as both boys soon realised they could blow them up. They had great fun marching round the house with these balloons.

Our normally quiet house was transformed with their arrival. We thoroughly enjoyed watching their wonder as they absorbed everything around them. Bath time was a very noisy affair, with much splashing and laughter, and with Mike making as much noise as they did.

Their terror of dogs had to be overcome quickly! It was Good Friday, and on Sunday we were driving with our two dogs to stay in my sister’s house in the Dargle. How could we manage in the car and, beyond that, with her very large Ridgeback?

Our solution was to sit them on the garden steps, right next to me, while Mike walked the dogs on leads in front of them. He started at the opposite end of the lawn, while I tried to pacify two hysterical children. But, as he slowly moved closer, they calmed down.

Amazingly, by the Sunday they not only happily climbed into the car with our dogs but, after initial fear, soon accepted the gentle giant of a dog.

Time came for the 1994 elections, but the strike was still ongoing. We sadly had to stop caring for the boys, as we were both election monitors. After those momentous days, we again offered to care for them. It was with mixed feelings we heard that Nkosi had been adopted by a couple in the Midlands — delight for him, but sadness that we wouldn’t see his bright smile again. We often wonder what became of him, and hope that he’s now a confident young man in his 20s.

Little Sifiso continued to visit us at weekends, even after the strike ended. His father visited him infrequently at the hospital, so he was not available for adoption.

One Friday afternoon, Sifiso wasn’t his usual cheerful self, and was obviously very unwell. Geoff Prosser, another of the wonderful paediatricians at Edendale Hospital, lived near us. I rang him and he offered to look in on his way home. His diagnosis was pneumonia — serious enough for anyone, but particularly bad for someone who was HIV+.

So Geoff returned him to Edendale. Only later did Geoff casually mention he and his wife were due out for dinner that night. I hope they kept his food hot!

News the next day was that Sifiso was very ill in ICU, and it was better we didn’t visit him. Soon numbers of people were praying for him. By Sunday we decided to visit him anyway.

He wasn’t in paediatric ICU so we went to the children’s ward. As we walked in the door a small figure came running down the length of the long room, yelling: “Mikey, Mikey”, and threw himself into Mike’s arms. The staff saw no reason why we couldn’t take him home, so he had time with us that weekend after all.

Early in December, the hospital rang to say Sifiso’s father was coming the next day to take him home. So, after work, we brought him home for a final night. Christmas came early in our house that year as an excited child opened the gifts we’d bought him.

We then met his father and his new wife. He’d not been able to care for his little son as his wife had left him, and he’d twice had his home burnt in the ANC-IFP violence in the Midlands. But now he had a lovely new wife, who shyly told us she was going to stay at home to care for her stepson.

A few weeks later we invited them to visit us. Sifiso was so excited, and dragged them round our house saying “my room”, “my doggies”, “my garden”. We were so pleased to see this family together.

We visited them twice in their small house in Hammarsdale. The first time Sifiso cried when we left, but the next time he waved goodbye cheerily while holding his new mother’s hand. We then decided it was kinder to stay away so he could properly settle in his new home. One day I phoned his father’s employer in Pinetown, only to be told that he had died a short time before. We then had no means of contacting his wife, and often wondered what happened to Sifiso.

Several years later an intern from Northdale saw Sifiso’s photo while visiting us and asked about him. When we mentioned he’d been HIV+, he immediately said there was a boy named Sifiso, aged about eight, who was dying. Could he be “our” Sifiso?

The surname didn’t match, but we wondered whether he could have taken his stepmother’s name. Sadly, Richard said this child was so near death that we wouldn’t recognise him anyway.

But we’ve always regretted not being there for whichever Sifiso he was.

Diana Coke and her husband Mike recently moved uphill from Pietermaritzburg. She had always said: “I never want to live in Howick”, but, within a week of moving, she realised what a good move this was.

(Mike took a little longer, but now agrees wholeheartedly!) However, clearing out over 35 years of accumulated stuff was a nightmare which neither of them want to repeat.

It was very hard leaving behind memories built up over such a long time while living there, but fortunately their very good friends are still in touch, and not too far away. It’s also closer to the Berg.

About the author:

Diana Coke and her husband Mike recently moved uphill from Pietermaritzburg. She had always said: “I never want to live in Howick”, but, within a week of moving, she realised what a good move this was.
(Mike took a little longer, but now agrees wholeheartedly!) However, clearing out over 35 years of accumulated stuff was a nightmare which neither of them want to repeat.
It was very hard leaving behind memories built up over such a long time while living there, but fortunately their very good friends are still in touch, and not too far away. It’s also closer to the Berg.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  true stories of kzn 2016

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Inside News24

 
ADVERTORIAL
Competition regulation for a growing and inclusive economy

ADVERTORIAL: The Competition Commission of South Africa is conducting advocacy work in the South African automotive aftermarket industry and has gazetted a Draft Code of Conduct for public comment.

/News
 

Men.24 Model of the Week: Wendy from Cape Town

Find out more about our featured model, Wendy from Cape Town

 
 

You won't want to miss...

Who are the highest paid models of 2017?
10 gorgeous plus-sized models who aren't Ashley Graham
WATCH: Pornhub is giving users free access to premium content these holidays
5 top leg exercises for men
Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.