His biggest hope at the moment is that he’ll get the complicated surgery he needs – and that it will be successful.
While the anxiety over waiting for the surgery gets to him sometimes, his greatest worry by far is his family and others who depend on him, says Johan Botha from Centurion, Gauteng.
Two-and-a-half weeks ago, Johan broke his neck in a serious diving accident. He’s speaking to YOU from his hospital bed.
Johan (39) is a large, strong man who’s always been the protector of his wife, Anneke (34), and two children, Jolize (15) and Hanré (12). He’s the estate manager for a home for the disabled and worries about what will become of the residents now that he’s unable to work. He feels entirely helpless.
Johan is in Kalafong Hospital in Pretoria, awaiting surgery that might save him from paralysis.
He’s wearing a neck brace to keep his head completely immobilised. “I’m bedridden at the moment. The slightest bump can leave me paralysed. My wife has to help wash me every day.”
But at least he can still move his arms and legs, says the estate manager of the Irene Homes for the mentally disabled.
He’s grateful he could get up at all after his head hit the swimming pool’s bottom – which was invisible because the water was cloudy – at a holiday resort near Pretoria. He weighs 125kg and the water was barely a metre deep, so the impact when he dove into the bottom was tremendous.
He broke one of his neck vertebrae and the impact also shattered one of the intervertebral discs – “it’s completely gone”. Another lower-back vertebrae was cracked, and so is his sternum.
Because of all this damage, there’s swelling around his spine that’s putting painful pressure on his nerves.
“I’m basically constantly in excruciating pain, from my shoulders and shoulder blades down my arms. My middle fingers feel numb. They’ve given me morphine but it makes me fuzzy and my skin tingles from it, so I’m trying to get by without it as much as possible.”
He’s able to sleep for about an hour at a time if he takes a sleeping tablet. The cracked sternum is also causing problems. If, for example, he coughs, his neck brace presses down on it, causing intense pain. He has oxygen at hand for when he feels short of breath.
He’s worried about his family too. “My wife and kids are home alone. I’m lying here and I have no control over what happens at home.”
Anneke is trying to be strong for him and the kids but he says sometimes when she’s bathing him, he can see she’d been crying.
“The children are struggling to cope too. Until recently, we’d played cricket and done outdoorsy stuff together. Then, suddenly, they were forced to spend a large part of their school holiday with me in hospital.”
His biggest hope is that he’ll get the surgery soon. “To be able to get out of here and start working on my recovery.”
There’s a long waiting list at Kalafong and limited space in ICU, so his surgery has been delayed. But he’s trying to stay positive. He says his surgeon visited him on Tuesday morning. “He said if everything goes according to plan, he’ll operate next week.”
The surgeon explained to Johan that he’ll be implanting screws and plates to strengthen his spine. Possible complications include paralysis, life-threatening blood clots and impotence.
Despite the limited resources, Johan says, “The hospital is looking after me well. The doctors go out of their way – I’m very grateful to them and everyone who’s supporting me.”
He’s anxious about the surgery, he says, because he lost a family member on the operating table. But other neck surgery patients, “whom I’d never met before”, have come around to show their support and encourage him.
“I’m really hoping to go back to my job like before. As estate manager for Irene Homes I do all of their maintenance work – hard, physical work outside in the open air.”
He talks about what a big influence the residents, including those with Down syndrome, have on him as a family man. “I’ve been working there for two years. And I love my job.”