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The phone call

On the evening of 19 June 2012, I was sitting at my dining room table, a long ten seater at around 9h30pm doing my final preparations for an industry related exam which was to take place the following day, when my phone rang. It was my brother. Despite anticipating a long night ahead of reading through reams of paper, I opted to answer the call, thinking a brief break would do me good. Or so I thought.

My elder brother, (my sister, Charmaine being the eldest and I the youngest), begins by asking whether I had spoken to our mother sometime that evening.

A question I found rather unusual since our mother, my sister and her two-year-old son were on a brief vacation at the time in a rural village in the hills of Nkandla, a few hours outside of Durban. I responded no, but that I had been in contact with her two days prior.

I recall a long conversation with Charmaine, just catching up on their stay and whether all was in order. The call lasted for more than an hour and while catching up on amongst others, family-related matters and her upcoming plans on her return. During this chat she informed me that the three had developed some sort of stomach bug which, more than likely was due to the consumption of drinking water which had been gathered from a nearby stream. This was in no way an unusual practice for locals from the area. She informed me that she had taken her son to a local doctor and received some medication that would resolve the minor irritation, including that of her own and that of my mother. While she felt somewhat under the weather, their was no cause for concern and a day or two of rest would be all that would be required.

It was around this time that my brother had informed me that our sister had just died!

I vividly recall the first thought that entered my mind, the judgment of incompetence, that is! On whose part I am not certain, but surely this was not possible. How on earth could it be possible, that a 44 year old mother of one child, healthy and fit, (apart from having gained a few kilos since the birth of her child), simply die due to a stomach bug? Surely someone was being incompetent in their diagnoses of this patient?

Being a “level-headed” thinker in times of crisis, I was startled by the news and thought I'd make a call or two and resolve this matter quickly and efficiently, and would deal with my brother’s irresponsible assertion later.

The first call I made was to my mother, dialing my sister’s mobile phone. To my surprise, my distraught mother confirmed the news shared with me earlier. Still in complete disbelief and refusing to accept that this could indeed be true, I calmly asked that she hand over the phone, firstly to  a police officer and secondly a medical nurse present on the scene. My question to both, and in particular to the medical nurse, was a simple one, “Please could you verify and confirm to me, that the patient is indeed deceased and not simply in “a state of unconsciousness”. The answer was not what I had wanted to hear and so the question of incompetence in my mind had to be ruled out with a sense of reluctance.

The scene of the incident was a public walkway at the then newly-built King Shaka International airport in Durban. The trio was on their return trip home to Cape Town after a two-week stay and had already boarded the aircraft when Charmaine took seriously ill and needed to be offloaded in order to receive medical attention. While being wheeled off to the airport clinic, she was declared deceased.

How ironic it is, that we become nameless when we stop speaking.

We are given a name at birth which we use throughout our living years, yet in a matter of seconds, we are given a new name - “the deceased”. A reference I found myself stubbornly refusing to accept. Ever since her passing, I have continued to refer to her by her name, as I always have and as I always will, Charmaine.

My mind immediately moved on to dealing with the practicalities of the situation at hand. Pardon the numbering structure of what is to follow, but this how my mind functions. In “compartments”

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