Sunday, February 08, 2004

If not for you 

My wife saved Nancy's life. Nancy is our maid. Domestic worker. Anyway, I was right about her going home to die. She had gone on the Friday, and spent the weekend telling her family what to do with her house and belongings. On Sunday night she called us to say that she wasn't coming on Monday. My wife managed to talk her into coming anyway to see our doctor, who diagnosed diabetes - her blood glucose was off the scale - and sent her straight to hospital. By the time they got there, Nancy could barely speak, let alone walk, and had to be practically carried into the ward. She was slipping into a coma and probably would have gone within a day or two. Without my wife.

If you knew my wife, you might not be that surprised – she is an incredible person, and although life-saving is outside of her normal day to day activities, she is certainly capable of great things. What particularly interests me is that she says she felt guided in what she was doing. At every stage, from persuading Nancy to come to us, through to getting her to the hospital and by-passing the casualty queue, she had a clear and singular purpose in her mind the whole time. There was never any doubt as to what she should do next, and she had no trouble in the execution.

The other thing that strikes me about this is the way that Nancy accepted what was happening to her. She was dying, and as far as she was concerned, that was that. Nancy is black, a Xhosa, and blacks in South Africa, in case you missed the news, were treated with casual cruelty and legislated malice during apartheid South Africa, for about 40 years until 1990. Nancy, in particular, has had a tough life – her husband (who is now dead) beat her, and she is still working to support her grandchildren. In the years that she has worked for us, she has never taken a day off sick, and even in the last few weeks and months, when she was heading to what was about to become a fatal coma on Monday night, she did not admit to any problem, despite our frequently voiced concern. She had been looking tired and old, but had worked through her failing eyesight, aching limbs, and other problems as just more things that life was throwing at her. Stoic isn’t in it.

I’m not sure what the moral is here. Get a second opinion. Surround yourself with people who care. Listen to your body and look after your health. Look out for those around you.

Listening to: The Bare Necessities. It’s the weekend, and the kids are in charge.

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