Due to periods of acrimony between her parents, it was decided that it would be best to part ways. This resulted into the children being split. One of the biggest impacts was that because this happened in the middle of the year, Grace could not carry on with her education and decided to stay home.
After numerous attempts of her parents reconciling, things just could not work out which resulted in them continuing to live separately. Sadly, some years later, Graces grandmother passed away. To make matters worse, while completing grade 10, Grace found herself pregnant. The baby, a little girl, was born in 1993 and her mother did extra jobs while looking after the baby in order for her to finish her education.
Around this time Grace’s mother started becoming ill. The clinic diagnosed that she was HIV positive. This was at the time in the health service when anti- retroviral were controversially unavailable so the momentum of that status gradually gave way to full blown AIDS. Grace nursed her mother through these incredibly difficult and sad times. Eventually her mom succumbed to pneumonia resulting in her passing away.
Grace in the meantime had another baby. This time a boy! As time passed she too started becoming ill. Life was a struggle bringing up 2 children on her own and she began to tire physically and started coughing. She went to the clinic and was diagnosed with HIV and TB where she was put on the community Dot program. Her daily treatment was supervised and given to her in her home. At the Daveyton Clinic the TB counsellor, Mr Minisi, recognising how critical Grace’s health was and how minimal her support, referred her to Hospice East Rand.
Sister Lethiwe was the Hospice Sister for that area. She duly registered Grace as a hospice patient, attending to her specific needs while liaising with Mr Minisi in terms of the Dot support. It was a shared responsibility.
Sometime after this Grace’s condition became worse. She had bronchitis and pneumonia. She was told that she had only 50% functioning lung on the left side. The TB damage had been severe.
Her pneumonia was treated but she remained in a very ill and weakened state. Her weight loss was constant, she could not eat. The doctors in the hospital refused to discharge her unless she was taken care of by relatives. That was eventually organised and an aunt agreed to look after her.
This was the beginning of a 6-month life of hell. She was almost too weak to know what was happening to her. What was happening was that she was transferred to the home of an aunt while her children remained near the home but in the care of another family member. Grace was housed in a derelict room at the side of the house. The door locked always where she laid in her bed unaware most of the time. The relatives fed her pap and pap only. She had a container for her ablutions which was only emptied once at the end of the day. By this time, she was totally cachectic.
One day when the adults of the family were not present a young member of the family came into the room and started pushing her about which resulted in her falling. Her ankle became bruised and extremely painful and Grace could hardly walk. When the aunt returned she feared what she saw and called an ambulance to take Grace to the Far East Rand Hospital where her foot was x-rayed and found to be badly strained but not broken.
From that moment Sr Lethiwe became her lifeline. She would see her once a week and continued to share her care with Mr Minisi. Each time Sr Lethiwe would have something to offer Grace, be it a home cooked meal, food, blankets …even a dining room table and chairs. In Sr Lethiwe’s words the shack she was staying in was “hardly even a shack, more like a chicken run!”
This relationship cemented the road to recovery for Grace. Years pass and Grace slowly but surely recovers her health. Thanks to the incredible care of Hospice East Rand through the capable and caring hands of Sr Lethiwe, and the committed service of Mr Minisi. Grace is no longer the frail, underweight Grace of old but she is a tall beautiful captivating lady generously rounded and with an incredible air of dignity! She has been coming to the Day-care at Hospice East Rand since 2002. She is well loved there. In Benoni town she has a little business, selling shoes and atchar. The money she makes from the atchar pays for her taxi fare to and from Etwatwa.
Her daughter has grown up to be an incredibly gifted young lady. She studied biochemistry and has been offered an opportunity to further her studies in Holland next year! Her son is in Gr12 this year and doing well!
Grace is an incredible example of courage, fortitude and amazing personal strength! Asked how she managed to sustain these qualities she says …it was due to her relationship and trust in God. On that same journey, she acknowledges also the incredible support of Sr Lethiwe whom she refers to now as her “mother “.
*Grace (not her real name)