So, my shrink went to Iran for six weeks, and by default, I have not been debriefed in a while. Therefore, brace yourselves for an unpacking about people who have annoyed me over the past few weeks and a blog that is going to be more like the Jerry Springer show than an informative, dignified, article. Sorry in advance.


I recently spoke to Chant Malan recently. She is a brilliant psychologist (not mine though, as I said mine was in a troubled country leaving her poor patients to face their troubles alone. We’ll unpack this little passive aggressive outburst when I see her again). Chant always says that she is very weary to work in the explosive environment in which we find ourselves daily, especially around end of life. I asked her why, and she said that not only is it an extremely emotive situation, but also a reactive one. People react, to everything, all the time. Dr Craig Howes, one of our favourite palliative care doctors, also says that when parents are sick or approach the end of their lives, the children usually revert back to their childhood roles, regardless of where they are in life. We see that horror show unfold all the time, and often we have to balance between serving the patient as best we can, and calming down the family members who are having tantrums, orbreaking up fights between siblings.


Recently, a sweet cancer patient checked in. Her carer, who was also her partner, had a heart attack and ended up in hospital. Suddenly, there was no one to care for her, as all four her children were on different continents. She was frail and in pain and sported an impressive pressure sore. We adored her immediately. Her children arrived one by one from overseas and were delighted that she was in such good hands… but then the partner was discharged from hospital and he wanted to take her home. A conflict, not unlike the Russian-Ukrainian one erupted. The kids wanted her with us. He wanted her home. The kids won, but the partner decided that he will do everything in his power to make the children lose faith in us. He would mix up the medicine in her pill dispenser, making it look like we forgot to give her her meds. He would hide her medicine from us, making us look incompetent when we could not find it where it is always kept. We removed the medicine from her room and kept it in my office, but he had a new plan. Because of her awful pressure sore, we had to change her position hourly. Every time we went in, he asked us not to turn her and then reported to all and sundry that we never moved her. He had three of my staff members in tears and whenever her buzzer went staff had loud negotiations about who was brave enough to enter. He was absolutely revolting, but he adored his partner. And she loved him. And so, we put up with his abuse. Eventually she did die a beautiful, dignified death despite everything. He has chosen to sever ties with her kids and with me. I wonder how much better it could have been if he used up all that energy just to loving her, rather than to fighting with everyone in her last days?


We had another guest with an aggressive cancer that stole her life in weeks. Her daughters live overseas and have not seen each other in five years. We prepared ourselves for a happy reunion with the dying mom and brothers who remained in South Africa. Well, that did not happen. If people return to their childhood roles, this household must have been straight out of the Mortal Kombat Game. We are used to tears; in fact, not a day goes by that someone does not cry at the lodge. (We also laugh. We do 2/3’s laughing and 1/3 crying) but the daughters cried continuously, not because  their mom was dying, but because of what they said to each other.  On the day the mom actually died, the daughters had such a huge fight about something ridiculously trivial that the one daughter stormed out and missed the moment her mom died, which was the reason she came home in the first place. People are weird right? I wonder how they mend these broken fences now?


Long ago, we had a chemo patient from Zimbabwe. They were rich farmers (yes, there are about twelve left there) and the husband was so considerate that he wanted to be near his wife, but as he snored, he asked to take another room next to her so that she could rest better. Turns out the need for privacy had nothing to do with his snoring, but because he wanted to see his very young, very healthy lover at night while his wife was in the next room believing his lies.


For a long time now, we’ve had a guest that is here to get a prothesis after quite a horrendous amputation below his hip. He is from an exotic island and is here getting medical treatment for all sorts of ailments.  We escort him, with a carer, to see specialists almost daily. His medical aid covers everything and his stay with us has been uneventful,  until this week. He wanted to go an exchange currency.. We offered to arrange this for him, but he did not like the fare. He decided to not go with any of our trusted drivers, and also declined a carer so he could save some money. So, we waved him off as he clumsily got into a metered taxi he arranged on his own. Hours later he returned. His driver took him into the middle of Johannesburg where he was given R19 to the Pound instead of R23, and was then forced to buy the driver lunch. In Afrikaans we say, “goedkoop is duur koop,” and ain’t that the truth. But he didn’t learn. Over the weekend, he informed us that he was going out drinking with a mate that is here on holiday. We gently suggested that maybe the friend could rather come for a quiet dinner with us and have a few glasses of wine, but he thought that was a stupid idea, went out with his friend, drank way too much and proceeded to lose his wallet and all the money on which he got such a bad exchange rate!


Another frustrating moment was when the a French wife of a very ill patient accused us of stealing her cash. I have no idea how she thought we were able to steal this money out of her bag (as she admitted that she did not lock it in the safe), as my staff and I were never alone in the room. What made it even more frustrating was that the woman did not speak English and I can only say “I love you” or a few swear words in French. We therefore wasted a huge amount of time discussing the “missing” money. Turned out later that she was given an allowance, overspent it on herself and then when the husband (the poor guy recovering from an awful accident that can only happen on safari) asked her what gifts she is taking home to the kids, she quickly accused us of stealing her money.


What the heck?


Not long ago, a family brought their dear dad to us. He looked like he’d spent the past twenty years in Auswich. He was incredibly frail, nearing the end of his life and so pale he was almost see-through. He reminded me of a tiny bird that fell out of his nest and had no chance of recovery. We discussed things with the family and the settled in, prepared for him to die within the next few weeks. They opted for our special reduced monthly rate we offer to our end-of-life guests. They told me that they had a wonderful carer who would now be unemployed and wondered if I could possibly consider giving her a job? Against my better judgement I did, and she was indeed lovely. Six months went by, and the sweet dear man did not die. He also did not get better. One day, Storm got a call from a supplier who supplied the old man his oxygen to say that the family contacted them and informed them that he was moving home. Surely, this had to be a mistake. He was going to be with us for the rest of his life and we knew the family was really, really happy. Well, it turned out it was true. With absolutely no notice, the family took him back home the carer resigned the same day. You know the saying – “No good deed goes unpunished.”


People also love to drive you crazy with the nurse-call-buzzer! We are all totally committed to responding the second that buzzer sounds, but when you drop everything and enter a room, just for the person to tell you to change their Netflix for the hundredth time that day, or to just ask what the time is, or my best, to move their vase of flowers so they can see it from another angle, it is a little bit frustrating. When people mix up the nurse-call and the TV remote, it is also chaos. We often have people with very strange demands. Some of our post plastic-surgery patients “bant” (so no starch is allowed in their diet). We go to great lengths to plan beautiful meals with the limited options we can give them but then, just after a lunch that would make Tim Noakes proud, you find them inhaling a croissant or piece of cake. One lady informed us that she eats Bircher muesli (over-night oats which is a bit of a pain to make) every day. When we brought it to her room with a cup of tea and a single rose she said, “Actually, I only eat it on Thursdays. Please bring me bacon and eggs.”


We had the cutest little Italian guest. She reminded me of the Fatti’s and Moni’s advert where they kept the granny in the cupboard, ut she did NOT like her daughter-in-law. She stayed in a room in their house. She had a fall, and the idea was for her to come to us for a week while she recovered and to return home when she could walk again. Well, she loved the lodge and had absolutely no intention of walking again (at least not while anyone was watching)). She would stand very firmly on her two feet in the shower while the carers washed her, but the minute the physio or I asked her to stand she was like a rag doll. Once, she cried like a baby when we suggested she get up and another time, she told vicious lies about either vomiting throughout the night, that she was in too much pain, that she was too cold or the best, that the doctor, who she had not seen in ages, told her not to walk. She succeeded in her manipulation and stayed with us for months. In the end, the only way to get her to walk was by promising that she would not have to live with the evil step-daughter (sorry, daughter-in-law).


And then we had the opposite. We had a frail, very ill guest on oxygen, sitting by the fire place. He was too ill to go home, but his wife missed him terribly. One Friday afternoon, she came in as always, went to his room as if she was just visiting him, and the next minute we saw that she was pushing him on the wheelchair to the car. Luckily these were not experienced bank robbers and we stopped them in their tracks, made the wife a cup of tea and assured her she could rather spend the night with him than risking his health and kidnapping him.


We get a wonderful window into people’s lives. We see them in their most vulnerable and authentic moments, we witness their relationships and their true colours.. It is baffling and bizarre, but also beautiful.


And now, do you not feel sorry for my poor shrink who has to listen to all this? No wonder she would rather be in Iran than next to me on the couch in Sandton.