We are building a new website and changing our SEO strategy, so I was forced to try and put what we do into concise, unemotional keywords that will excite Google and other search engines. This is much harder than I thought it would be. It feels like I am trying to describe a vibrant sunset in the bush whilst listening to the sound of lions roaring and the smell of a wood fire to a blind person who lives in a cave in Antarctica. I need to explain to techno geeks, who are very often rather neuro-diverse and don’t like hugging, how to get people who are making a grudge search (let’s face it, no one WANTS to look for palliative care etc!) online to find us on a Google search, when they think they need a bed and some meals, but in reality, they need so much more.


Because I am Afrikaans, and have always had the best time sitting at long tables listening to grandfathers, uncles and brothers telling stories, I thought I would tell the story of what we did in the last week to try and explain what we really do – not what people think we do., or what can easily be distilled into Google search terms, and maybe these techno geeks will be able to translate all my squishy emotional tales into a pigeonhole with hard edges.


We have a lady with us who was medivacked with her baby from Niger (not to be confused with Nigeria). Jamila is quiet and totally overwhelmed. Doctors have discovered little Mohammed only has one kidney, in addition to his terrible heart defects. She diligently expresses milk for him daily and sits alone in the waiting room outside of CTICU (cardio-thoracic intensive care unit) daily waiting to see her tiny baby who has already survived two open heart surgeries. We are the only support she has in a country she has never been to before. Yesterday, I went to pick up 100 brand new teddy bears. My second cousin from the States has empowered a lady by buying her gorgeous hand-made teddies and I am the lucky one who gets to distribute them! When I got back from collecting them, I walked into the lounge where Olida and Storm were talking to Jamila. She was telling them proudly that Muhammed was one month old. He has lived 30 days longer than anyone thought he would. I rushed back to my car and found a little lion in the bag of teddies. I gave her the teddy saying, “This is for Muhammed because he has the heart of a lion”. Jamila burst into tears and clung to me. We didn’t need words. All we both needed to understand, and feel, is that we we are on this strange road together; two woman, who under usual circumstances would never have met and have very little in common, but somehow are intensely connected.


Find a keyword for that please, Google.


In one of our rooms, we have a lovely Italian mamma of 94. Her name is very Italian so we just all call her Mammamina. She is riddled with cancer but looks like she could live another 94 years. She immigrated to South Africa in the 70’s and had two daughters. Neither married, so the three of them remained a tight-knit little family. Mammamina was not yet at the end-of-life stage  when she arrived , so a lovely  routine developed over the past few weeks.. One of her daughters would sleep over each night. We would do the caring, they would do the loving. They had manicures, pedicures and blow-dries. They had braais, pizza and wine on the patio. It was a relaxed, beautiful time in which they listened to Italian opera, making new friends and enjoying being out of hospital after a stressful few months of invasive procedures. And then suddenly, on Tuesday evening, Mammamina had a heart attack. Just like that. Totally unexpected. She died within seconds. Both her daughters were with her, but the shock of this sudden death took them totally by surprise. Their mom was their world. We held them up and allowed them to go through their emotions while my team and I got started on the logistics, the admin and preparing her body. Mammamina, looked beautiful and peaceful, as if she was just taking a nap. We were able to let both daughters lie on either side of her. We dimmed the lights, put on classical music and they can forever have this lovely memory of saying goodbye to the mom they adored. After the mortician collected Mammamina, the daughters sat on the patio with which they are now so familiar. A flamboyant Spanish fashion designer who is with us recovering from West-Nile virus, an English woman with a brand new hip, an Afrikaans blonde poppie with lots of make-up and a mastectomy and a young Kenyan recovering from a MVA (motor vehicle accident) went to join them. This motley crew have all become strange friends over the past weeks and there was an unexpected sense of camaraderie amongst them. The fashion designer in his wheelchair, in bright Joseph technicoloured silk pyjamas, went to get some whisky and there they sat, all sipping Jameson’s, talking about life and loss into the early morning hours.  


(A quick disclaimer, I left before the whiskey was poured, some of us had to work the next day and did not have the luxury of getting breakfast in bed.)


You can’t make this stuff up. How do I write a keyword search term for the love of strangers in the rawest moments of life when you need an unexpected community the most?

At our other lodge, where we offer less physical care but lots of emotional empathy, we accommodated two drop-dead gorgeous women. Like really, they could be on the front page of any magazine (because they are beautiful, not slutty). They had that lovely glow which only European women who are not battered by the sun have. Even after traveling from Belgium and not sleeping for 24 hours, they looked better than I do after my best attempts. They came to see Claes who was medivacked from Angola where he works. One was his wife, one was his sister. Claes was in Trauma ICU fighting for his life after what looked like a bout of a flu virus totally annihilated his body to the extent that he was on every life-giving machine available. His life was in danger and the doctors did not hold up much hope. All they said was that he is “critical”. They could not stabilize him at all. So it went for weeks and it was a rollercoaster with Claes struggling and doctors trying everything in their power to get him stable. I would often go with the beautiful girls (probably looking like Shrek next to these beauties) to see Claes in hospital and got to know him after he was brought out of the induced coma. Slowly Claes got better and better, moving to General ICU and eventually to the “fish and chips” wards. (We call it that because there are no frills there). Claes got so much better that his wife and sister were able to go back to Europe, but we still went to see him in hospital every day. We were able to let the girls back in Belgium know how he was really doing as we kept in contact with them on our little whatsapp group. On days he was better we would break him out of hospital (with the physician’s permission obviously) and took him shopping and for a much-needed haircut. On the morning he was supposed to be discharged to come spend the rest of his recovery with us, he got up out of his bed to start packing. He suddenly got lightheaded and fell! That is where the nurses found him. He broke his shoulder and nine screws later he was back in ICU. Poor guy. We still go visit every day and have made him promise not to get out of his bed again on his own until he is back off African soil.


How do I explain this to a search engine?


A few weeks ago I met with a… I want to say guy… but a more accurate description would be giant. Koos is an ex-provincial rugby player (he was not a Blue Bull so the team is not worth mentioning) and even toured with the Springboks. He had a stellar career in the military and is a medical doctor. He and I met at the Recovery Llodge where I showed him around and tried to answer his many questions. I kind of felt like a troop going through inspection. Koos was on his way to receive a hip replacement and I was being scrutinised to see if our lodge would meet his approval. He has been to other step-downs and swore to never set foot in such a facility again. Koos was happy with what he saw, and we did the admin and agreed that he would come to us straight after the surgery. The professor that did Koos’ hip replacement was gleefully excited, as this was to be the biggest prothesis ever to be implanted in a South African surgery. Fast forward to last week, and Koos arrived. As luck would have it, he arrived on a swelteringly hot day and the ambulance’s aircon was broken. He is pure muscle, and it took 7 paramedics to move him on to the specially ordered extra length bed. He was grumpy, hot and in horrendous pain. We popped the aircon on and I took him an ice-cold Coke. Sadly, this did not help his mood. I remembered my mother always said that if a baby is grumpy, it is either hungry, tired, needs to be burped or needs a bath. Koos was not hungry, and too grumpy to nap. I also did not think I could gently hold him on my bosom to rub out a little burb. So, I got our team of wonderful male carers together and we gave him the first decent shower he’d had in a week. His mood improved radically. But just as I thought we were winning, he refused to take the very strong opioids the happy professor had prescribed, as they made him hallucinate. He was still in unbelievable pain. Storm jumped on the phone, and five minutes later one of our regular doctors arrived, got him onto drugs more suited to his needs and in the process, picked up a few warning signs for other issues that he was able to sort out. Koos has been with us for almost a week now. I just came from his room now and I can honestly say I think we’ll be friends for life. He is settled and happy. His grandson and namesake is sitting on his bed and they are discussing how lucky we were that the ref did not let the All Blacks score that try on Saturday.


Will Google understand that what made Koos better is not something that fits in a box?


This morning I had breakfast with a couple whose uncle we journeyed with for end-of-life care. We stood by the wife when she made a wonderful recovery after thyroid cancer and have made appointments for the husband when he needed a quick appointment with a specialist. The wife’s sister had a knee replacement and we assisted with post-surgical recovery. When their niece had a gastric bypass, we looked after her once she realised that even though her surgery was elective, it is still incredibly sore and she needed more care than she thought. It is fiercely special to walk different roads with the same family as their lives change and their nuanced medical needs morph into different stages.


I see I have managed to write 1897 words (and counting) but yet, I have not got one concise keyword to describe to Google what it is we do. I suppose we just compassionately and genuinely care for our guests, our patients and each other. Not sure what the searchable keyword is for that?