Earlier this week I got an email  from Dr Papagapiou’s practice manager. Harry Papagapiou is a young, hip and happening orthopedic surgeon who has many female patients, probably because women tend to break bones more often than men in their old age, and I suspect, because Harry is rather easy on the eye. We conversed back and forth about a patient he is about to discharge and as I made the booking, I realised that I know her! This patient’s husband stayed with us for 80 days during the horrible COVID wave of July 2021!


And so I thought, as I am rather nostalgically looking back at this time of  year, I should tell his story. My good friend, Dr Alan Fuller from up the road, at Sunninghill Medical Centre, gave me a call on an icy wintery day 2 and a half years ago. He said that his patient, let’s call him Paul, was being discharged after barely surviving COVID complications. The hospitals ICU’s were full and Paul had to get over the virus in a general ward. Due to a clot, he had also undergone life-saving vascular surgery.  He was 85 and weak, but the hospital needed his bed, so he had to come to us. I went to pick him up personally in my bright yellow hazmat suit. It was a clown show. COVID PPC (personal protective clothing) was not designed for efficacy and speaking through a few layers of masks and screens to a deaf Yorkshireman in my Afrikaans accent was not a smooth operation, I assuryou. He could hardly stand. He was as weak as a wet piece of toilet paper and he had a catheter that he kept tripping over as we were easing him in to the wheelchair.


His wife waited for him at the lodge and what was supposed to be a happy reunion quickly proved to be one of horror and shock instead. She had not seen him all the time he was in hospital (remember those ridiculous restrictions when dying people were cheated out of saying goodbye to their loved ones?). Her husband was completely different. His hair was long and greasy, and so was the beard he now sported. Paul had wasted away and as none of his clothes fit him. We had him in a green hospital gown and a blanket. His English charm and fiery attitude were however firmly in tact. He swore enthusiastically and demanded a beer (which he was way too ill to have).


We settled him into his room and as I had just been down this road with my own dad after COVID, I thought we would get Paul better quickly. It didn’t happen. He got repeated UTI’s and his surgical wound was so infected that complicated vacuum dressings had to be applied and monitored. Also, and I say this in the nicest possible way, Paul was quite a sissy. He was an only child and his mother really spoiled him, so dear Paul was not averse to moaning very, very loudly, and crying when we bathed him so that other visitors must have thought he was being tortured. In fact, a few visitors came to ask us whether we had decided to accept psych patients as the screaming and shouting from his room resembled a scene from One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. He had a bit of a flare for the dramatic and loudly wished he could die… and then his wish was granted, well kind of. The doctors decided we need to start palliative care. Paul was dying. He had no family in SA apart from his wife, so his many friends came by to say goodbye. As the weeks went on, they came once, and then again, although he slept through all their visits. He was not in any hurry. After a while, it started to look like he would not be dying soon at all.


His comitted physio Christine Egenrider started mobilising him and finally got him to walk to my office where he would come and nap next to my own father in one of the chairs opposite my desk. He was determined not to do his exercises, but eventually got so sick of our nagging that I suspect he did it just so we would shut up. (He got used to my accent in the end you see). He slowly progressed from smoothies to proper meals and we got him to eat his favourite foods. On the day he turned 86, we gave him a great big party and he had whisky with his omelet. After exactly 80 days, Paul went home!


I kept in contact with both him and his wife and have popped in to visit them a few times. I could not believe the amazing recovery he made. Recently, I bumped into his wife at the hospital. Paul had a fall and was having his face stitched up. I went to see him while the doctors were putting him back together in ER. He was quite content and despite the pain he was enduring, he was not moaning like a little girl this time. He looked at me seriously and said, “You know, I was a model in my day. They better not ruin my striking good looks”.


When his wife arrived this week, we were all  ecstatic when Paul came to visit. He is looking incredibly well for 88 and his naughty Yorkshire humour is still wonderfully intact. I went to sit with them this afternoon and we all chatted about his screaming and moaning and him not dying. He looked at me and said, “And look at me now!  Here I am… 130 pounds of throbbing manhood.”


Well, the throbbing manhood still clearly feels very at home here, because he happily went and had a nap on his wife’s bed while she was stuck on a recliner.


These are the stories I cherish – the journeys we get to join and of which we get to become a part, and the people we are privileged to love and know in their most vulnerable and their most significant triumphs. When Paul first arrived, we could not have imagined that he’d be back as the guest of a guest years later. He’s definitely not in any hurry to die these days.