Yesterday I finally received a much-anticipated book. It has the wonderful title,  Have a beautiful terrible day, by Kate Bowler. Our lives here at both the Hospitality lodges are indeed beautiful and brutal every day, but the joy always outweighs the awful. I thought, that in this week’s blog I would write about the strange ways joy creeps into our daily lives and surprises us when we least expect it.


I walked into  Recovery Lodge this morning where a young German woman, Brigitte, was sitting outside with our cat, Princess Leah, on her lap. Princess Leah has not once, despite the fact that I rescued her from imminent death, sat on my lap, or for that matter, acknowledged my existence. And here she was, purring and flirting with Brigitte. She was wearing a knitted beanie ( Brigitte, not the cat ) and I knew today would be horribly hot. It gave me great pleasure to give her one of our beautiful new buffs which she immediately put on. She looked stunning and admired herself in the window. “Now, if only I had some eyebrows” she said. We giggled as we exchanged horror stories of women going through chemo who had eyebrows tattooed on. Not once have either of us seen that work out successfully. We’ve often seen ladies here who are ghostly pale and hairless with severe black eyebrows and red lips tattooed on. They looked like macabre clowns. The worst  (and we’ve seen it twice ) is when people had eyebrows tattooed after they lost all their hair and then the original eye brows grew back in the wrong spot, so they ended up with a double set. You cannot make this stuff up!


Eyebrow problems aside, we had some other wonderful and unexpected moments of joy on the road this week. I am lucky enough to not travel far to work, so I am one of the few people I know who has zero road rage. I know my friends complain about the gang of turquoise clad hooligans on the road revving their little Sixty 60 scooters. I have personally seen two of them being knocked off their bikes, one fatally so, but goodness, they really are a life saver when you need to buy something and do not have time to go to the shop.  The irony is that one of the reasons I avoid the shops is that the “live shopping” workers inside the shop packing the items for Sixty 60 are just about as dangerous as the guys on scooters! I also know this should be frowned upon, but are you not incredibly grateful for that homeless, drugged up dude when he pulls the traffic through the robots during load shedding? I know, I know;  sometimes they are the ones who damage the traffic lights to create a need for their service  but I live in a country governed by clowns, so we have to take joy in the circus, especially when it gets us out of traffic jams. Sticking with being on the road, our Uber drivers are fabulous too. Last Sunday I had such a good chat to my driver that we hugged when I got out of the car and promised to stay in contact. Us Africans are just so wonderfully warm and ready to engage, aren’t we? I love that about us.


I just stepped back in my office after I made a grown man cry. He had an awful cardiac surgery at the end of December 2023. Everything that could go wrong did go wrong and he picked up infections and hospital bugs while in ICU. When he finally got discharged, we watched as he got stronger and stronger, but his wound simply did not heal despite negative pressure pumps and vacuums and all the frills. Eventually it was decided he would have to go back to the hospital and have the wound debrided under general anesthetic  because the bug he got in the hospital is anti-biotic resistant. He was furious and said he would rather die. I just went to tell him that we have managed to arrange for him to go to Sunninghill Netcare where we would be able to visit him all the time, we would make sure he is loved and cared for and that we would even take all the different shifts of nurses brownies to appease them. He wept like a tiny little boy in sheer relief. It is awful when we see what PTSD some people have after an ICU stay, but what a joy of small kindness that we could help him, with simple love, in such a difficult situation.


This week we were also so happy that we got to look after a patient post-knee-replacement whom we knew extremely well. His wife stayed with us after a month in ICU after a horse-riding accident. It was a joy to see them both again and to reconnect with people who feel like family. Some of our respite patients also just simply fall in love with our Zazen team and have already decided to come stay here when the time comes for end-of-life care. It is an honour and privilege to be entrusted with someone’s final days, and we know we can make them beautiful in the midst of the tragedy.


On two occasions on one day we got to witness the special traditions of SA tribes. In the early morning hours, a very special Zulu woman passed away. Her children, friends and family surrounded her, and when the funeral home collected her we witnessed the singing and honouring of this beloved matriarch. It was such a lovely blend of proudly owning our Africanness and sending this mamma off with dignity and grace. Dr Jodi stood alone and watched the procession, tears streaming down her beautiful face as she  listened to the ululating of the women. This is what we have always wanted to achieve. We want to be a place where people can honour their own in their own way.  On my vision board for the Hospitality Lodges, I had a post-id that said: “We do what hospitals can’t”. This was one such thing, this kind of mourning procession and a space to hold each other up. It is just not possible in the clinical environment of our corporately owned hospitals, but what a joy to be able to give people that sacred, painful space where love is expressed, mourning can happen and healing can begin.


Later the same day, we had a young man pass away. I had met him in what feels like a previous life when he worked in an ICU in which my friend was hospitalised. It was a particular privilege to care for John because I really felt indebted to him. He had a gentle, graceful death a few hours after the Zulu lady. John was Swazi and here again, we learnt about new traditions. It was much quieter and his sisters, daughters and wife sat around his bed praying, waiting for the rest of the family to come and say goodbye. His brothers came and then later, the elder they were expecting. The elder arrived with a branch of the umphafa tree (for the umlungu readers, this is a buffalo thorn tree). The dignified elder then herded John’s spirit tenderly with the branch, all the while chatting to him and explaining that they are going to call the undertaker, going for a ride in the hearse and that he will then go home, and upon burial, they will bury this branch with him so he can join the ancestors and take up his proper place in the next world. Everyone was comfortable and looked after and the family was simply grateful for all the love that was showered on them.


Chatting to my daughter who is doing clinical medicine at TUKS and does shifts in the government clinics and hospital gives me such hope. I am amazed at what wonderful work some wonderful people are doing. We also got to celebrate the 25th wedding anniversary of a guest who almost died last year, and now is a fit and healthy and looks like he will outlive us all. We got to see an old friend. One of our patients who was here for 365 days brought one of her other friends to stay with us. I love that we become such a part of people’s lives that they know that they can entrust us with their most valued friends’ dignity.  


Our days here are filled with constant laughter. The drivers from the different pharmacies delivering meds have become familiar faces and friendships form. We know every person in the greater Joburg area that delivers oxygen machines and hospital beds and they all know that when they arrive here they are not allowed to make a noise BUT they also know they get free Cokes and biscuits after their drop offs. The physios that see our patients care so deeply for them that I hear how they follow up with surgeons and wound care nurses even if it is not their responsibility. The one social worker that helps our patients has become such a good friend that I tease her when she doesn’t wear a bra in this awful heat. The hairdresser that comes on Fridays is so familiar and brings such joy here that we are always ready to welcome him and his merry band of assistants. It also gave me great joy when our kick-ass female team decided not to employ a carer who had real patriarchal vibes. He was wonderfully qualified and had great knowledge, but alas alas, we simply do not have the energy to deal with chauvinists and neanderthals who think they know better because they are from of certain gender.


And so, at the end of another beautiful, terrible day, we are so lucky to see the silver linings, the hope and joy of recoveries, the tender respites offered and the peaceful passings.