People often say to me, “What you do must be so hard?” and of course, I agree wholeheartedly, playing the victim in the hopes that they will buy me a bottle of bubbly or a nice houseplant. What I do is hard, but the things most people think are hard are really not where we battle. People assume that dealing with the full spectrum of contrasting emotions on an hourly basis is what must bleed us dry, but I think if you do what you love, it feeds your soul. Last week we got to celebrate with a patient who got the all-clear from her oncologist and minutes later, I had to phone someone whose husband gently passed away. These are big emotions, and one would probably think that it must be challenging to go between such joy and sorrow, but it is all just life: tragic and terrible, triumphant and tender and true.

What is hard for me, and taps the marrow out of my bones, are other things. Like last week, I asked my gardener who has worked with me for 26 years to pull back the ground cover around some of the trees, but he decided that it would be a better idea to take his weed eater and cut it down, ruining the sweet white little flowers and making the beds look like the locusts of Egypt’s plagues had visited Sunninghill. I wanted to cry. To be honest, I wanted to slap someone.

During the same week we had another disaster, also akin to an Old Testament nightmare, but here Noah’s ark comes to mind. Our laundry staff had started noticing water bubbling through the walls and whatever we did, we could not get it under control. I blamed the neighbours, they blamed us, but eventually we discovered that our new-found fountain came from a municipal pipe. The way we discovered it, of course, was that we put our own water off for a few hours, but the leaking did not subside. The solution was to break through our tiled floor and dig a hole the size of a single garage (I kid you not). The water was pouring out by the kilolitre, and we were pumping it out, desperately frustrated with the council who ignored our pleas. Eventually after getting hold of a member of parliament, the council finally came out and quickly came up with a simple solution: they would break our laundry and staff rooms down, and then with a TLB would dig a hole and fix the pipe. Our man in charge from the council, aptly named Cyril (one can’t make this stuff up) was not budging, and when I suggested my team and my plumber would keep on digging until we found the pipe, he finally agreed that no demolition had to take place. He seemed rather pleased with this plan that would result in us doing all the work. Cyril also told me that when we reach the pipe, the water would be spewing out so I would need to phone him, and he would then arrange immediately that our area’s water be turned off and they would rush over to fix the pipe. It happened as Cyril predicted. After a few days of digging about another four metres deeper, my team got to the pipe. (If they dug a bit further, I’m sure we would have been in Australia). The water exploded out like a flash flood. I got on to the phone and phoned Cyril, who it turned out, was off for a few days, and no one else was able to help us. For the next three days we pumped so much water out and down the drain that I will feel guilty about it for the rest of my life. We had two pumps going at any given time and the laundry and staff kitchens were now operating in full swing under a carport outside.  Eventually the council showed up, did a quick patch up job after asking for a bribe and then left. We then had to wait days for the soil to dry, to refill the hole and retile the floor. Such an unnecessary use of precious time we really do not have.

In the same week, I got a phone call from a guy claiming that he is a police detective who is just giving me a courtesy call to let me know that he is  investigating me for murder (This must be how it works hey?). Now, this man’s IQ is likely around the same number as his shoe size. In a facility like ours, we deal with death every day and have seen and heard it all. We don’t scare easy. We quickly established that he wanted a cash bribe, and I took great delight in blocking his number. What was time-consuming however, was taking this matter to the police and now trying to identify him, as he kept harassing the rest of my team.

Four years ago, I went on a three-month course at Wits Hospice and met an amazing woman. We became fast friends and did most of our practical exams together. Once we graduated, she came to work for me. I adored her and so did the rest of my team and our patients. Her mom got ill and we lent her money, gave her leave she was not due and wished her well to take her mom to the hospital and get her sorted out. A month later, just after she received her full salary, we found out she actually got another job in sales somewhere. Not a goodbye, not a thank you and not even the courtesy to give notice. I felt as if someone punched me in the gut.

I have now moaned so much that I think I can cancel my shrink appointment for tomorrow, but you get my drift. It is not the life and death situations we face that make our work difficult. That is what we do, plan for, prepare for and work so hard to make sure we can make as beautiful, peaceful, hopeful and pain-free as possible. It is all the other nonsense we have to deal with on top of the emotionally expensive work we do that drains us; things like our Google ads, the soft drink supplier that cannot get his accounts in order, the skip we have to hire because Pikit Up is on strike, the gate motor that broke, the embroidery thread colour on the staff’s new jackets that is wrong, the stupid bank no longer allows virtual cards to be processed on the standard speedpoint, the people that park badly and stop their cars on my freshly planted viola’s… the incredibly annoying and persistent little jackals that destroy the vineyards.

A social worker we use often has taught me a trick.  Whenever I get grumpy with suppliers, COJ, Vodacom etc etc… I must change that voice in my head that says “Ag, I have to do this and that” to “ Look, I get to do this and that because…” And so, let me go because I get to fill up the diesel jerry cans so that I can fill up the generator for when loadshedding starts again after the election so that I can do the work I love.