11. Out and About

Friday 9th July

He was having us on, Ari was. He says to me he wants to go home. I say but you are home. He says, no I’m not, I’m away. So I ask him, don’t you recognize your parent’s home, and your two dogs, Blue and Mfezi ? – No I don’t have pets. – Aah, and do you not have kids too ? – yes, I do. – and what are their names ? – Hazel and Thomas, he says. Hazel and Thomas !? and what’s your wife’s name ? He doesn’t even hesitate before he answers: I don’t know !– and what does she look like ? anything like me perhaps ?- yes cute and sexy pot !  Aahhaahaa, what a laugh ! I could tell he was not serious, there was a twinkle in his eyes. If he hadn’t known the answers he would have said so, or nothing at all.
Saturday 10th July

I wonder if my memory isn’t in some way linked to Ari’s. I can’t seem to remember anything ! I asked him today if he remembered what he did yesterday. Well I couldn’t remember myself ! And then I said, Oh yes, I took the kids with Ellen to see Spiderman 2. And he said Oh ja.

Tuesday 13th July

Ari had his first drive in my Polo today. Yes, his first outing, away from his room, away from the bottom of the house even, and the garden. He graduated, because he has been sitting much better in his new wheelchair. When he came home, he had a wheelchair on loan from Kensington, which was very uncomfortable, plus he had those spasms that made him slide out all the time, so he had to be strapped in with a hundred cushions. We also received a new wheelchair in which he could sit more comfortably, however, the backrest was too low and the armrests not there. One day we brought him to the kitchen to eat at the same time as the kids, but the noise and the pain from the straps made him so spastic, that he kept choking on his food, and his butt must have been sore too. So that evening the committee (Leonard, Sheryl and I) decided that that was the end of the wheelchairs – why should he have to sit in them when he clearly could practice sitting up in a comfortable sofa ? It was only because Kensington Clinic didn’t have any of those that he was forced to sit in wheelchairs there, because at Sunninghill Hospital before that, he’d had an armchair.

So, the drive. Leonard, the Great Buyer of Gadgets, supplied a Banana Board. But we didn’t use it to get Ari in the car because it was terribly windy and freezing, so Anna said, “No, Smart you carry him into the front seat of the car, end of story”. Which Smart, our big strong carpenter, did with the greatest of pleasure, reminding everybody that Ari had after all carried him to his car when he’d had Malaria. Of which I was unaware ! Smart has had the greatest of concern for Ari ever since the accident, I was quite touched, he’s been asking about Ari every single day from Sheryl, and now that he’s home, he comes to talk to him often, always super chuffed now that Ari can say Hi smart ! He’s made Ari a stunning toilet chair in one day, to fit over the caravan chemical toilet Leonard had, which is too low. And today he worked all day to make a seat that fits into the bath so that Ari can have a shower soon, with strap holes and drainage holes, and a box to make sure it stays in place. Leonard’s design, but his handy work !

Ah, yes, the drive. Ari was strapped in next to me, with his G.Loomis cap and Mako sunglasses, and Jeep jacket. Very Ari-like. We drove somewhat carefully to the Cresthill Café, where Aki was overjoyed to see Ari, having planned to come over and bring him some Cabanossi (Gina had told him that Ari was planning on coming himself to get his supply from Aki, just as he had been doing regularly since his high school days). We then went on to drive to Linksfield and did a U-turn in front of the Bert Gramps house just so Ari could see the familiar old house. But we didn’t go inside or call Gran out, because she’s just had the flu. She has her eye on Ari’s state of the art hospital bed and wheelchair … Ari was very quiet the whole trip because he was very busy organizing for the pieces of cabanossi to come out of the packet and into his mouth. In fact he finished it all by the time we reached Baby Boom again, so I parked the car again and went to buy him some more. Plus some good wet fat biltong chunks just as he likes ‘em (with the cow still alive as his cousins tell him – and I think that’s just a ploy for Friday nights, pink biltong is disliked by most, so he gets to eat it all !). When we got home Sheryl was frozen through so she ran upstairs, but Smart came to give us a hand with the wheelchair, and Leonard was back, so he insisted on using the Banana Board. I don’t think it’s very practical at all !

Evening – Ari wants to talk to me while I’m busy reading Zoë a story in French. I must go to him – I waited 4 months for him to talk, so I can’t refuse to hear him now ! He wants me to take him out somewhere. To The Doors maybe.  I say it’s late, it’s freezing outside, we’re not going out now. He says it doesn’t matter. So I say well you can’t walk anyway, he says yes he can, but he doesn’t want to show me now ! He’s very stubborn, but he’s a laugh. I like the way you can hardly tell by his expression if he’s joking or serious. I can’t always understand what he’s saying, so my face is usually very close to his when he talks, and sometimes I get scared he’s going to bite me ! I mean he could, though he’s never shown any indication of it ! in fact one day, we were exercising him, and after one painful procedure, I stuck my finger in his teeth, and told him to bite me if he was mad at us (before he could talk). Little did I know that Anna had already started to pull his legs straight – which is awfully painful, so he should definitely have clenched his teeth there, yet he spared me !

Ari wanted to use the computer tonight, so I went to get his laptop for him. At first there was not enough light in the room, so he couldn’t see the keyboard. I fixed that, and made the board slant so he could see over the keys. Then his arms couldn’t reach the keys properly, so I stuffed cushions under his elbows for the forearms to be at the same level as the device. He stretched his two arms far enough to reach the screen and touch it, he seemed to like the fluctuating liquid crystal under his touch. I made the font huge so he could see properly. Now he is all set. I gave him a project: to write his name, luckily it is short ! he couldn’t find the right keys at first, and his right hand kept leaning on the page down key and the backspace. He did some gibberish a little, then he actually started getting the hang of it, because once he’d found the a, r and i, he consistently went back to them, with either the right or left hand. The right being more supple could stretch out further, but the left had more strength and control. He got the backspace under control and used it to his advantage. Then he said “I don’t like this computer, it doesn’t want to do what I tell it to !”  He tired of the game.

Time for something to eat, Ari’s a hungry man, always wanting to eat more. I said but Ari you’ll get fat if you eat between meals. So his reply is I’m not going to get fat, I have to eat after such a huge effort ! aah, he has a sense of humour. So I ask him what he would like to eat, but I don’t understand the reply, I think he’s saying  bacon and eggs but that’s not it. Fake egg ? Steak egg ? Fat egg ? he repeats it so many times he ends up forgetting what he wanted to say. So we burst out laughing ! how good it is to hear the sound of Ari’s laugh, and see his face scrunch into a grin ! I tell him, whatever it was, I’m not going to cook him a meal at 8:30. I’ll make a cheese and gherkin sandwich. OK.  It’s also so good to share a snack together … at lunch I made him a sandwich with Danish Herring that I got this morning. I cut the sandwich in half and asked him if I could have one half and he the other. You can make yourself your own half ! he groaned. And then after he finished his, he still wanted to eat some of mine !

All these things that one takes for granted during everyday normal life with a person you love or enjoy, such small insignificant things, they bring such a lot of joy when you’ve lost them like that for a while. Life without Ari’s jokes and humour is really very drab, especially when we spend our days talking of nothing but the medication he’s on, the pain he’s in, the doctor’s pains, the life he’s left behind, the life he might never recover, what he may become, the if ‘s the but’s the what what what  …

At least we have Ari to share all this with. We could have lost him altogether.

I’ve been delving in the spiritual world again. No not even as far as meditating (I just fall asleep after five minutes) but reading accounts of spiritual healers, laying on of hands and bioenergetics and all that. Luckily Ari’s grandparents used to be very much into that world of the occult. So they have still got contacts out there. Annette is trying to find out who is a good person to have come and see Ari. Leonard found out, and he’s warned me against it, his parents were “sucked into it” he says, they gave up their lives to it, because in the circles you become entranced and hypnotised, but I don’t plan on giving my life up to it, I just want to see if there is any form of help that can be brought to Ari that we have not yet explored. Who knows.

Wednesday 13th July 2004

Aaaaaah – I haven’t laughed so much in months …. Ari has not stopped talking since he started on the 4th of July. No need to teach him how to talk again, he hasn’t forgotten his vocabulary ! Including Afrikaans, and a dabble of French. And his sense of humour has not left him, he teases his nurses and has us bent over double. He still has trouble pronouncing properly, but that doesn’t stop him from rambling on and on, luckily he is patient and does not mind repeating ! 

Stangely enough, he has been convinced that this is 1995 and that he is 21, hence he does not believe me when I tell him that the Boks won the Rugby World Cup here that year…

Stranger still, he has absolutely no memory of African Angling Safaris, and finds it fascinating to see himself on TV all the time, when I run the episodes for him. He promises to take me fishing soon though, as soon as he can walk. I told him about Lazarus Banks, and he said I must take him there.

Ari’s short-term memory is very short indeed, and we have to explain to him why his body doesn’t work very well every time he wakes up, or he asks if his legs are broken ? or if he is paralysed ? He does recognise everyone he sees, and even knows most of his fish species, and all his fishing tackle suppliers ! 

I’ve started him on his laptop, and because his fingers are a little stuck and not very strong, he keeps complaining that the stupid computer won’t do what he wants it to – get me another one that works ! He also can’t wait to go out to a movie and party with his mates, last night he was climbing out of his bed so that I would take him, no argument possible !

These last 9 days have been so very interesting, we are now at last finding out what is going on inside Ari’s brain, and he has become very pro-active in his recovery – so much so, that progress is being made daily – and we may just be able to take him to the Okavango in time for the huge predicted Barbel Run this year ! (I hope). 

Many Many Thank You’s for all the supportive letters we’ve received from all you fishing friends out there ! I now realise he doesn’t remember that I’ve read them to him, and he probably wonders what you’re all talking about, but that doesn’t matter, it’s the spirit that counts !!!

To Ari, and to all !

Gaëlle Bert


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