My Life’s Defining Moment

If asked this question before Aug 2014, I would not have a ready answer.  That all changed on 31 Aug 2014.

My story begins 26 Jan 2013.  I leave the pristine Western Cape for an SA tourism roadshow to India. A whirlwind tour that exposes me to the sights and sounds of Mumbai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and New Delhi.  It also exposes me to the reality of life on the streets and slums of India.  The poverty. The stench. The industrial life underground, on the ground and above ground in the Dharavi Slum in Mumbai.

On 02 Feb 2013, I return to my clean, neat, organised, civilised city of Stellenbosch.  Sick as a dog.  Coughing and spluttering.  This lasted for 10 months.   Stubbornly surviving 5 courses of antibiotics.  Cortisone.  Herbal remedies.  Concoctions offered by well-meaning friends.

Out of desperation, I changed GP.  Turns out my visit to India also exposed me to TB.  25 Nov 2013 I have a bronchoscopy to determine the strain of TB virus and what medication should be administered.  Armed with TB medication, white mask and Vitamin B I am looking forward to returning my life to normal after 10 months of struggle.

The TB medication is horrid.  Nausea, headaches, fever, sweating, stomach aches.  You name it.   Liefie Marius, who only met up with me again on 26 Dec 2012 after we went to school together 30 years earlier, cares for me.  He only knew me healthy and energetic and full of life for the 30 days before I left on the trip.

Through all of these ordeals, my faith stood strong.  I was tested and life will return to normal in 6 weeks’ time when I finish the course of TB medication.  I look forward to 2014.  By now I am without a fixed income since May 2013.

On 06 Jan 2014, I woke up blind.  That is 20% blurred, partial sight in my right eye and only 50% blurred vision in my left.  Turns out the TB medication caused a massive haemorrhage behind my eyes, which detached the retina, and blood seeped into the white vitreous gel of my eyes.  Causing instant loss of sight.  Even this new turn of events cannot move my faith.  I believe that my sight will be returned.  Soon. I hold onto Jer 29:11: “My plans for you are plans for a future.  Success and not failure”

Without a medical aid, the #GiftofSight becomes much less of a reality.  I visit prominent Ophthalmologists in Somerset West, in Bellville, in Cape Town.  At every visit, costing me thousands of Rands I don’t have.  I make loans to survive.  After every visit, I hear the same refrain.  Yes, we can help you. But without medical aid?  No sorry. No can do.

I manage to get a referral to Tygerberg Hospital.  I undergo several extremely painful procedures.  My faith is strong.

On 24 July 2014, I am fortunate enough to meet the very kind Ophthalmologist, Dr Ari Ziskind at Tygerberg Hospital.  He performs an angiogram and brings the Hope I needed so badly.  I am a perfect candidate for a Vitrectomy and I should return on 13 Aug 2014 to meet the surgeon and obtain the date for surgery. This surgeon is currently in Namibia, operating on their president.  He has a thriving private practice and helps out at Tygerberg Hospital.  I am elated.  My faith carried me through and here is my saving grace.

On 13 Aug I arrive bright and early.  Nervous and excited and scared and happy.  I am one of the first patients the surgeon sees.

“Why are you here?” He asks me.   “To hear about my vitrectomy?”   “Well, forget about it.  You will never see again.  We have done what we could.  Go home.  Go see the Society for the Blind.  Come back in 2 months’ time and let’s see what it looks like then”

I clearly remember the shock and hurt and desperation of those words.  God had forgotten about me.  He never even heard me.  Fairy tales.  That is all it was.

Liefie took me home.  I rolled over and played dead.  I started saving my Insulin.  I could see no future.  I will overdose and slip away in my sleep.  Nobody will even suspect or know.  If there is a God, He will have to forgive me.

I go through the motions of everyday life.  “God, do You hear me?”   I meet new people. Have to explain about my blindness.  “God, do You hear me?”

A friend tells me about Pastor Etienne Blom of the Kingdom of Fire church.  For 7 years people have been referring him to me.  Even though we never met, we are facebook friends.  I decide to take the chance and attend his healing service on the 31st August 2014.   I had no illusions.  As a stoic child of a Dutch Reformed Minister, I did not actually believe in people laying hands on you, and you are healed. If people said:  “God told me” my gut reaction was: “Yeah right!”

I only wanted an answer: “God, do You hear me?”

The morning of the healing service I dressed in white.  I never wear white. “God, can You see I am wearing white? Today I want to know Do You Hear me?”

We arrive at the service and Etienne is there.  He greets us without recognizing me.  We sit at the back of the hall.  “Lord, I am not going up to the front.  That guy on the stage needs to find me here in my chair!”

The service begins and to my surprise, the sermon is led by a visiting pastor from America.  Not Etienne.

I love singing. I love singing in my Dutch Reformed church even more.  The singing here frustrates me.  The same over and over again.  The Pastor starts his service.  While we stand and sing.

There is a guy at the back with grey pants and a white shirt.  He has a problem with his leg.  A lady with a floral dress has knee problems.  Somebody else a sore foot.  Yet another person with a hip ….

“Lord, what about me?  What about my eyes?  A little higher up, please? “

We stay with hips and feet and toes and legs.  Once there is mention of liver problems.  YES! Maybe this is how God works.  Maybe he moves up from toes to head. To my eyes.

Nothing.  I sit down.

“There is a lady sitting down with white blouse and glasses.  She has a problem with her eyes.  One worse than the other.  It is the second time this morning God is telling me about you.  Can you please put up your hand?”

May I never recover from the shock and belief and disbelief and joy and sadness of that moment.  In a church where everybody else is still standing.  A Lady sitting down.  With white blouse and glasses.

The pastor has a team of ladies in tweed jackets and red lips.  They close my “good” eye.  “How many fingers can you see?”  “Don’t worry it sometimes takes 2 or 3 days”

“You don’t understand!  I did not come to see.  I came to ask Do You hear me?”

While I am laughing and crying the Pastor continues:  “God says Yes! He can hear you.  Can you hear Him?  His plans for you are plans for a future.  Success and not failure.  You have His song in you.  He will show you the way.”

That was my defining moment.  Yes! God can hear me! For me, the crucial part is: “It is the second time God is telling me about you!”   He did not forget about me.  He cared enough to come back a second time.  To make sure I got my answer.  How wonderfully, incredibly privileged am I.  God spoke to me directly.  He can hear me!

Life after that service did not suddenly become a walk I the park.  But with God on my side and the knowledge that He hears me, I could handle anything! I renewed my search for an ophthalmologist willing to treat me.

I was faced with yet another ophthalmologist who told me if I had medical aid or if I had the funds, he would “operate as many times as deemed necessary”.

We started a fundraising campaign.  People donated money. Assisted with a “Help Marinda to see again” fundraising event.  Donated vouchers and wine and performances.  Skal donated R60,000.  Job Club R20,000.  Several individuals gave generously. All paid directly into the Ophthalmologist account.  I had enough for my first operation.  Keep in mind my first appointment was R4000!  I did not even have enough money in my account, but his wife insisted I pay the last R2500 I had to them.  It was 01 Nov and it left me with not a cent for the rest of the month.  But, my faith was strong.  God will provide.  After all, He sends me somebody willing to operate,  if I could get the funds together.  He even discussed with me which eye we would operate on first.  It was November 2014.  A year after I started the TB medication.

Several people send emails to KFM Make a Wish Foundation.  They called the Dr. They were willing to pay for my operations and assist to get me back on my feet.  The Dr’s reaction:  “Unrealistic expectations.  She will never see again.  I refuse to operate under these circumstances” It was 25 November.  Exactly a year since the bronchoscopy.

Now, if this happened before my Defining Moment, I would have been devastated.  I did cry.  Out of frustration and disappointment.  Mostly aimed at the Dr.  I dried my tears.  I knew God can hear me.  He has a better Dr in store for me.

Liefie started asking people on social media. “Who is the best Ophthalmologist in South Africa”

From all over the world the answer came.  Dr Krüger of the Tygervalley Eye and Laser Centre.  Liefie called him.  We had two questions: “Can the Dr perform Vitrectomies”  Yes, over 6000 under his belt!   “Does publicity scare him?”   Not at all!

An hour before Liefie called, Dr Krüger had opened his diary for 10 December as his holiday plans changed.  God works in wonderful ways.

I wrote Dr Krüger a long letter!  Telling my whole story.  He did not bat an eyelid.  I saw him 10 Dec 2014.  He interrupted his holiday to treat me 19 Dec and I had my first Vitrectomy 16 January and second one 19 March.  We only had a brief discussion on day 1 about funds for the operations and the remainder of funds was transferred to his account.  Less than 25% of the total for operations and treatments thus far.

I have regained 50% sight in my right eye and 80% in my left eye.  I also regained my faith.  My handicap was my gift to let me realise that when I was at my weakest, I was my strongest.

Dr Krüger was willing to be an instrument in God’s Hands.  He still believes in the Hippocratic Oath.  Greed is not his motivation.   I remain his most loyal supporter.  An incredible man.  Humble and down to earth.

God can hear me.  I want to sing and tell the world about it.   At the Centre of Hope, we want to build on the farm.   I know He will provide.  He told me so.

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