The call that changed life. Forever

"We grew so fond of each other, Elisha was much more than a son. He was a brother, a friend and a confidante."

I can’t think of an onomatopoeia that best describes my phone's ringing tone that morning. Brrrng? No, that does not describe the tragedy. My phone had a muffled monotony. Lifeless. Just there. Calling for attention.

The call set off a chain of events that spelt the end of the world as I knew it. And would change life, forever. 

The phone call came in just after five AM. I was desperately trying to get back to sleep, having been awoken by my alarm clock earlier on. I reached for the phone and picked the call. 

Perhaps I should not have. If life is preordained, ignoring that call might have thrown a spanner in the plan. And changed the course of life. 

Her voice was wobbly, almost alarmed. 

‘Elisha is ill, Max,’ my sister Felly told me. ‘He is really unwell.’ 

I had never heard my sister Felly speak to me in that tone. I jumped out of bed, tightened my grip on the phone, as if that would change the message.  

‘Where is he now?’ I asked. ‘He is at his house, with Marvin and Evelyne tending to him. All the hospitals in Kadoma have shut down services. There are no medicines anywhere and the Doctors and nurses are on strike’.  

Elisha is my son. We grew so fond of each other, he was much more than a son. He was a brother, a friend and confidante. 

Elisha was named after my dad, himself an extraordinary human being and legend. He lived in Kadoma, his city of birth. As does my sister Felly. Both opted to grow their opportunities and life in their home town. They really wanted to give back to a community that has been generous and kind to the 'Gomera nation' - as the we fondly refer to the family.

But Zimbabwe has suffered a breakdown of public institutions and the medical delivery system has been hit hardest, letting down those who have given their heart to the country. 

The situation is worse in smaller cities, like Kadoma. The city of Kadoma is located in Kadoma District, Mashonaland West Province, one of the 10 administrative provinces in Zimbabwe. It lies approximately 166 kilometres (103 Miles) southwest of Harare (The Capital City of Zimbabwe) and is home to over 100,000 people.  

I called Elisha’s number, no one picked. I called my nephew Marvin, his phone was immediately picked. He told me Elisha was in distress. Marvin switched his video call on so I could see for myself...

Elisha was lying in bed, looking haggard and washed out. His usual lively self replaced by deep agony that I did not recognise. 

Pakaipa Nyakuviruka,’ he said. Shona colloquial for ‘It’s tough.’ We called each other by our totem, the Eland, or Mhofu in Shona and its everyday actions. 'Nyakuviruka' describes how the Eland gracefully charges.

At once I felt a cold chill go through my spine. I had never seen Elisha like this. He was truly unwell. 

‘You will be fine Nyakuviruka,’ I assured him. I was concerned, but not worried. Elisha is a strong young man and should be able to shake off whatever is distressing him, I thought. 

I was to learn that a Doctor had been to see him the day before and tested him for Malaria and Coronavirus 

Kadoma is a malaria prone city, making Malaria the usual suspect for anyone feeling unwell. Although the numbers for Coronavirus are insignificant, the risk is there. As such, the Doctors wanted to rule that out. 

Elisha tested negative for Malaria. I was also to learn that a Rapid Test that the Doctor ordered to rule out Coronavirus had returned negative results.

Still, he wasn’t feeling well. 

Being at home, it was impossible to do any further investigation. And without further investigations, Elisha was in danger of deteriorating. His only comfort was the love and care of sympathetic relatives with no medical skills at all.

I asked Marvin to continue looking for medical assistance, while I investigated from the UK.

I called my friend, Dr. Fred Ruzvidzo, a surgeon in Scotland. He didn’t think the symptoms I described were much concern at that stage but stressed that Elisha needed hospital care and needed a Doctor on the ground to check on him. 

That last bit of advice sank my heart. We were struggling to get medical care and attention. It wasn’t about the money, just access to a medical facility.

By midday, Marvin came back to me. They had managed to find GP surgery, apparently the only one that was open in town. The resident Doctor had agreed to see Elisha. They quickly rushed him to the surgery.

The Doctor carried out a quick routine examination. His oxygenation levels were at 96%, we were informed. And that’s good. 

But he was still in distress and severely dehydrated. The Doctor put Elisha on a drip for a few hours. 

‘I have given him all the cover he needs for respiratory infections, should that be the case. But he should be fine for now,’ the Doctor said when I called him. ‘I would like to see him again tomorrow.’ 

That evening, Elisha was taken back home. There were no free beds at the surgery for him to be admitted.

But his condition had visibly improved. When he got home, he rested for a bit and managed to get out of bed on his own and walked around his house. 

That was an encouraging sign... and one that enabled the family to go to bed relaxed.  

That night, I called Felly to offer some encouragement.