My year here in South Africa has held MANY challenges for me. My work at the Respite Unit brings such extreme emotions to the forefront of my life everyday. One of my favorite patients and best South African friends, Nonduduzo, just passed away on Monday 5/18. This has been one of my most difficult times in my entire life and to be honest, I'm still trying to sort things out and process everything.
Nonduduzo and her (at the time) 2 month old baby Andile were admitted into the Respite Unit about 3 months ago. They stayed for 2 months and Nonduduzo greatly improved (see previous blog if interested). Of course, everyone at the respite loved having Andile around to brighten up our days. I became very close with both of them and cultivated a wonderful friendship with Nonduduzo. We spent many days talking and laughing and crying. She was a wonderful mother even when she felt terribly and was fighting for her life. She was discharged and spent a few weeks at home waiting to begin ARV's at a clinic near her home in Lower Molweni.
I was in touch with her quite a bit to say hello, stop by to visit, deliver formula or just talk on the phone. We worked together to get Andile tested after the government lab had lost his results on three different occasions. I will never forget seeing the results, screaming, then calling her in happy tears to deliver the wonderful news!!!! She was so thankful that her baby was HIV NEGATIVE!!!!
A friend from San Diego, Mary Panish, made a quick stop over from Cape Town in Durban on Sunday May 10th. She was only visiting for 6 or so hours and wanted to see where I worked, etc. I took her down to Lower Molweni to meet some of my friends there. I brought a jar of formula to drop off to Nonduduzo as a Mother's Day gift. She was a little weird sounding on the phone, but I didn't think much of it. I arrived at her home and waited for her at the bottom of the hill. It took her a while but again, I didn't think anything of it. She finally arrived and she looked terrible. I saw "the look" in her eyes and knew she needed to be re-admitted. She told me that she had been vomitting and having diarrhea and that she was sweating a lot. I asked her if I could take her back to the Respite Unit and she said yes. I went back on Monday morning to fetch her. She was not doing well and was terrified.
She left the baby with her boyfriend, Lucky. As the days passed, her condition went down very quickly. The whole week was a blur. I spent a lot of time with Nonduduzo and we spoke a lot about what would happen to her children, her fears and also reminiscing about our great friendship. I told her I loved her and she said the same to me. I brought her wonderful boyfriend and her baby to see her for the last 4 days of her life. She was so in love with her boyfriend and her two sons.
On Monday 5/18, I spent the morning with my friend. I left around 11am to go and get Lucky and Andile to see her. I dropped them at the Respite and went to do a home visit. On the way home, Lucky phoned me to let me know that she had just died. As much as I guess on some level I knew it was happening, I was completely crushed.
To me, Nonduduzo was a friend, an inspiration, a lover of life and a gentle spirit. I cannot even express how much I will miss her. I told her the day she died that I'd do everything in my power to look after Andile, Busani and Lucky.
I was privileged enough to attend her funeral on Saturday. It was a moving celebration of a life cut too short by a horrible disease. Rest in peace my friend Nonduduzo. I love you.
This is my friend Nonduduzo and her youngest child, Andile. This was taken 3 days before she died. I will forever treasure her friendship!
This is her other (and oldest) son Busani aka the cutest boy on earth!
Auntie Jenn and both Nonduduzo's boys!
The Villanova nurses holding Andile on the way to visit his Mommy.
Lucky, the proud Daddy.
Nonduduzo and two of her 3 favorite boys.
Auntie Jenn and Andile on the way to test him for HIV. HE'S NEGATIVE!!!! :)