How I Survived the South

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  2. How I survived anthrax
  3. The Miracle Survivors

With all the pain she suffered from her bruised forehead and left limbs, Zwane tried to stretch her right leg, which felt very numb at that stage. She rested her head on another survivor lying next to her. She asked anyone with a cellphone to switch it on and she read a book of Psalms, which talks about protection.

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Zwane said there were 7 promises in the Bible and one of them had promised protection against evil. She said the book of Psalms stated that mankind could live million years and thereafter it was only through the grace of God. Zwane, who works for the KZN Department of Co-operative Governance and Traditional Affairs in Durban, said she felt disheartened after learning of those who had died during the collapse.

But I do not blame anyone except the work of evil. I think it was one of the holes drilled by paramedics. Zwane said the collapse happened before they could go for their second Bible class in the church, which was open 24 hours for prayers.

While being treated in Broad Hospital in Lagos she received many calls — messages of support from relatives and colleagues. After two days she asked to be discharged and left to make arrangements to return to South Africa. It itched, like a mosquito bite. Since I was covered in scratches and bites from living and working in the bush for the past few weeks, one more irritation didn't seem significant. Two days later the bump had grown to the size of a 20p piece and looked like an innoculation site, with a slight depression in the centre.

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I began to feel significantly unwell and a little apprehensive. The local medic was dismissive, describing the swelling as an inflamed bite, and put my lassitude down to too much sun. That night I put some insect cream on the bite and went to bed reassured. The next morning I awoke feeling as though I had a bad dose of 'flu, and with my arm swollen to twice its normal size. There was also what seemed to be a bottomless hole in my wrist where the bite had been. The odd thing was that the hole, although about two or three centimetres across, with raw edges and a black, necrotic base, was completely painless.

The medic was more impressed this time and although he had never seen a case of cutaneous anthrax before, was swift with the diagnosis. On reflection, my initial reaction to the news was probably the worst aspect of the experience. Basically, I lost it. The only thing I knew about anthrax was that there was a contaminated island off Scotland, that it was a germ-warfare bug, and you died from it.

Gradually things got a little better and some of the tubes came out, and then, one wonderful day, the dialysis was over.

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Better still, I moved out of the ICU — but then had to return because of persistent nausea and vomiting. Happily, this didn't last long. I began to do more and more physio and exercise to rebuild my muscles. After two more months in hospital I was basically evicted by my insurance company, which refused to continue to pay for me to be there, though I was far from ready to leave.

It was a gloomy business realising how threadbare my care policy was, as huge medical bills poured in of which they paid only a fraction. The insurance company wanted me to go to a "step-down facility" which no one at the hospital had ever heard of in a high-crime area. We decided that if we were thrown out it would be better to go back to the beach cottage and take our chances.

How I survived anthrax

So now I'm back at Trafalgar, paying for a private nurse and physio, exercising like crazy and getting steadily stronger. Some people make nice remarks about my positive attitude but actually I owe everything to Irina.

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For the rest I feel like Theseus, sent to fight the Minotaur in the labyrinth. That is, I'm in an intolerable situation and the only way out — learning how to walk with a prosthesis, to drive and be self-sufficient again — is to keep a tight hold on Ariadne's thread and follow where it leads.

The Miracle Survivors

That means working meticulously at the physio and teaching myself to do things like type this article with my gangrenous fingers. I look out from my bed at the Indian Ocean, which is the purest blue and pullulates with whale spouts, dolphins and the approaching signs of the annual sardine run, when shoals 30 or 40km long, billions upon billions of fish, move up the coast, allowing every imaginable predator a feast day.

Sometimes, as I gaze at the sea, I think about dying and how I nearly managed it, several times over. It seems incongruous given the gorgeous sunshine, the surf and the tropical vegetation — until you realise that it was in exactly these conditions that I cut my foot in the first place. I survived by a fluke; there's no merit to it, though doctor friends try to make me feel good by telling me what a fight I put up. Author Loses Leg in Lagoon:

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