My First Brush With Death

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It was about this time that Granny moved in with us for the first time. The house that we lived in at 22 Westmeath, had three real bedrooms, and the previous owners had build a sort of play room onto the back of the house with a passage between Karen’s bedroom and mine. It was also the year when my mother started working for my father, or should I say started her slave position as she was never paid.

Just before Granny moved in, the room had to be painted and spruced up for her. So my mother was excused from her unpaid position to paint and make sure that the place was ready to accept the rather prim and proper lady that my granny was. What I did not know at the time, was that Granny had given my father the money to buy 22 Westmeath, and that she had called it a wedding present to the two newly-weds  although she had insisted that the money be paid back over twenty years. The reason that she was moving in was so that my mother would not be left alone as often as she had been as his business was growing and that he would be spending more and more time away from home. With what I know today, there was very little “Work” involved, unless seduction of every woman that wore a skirt/trousers is considered work.

As could be expected my mother painted the whole place by herself and naturally had thinners to clean her paint brushes. We children were not allowed to go into the newly painted room, and my mother kept the door closed but not locked, which was in her mind enough as we were too small to open doors at that time. What she did not realise, is that if I lifted Karen and worked as a team we were more than capable of opening any door.

So it came to pass that one afternoon, just after we had arrived home from school and mother was busy having a cup of tea with hubs in the lounge, I think also listening to some radio play on Springbok Radio. Karen and I sneaked into the newly painted room. What you the reader may not remember, is that back in the sixties plastic was something new and was not the packaging of choice. Dangerous chemicals like thinners were sold not in supermarkets in bright labelled plastic bottles, but from your local hardware store, that were not at all like the ones of today. They were more of a general dealer’s store where you would buy all hardware as today, including paints but you could also buy things like fireworks, bicycles, bicycle tubes and tires, mouse traps poison, and a hundred other items that are now sold in specialist stores.

Thinners was sold either in twenty gallon metal barrels or decanted into the glass cool-drink bottles that the customer brought along. My mother had taken a 7-UP bottle to the hardware store for her thinners, and naturally had left it just inside the door near her cleaned brushes. Being only four years old, the only thing that I saw was a cool-drink bottle filled with cool-drink, I did not know the distinctive smell of thinners, so naturally as I was thirsty I drank the bottle of 7-Up as I recognised the bottle as my father’s favourite soft drink. We as children were not allowed sugary drinks; we were only allowed milk and Oros orange cordial.

You can imagine what happened to me a few minutes after I had consumed the rather strange tasting drink. I could not breath and I had the most horrendous stomach cramps, Karen went rushing through to the lounge, yelling that I was dying, she was rather melodramatic in those days and as one of our pets had died only a few days before, death, was very  fresh in her mind. Mind you I probably would have died of poisoning if my mother had not been there, so maybe she was not being so melodramatic after all.

Mother at that time did not drive, and panicked a little, crying that I was dying just like Karen, she had Hubs carrying me as she ran to the telephone and phoned our house doctor, who was not available as doctors in those days treated their patients at home and not in their surgeries. As is the case today where they make appointments and are invariably thirty minutes to an hour late for each and every appointment, as though their patient’s time is worth nothing and only the doctor is a busy person.

Fortunately the doctors nurse was in and she told my mother to make me vomit and to try and get milk down me so as to neutralise the effects of the thinners. That done, to get me to a hospital as soon as possible. Hubs took me through to the bathroom, where she proceeded to put her fingers down my throat, where in her words, “blood mixed with thinners gushed all over the toilet seat and covered half the floor of the bathroom”. My mother meantime was trying to get hold of my father so that he could rush home and transport me to the Children’s hospital in Braamfontein, unfortunately he was not in his office, and my mother was only able to get hold of Daphne, a friend that lived in the same road as us, who at the time did not have a license but at least could drive.

Years after mother always related that she was not sure whether she was more afraid of me dying or all of us dying in some rather gruesome car wreck. Needless to say they managed to get to the hospital without any further incident. That was to be my first visit to a hospital as an in patient, there were a few further visits in my future, but this was the shortest, only one night away from home.

Hugs and more,

Peggy-Sven

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