On the 15th of March 2006 Dowline's eldest son Jzaun broke his neck in a rugby match. He lay unnoticed on the field for some minutes before the ref called up the paramedics. Treatment on the field, and on the way to the hospital, was impeccably professional and before surgery the feeling of pins and needles in his limbs raised hope of recovery. But after the surgery hope faded and disappeared. Jzaun was a C5 partial quadriplegic with only limited movement in his arms. And in the few hours following the accident Dowline, his mother, tumbled from a proud motherof an achieving son into a world of heartache and frightened confusion. Her and her son's lives were shattered.
I wanted to know from her what carried her through in those first few months, but before I tell you her response, let's take a step back and look at Dowline. She's a petite, blonde woman, quietly spoken and self-effacing. When I interrupt with questions she listens attentively and her answers are careful and considerate. As we talk I start to see a resilience; a sense of inner strength and perseverance that almost definesher as a person.
"How did you experience those first few months?" "Snot en trane, lots of prayers and wonderful support. The staff of the Netcare Rehabilitation Hospital in Auckland park were brilliant in helping Jzaun and me as well as our immediate family to learn to cope; not just physically and practically but also emotionally." "Family and friends gathered around and carried us. The company that I work for, Medscheme, was exceptional. I was allowed as much time off as was required to participate in Jzaun's rehabilitation and, even when he eventually came home, if I needed time to do what needed to be done, no questions were asked. I experienced the softer, more compassionate side of Top Management and for me it was a blessing." But there were two persons that stood out in the early days; another quadriplegic in rehab and his mother. They had been at it a while longer than Jzaun and Dowline and their support and advice came from a deep understanding of what Dowline and Jzaun were going through. As Dowline said; "You only truly understand if you have experienced it yourself."
After five months in rehab Jzaun finally came home. "It was the scariest day of my life." Dowline recalls. Now all the training had to be lived without the guiding hands of the hospital staff. Dowline gets up every morning at quarter to five. She gets dressed and ready for the day before she attends to Jzaun; a quick bed wash before transfer to his wheelchair and setting him up for the bathroom (he is able to shave and brush his teeth himself), assisting with his toilet needs and helping himdress. "Jzaun is able to deal with the top and I take care of the bottom." Every day, seven days a week, no reprieve. Then it is off to school and a few years later, off to work. Initially "off to work" entailed 153 km every morning and again every evening as Dowline and Jzaun worked on opposite sides of Johannesburg. However Jzaun organised a lift with a colleague and things are better now. As Jzaun's younger sister and brother, Naeemah and Marc, grew older, they too pitched in and Jzaun's stepfather, Naeem also helps, especially with travel needs but essentially care giving comes down to Dowline.
As we talked another quality became apparent in Dowline; she shines with a joy of life that absolutely lights up her being. "Where does it come from?" I ask. She thinks a while and very seriously she replies: "Primarily from my faith in God, but also from a realization that our joy does not spring from our own circumstances. And lastly, I realise how blessed I am that Jzaun was not taken away from me. I still have a son to care for, a wonderful son who is a joy to me. How can I notbe happy?"
But life goes on and, as it does, we grow up, fall in love and leave the nest. And so it is with Jzaun. He found his Zene and they recently became engaged. Wisely, they are moving cautiously towardmarriage. With the courage of youth, but also with some trepidation, they are exploring whether they will be able to overcome the immense challenges of this partnership before formalising their existing commitment to one another. Instead of taking the plunge they have joined hands and are slowly walking, androlling, into the waters of marriage.
And Dowline? "What am I going to do withall that free time!?" That's easy Dowline; your other two children will take care of that for you! On a more serious note, Dowline realizes that her caregiver days are drawing to a close. The time has come to step back. But,with her experience and her insights, she will always remain their safety-net, stepping up to the mark, especially in the early days through the rough patches. Her biggest challenge will be being supportive without trying to take over. She will become to Zene what the mother of the other quadriplegic at rehab was to Dowline.
Dowline, we salute your bravery and we wish you and your family and also Jzaun and Zene, We wish you luck for the future.