We arrived back home amidst a frenzy of excitement with Hazel, Rykie, ZoŽ and Roxy all waiting to meet little Rebecca. ZoŽ became obsessed and decided her name sounded like ďBetty BooĒ, and Betty Boo it was to remain for everyone that came through our doors.

ZoŽ was a bit worried by the ugly little umbilical cord, but, that apart, just wanted to hold and nurture the passive little baby all the time. She seemed a bit on the rough side for my liking, but the baby was none the worse for the attention, and we allowed them time to bond. Ten days later we went back to Nelspruit for a scan. All this time Rebecca had been sleeping well and drinking voraciously.
The scan revealed a hole in the ventricular septum of her heart. The blood was not flowing properly and this was making her short of breath and needing to keep feeding. The paediatrician put her on a course of medicine for a month, and booked her in at a paediatric cardiologist in Johannesburg for a month later. There were so many different types of muti, each one apparently prescribed to counteract the side effects of another. There was still a chance that the hole may close itself.
Excerpt from a letter to some Canadian guests:


Young Rebecca Blue is almost 3 weeks old now, and a real easy baby compared with her older sister. She sleeps a lot, breastfeeds like a dream and only really cries when Roxy licks her hair into a side parting! ZoŽ is a bit jealous and shows it by hitting Mom. Weíre awaiting the arrival of a boy bull terrier for Jurie, as he is really feeling swamped with all the girls around. Winter is well on its way, with temps around 22C, (Iíve got my sheepskin slippers on!) The bush is exceptionally dry and we worry about bush fires a lot.


The kitchen at home looked like a pharmacy, and it was horrible having to force syringes of vile-tasting medicine down Rebeccaís throat three times a day until we saw the specialist again. Although she never stopped feeding, her racing metabolism was not keeping up with the demands of her faulty heart and she started losing weight. A month later we took our skinny little baby off to Johannesburg. She was five weeks old when my mom saw her for the first time. Hazel was also there and was shocked to see how thin she had become. All those weeks Rebecca had been growing in length, but her weight was decreasing. My mom and Hazel were very worried and years later told Jurie and I how they both had thought she would die. The specialist confirmed that there was a hole in the heart and found a second one as well - larger than the other, being as big in diameter as her aorta. On the colour monitor we could see the blood getting mixed and flowing into the wrong chambers. The doctor said that as soon as she had gained weight and was a bit stronger Ė around six months of age Ė they could operate. The medicine doses were adjusted and we had to carry on as before until the next check up in a monthís time. He said we were lucky that she had an appetite, as babies with this condition usually struggled to feed. A month later Rebecca had still not got back to her birth weight and was looking more and more skeletal by the week. At the time my way of dealing with it was - here was this baby, and I had to look after her no matter what. So what if she was sick, we were going to fix her up when the time was right. I focussed entirely on her and took each day as it came.
Joyce brought a friend of hers, Gladness Mathonsi, to meet us and see if we wanted some help with taking care of Rebecca for an hour or two a day. ZoŽ was far too jealous to be sharing Joyce with her sister! Rebecca was breast-feeding and the doctor had advised against going onto formula feeding because any set back in her health could be serious. I tried putting my milk into a bottle for Gladness to give to her, but Rebecca would have none of that. Nevertheless Gladness helped tremendously by carrying Rebecca (also called Becky and Bex) on her back while she slept. Owing to her skinny appearance Becky acquired another nickname - ďRibsĒ.
Coming up to the third check up at the cardiologist Jurie and I were exhausted and could not stand forcing Bex to take the medicine. The prospect of another three months of that routine was hell. Thank God, that check-up revealed she was back up to birth weight, and the doctors set a date for the op a couple of weeks later.
Van Rooy, the bull terrier breeder, phoned and said he had a pup for us which would be ready to leave the kennel at around the same time as Beckyís op. We had already had such a chaotic year that we hardly even flinched: two dog deaths, a new baby with a heart problem, two puppies, all thus far in 1998, and the list was going to get longer!
We collected Eric, the new puppy, on the morning before Rebeccaís open-heart surgery and took him back to our cottage in Johannesburg. Hazel and my mom helped take care of ZoŽ, Roxy and Eric while we were going back and forth between the hospital and home.
The doctors and nurses were fantastic and prepared us well for what was about to happen. It was difficult, but important, for us to go into the cardio-intensive care unit and see other babies hooked up to life-support systems. All the tubes, monitors, lights and beeping noises were explained to us and we met the staff that would be on hand should anything indicate a problem. There was a delay before the op when it was discovered that Becky had a very rare blood type and we had to wait for supplies of that blood to arrive at the hospital.
Four hours later she was wheeled into ICU and we could see our baby, covered with tubes leading in and out of her entire body. She was sedated but fine, even though she looked very swollen and bloated. In the meantime I had been making milk for her and freezing it so that as soon as she came off the drip she could get her doses of motherís milk via a tube through her nose and into her stomach. The ICU freezer reached capacity, and all the excess was fed to none other than Eric, the bully, back home! Within a week Becky had gained half a kilo, Eric was also doing well, and we were given the thumbs up to go back to the bush. By ZoŽís second birthday in August, a month later, Rebecca was a fat, healthy, happy baby.
Some lines from a letter between my mom and sister:

ZoŽ is a delight, very pretty and lively. She has a party on Sunday, which should be fun. I will help make a cake like a hut. Pips wanted a Djuma Lion but I thought that was far too difficult. ZoŽ never stops talking. Rebecca is looking wonderful. At last Pips is getting a decent nightís sleep.
Around this time, Jurie started up a telephonic dialogue with two guys from Johannesburg who were considering a novel concept. They were both into Internet development and computers on various levels. Their idea was to place a camera at a waterhole in the bush and send out live images, captured every thirty seconds, around the world over the Internet. One thing they knew for sure was that the camera had to be in the Sabi Sand Wildtuin, an area renowned for its superior game viewing. They had been phoning lodge owners and managers, one by one, and nobody would take them seriously, some not even really knowing what they were talking about. Jurie however, with his passion for cameras and technology, loved the idea and set up a meeting to find out what sort of people these guys were and how serious they were about pursuing the project. We would, after all, be in Johannesburg for a check up with Rebecca in a few days time.
To read previous chapters of ďOur African WayĒ, please click the following link:

Our African Way