Retirement at age 65 years is a mandatory condition of employment in South African universities. December 31, 2016 marked the end of my career in education: three years as a high school English teacher and thirty-three years in higher education. The last thirty years of my career were spent at the University of South Africa, a large comprehensive distance learning institution, situated in Pretoria, where I served in various capacities over the decades.
Here I am in 2015 with a doctoral student from Kenya whose thesis explored home-school-community partnerships in Kenya.
He flew to South Africa specially for the joyous occasion of his graduation and we met face to face for the very first time. Three years of effective doctoral supervision had been carried out exclusively by email.
During 2016 I approached the date of retirement with mixed feelings. To end a busy career after so many years was a formidable prospect. At the same time I had a giddy feeling of delight. I would be able to linger in my vegetable garden in the early morning, inspecting the development of my one cherished artichoke plant.
I would be able to fetch grandchildren from school without juggling a hundred pressing deadlines. I would be able to accept invitations to outings with friends without refusing, with my usual mantra, " Maybe another time? I simply have too much work to finish."
November was a round of farewells and retirement parties. December promised celebrations, family time and a holiday at the edge of the Maluti mountains. The happy dreams shattered when I had an untimely fall in my house - slipping down a flight of stairs to a loft. I fractured my ankle and underwent two operations by Pretoria's best orthopaedic surgeon, who just 'happened' to be in attendance at Casualty at the nearest hospital followed by a week in a surgical ward. The post op recovery was estimated a minimum of six weeks, probably far longer given my age and the nature of the injury.
I had little choice but to bow to circumstances surrounded by friends and family. I resolved not to count days. I reached for the life lessons to be learned. I read, meditated, watched the birds feeding in my garden, listening to uplifting sermons and talks, to classical music and worship songs. I received each kind visitor with great gratitude. My tough independence had been suddenly replaced by helpless dependence. I ate slices of 'humble pie' as I accepted assistance with basic tasks. Joan Didion comments, 'Life as we know it changes in seconds.'
But that is only the first half of the story. Yesterday I went for my six-week post-op X ray and consultation. I sat on the bed in the consulting room, left foot out of the moon boot, naked and looking scrawny and sad stretched out in view of the wound sister and the young physiotherapist. The doctor studied the images on the screen of his computer. I recognized the four black pins which held my bones in place.
"Looking great," he said, " Bone growth fantastic! No need to even fear osteoporosis-arthiritis. Now stand up!"
"Stand, but can I?"
"Of course you can and you can walk. C'mon. I'll hold your hands. Walk towards me."
So I am back wearing my takkies (Afrikaans for running shoes), which give a good stable grip. The moonboot, the walker and one crutch have been buried deep out of sight in my walk-in cupboard. I am walking again pain-free using only one crutch for some balance. The physiotherapist, family and friends, several in the medical profession, are amazed at such rapid progress. I am overcome with gratitude. My sincere thanks to the doctors and nurses, to the whole canon of Western medicine. But all the glory to God who has accelerated the healing of my 65 year old bones and put me back on my feet. I still have some way to go before I jog on the field again in the early morning with Flash but this morning, I could get in to a bath and scrub the toes of my left foot! Next stop a pedicure!
I was wheeled into the consulting rooms yesterday in a wheel chair and I left walking. Obed, the doorman, looked amazed as I approached him in the foyer of the medical centre.
"Mam, I was waiting for them to call me to fetch you in the wheelchair."
"Obed, I am walking!"
"Oh, mam, God is great and Dr Duwayne is a very good doctor."
That about sums it up.