A Near Tragedy Causes a Spiritual Awakening – on the fast track.

In January 1996, my son, Clinton, was in matric (final school year in South Africa). “Finally,” I thought, “he is nearly off my hands!” Little did I know what lay ahead. I had had a psychic reading a couple of months prior to this occasion and was told that the near future would have rough patches, but that I would eventually be ‘talking to great halls full of people’ – lecturing. “And you will appear on radio and television,” she said, “about spirituality,” she added. Well, I thought she was crazy – so much for these weird psychic people.

This was so far removed from any likelihood, given my current circumstances.  I was very happy with my successful career in the IT industry. I had my expense account and a fabulous company car and this, together with my designer suits, made me feel on top of the world. In my spare time, I was exploring alternatives like psychic abilities, alternative religions and spirituality, aromatherapy, reflexology, acupuncture and had even been for a couple of Tarot and psychic readings. I did not tell many of my friends about this though, since they may have felt that this was just too weird.

Then disaster struck. I dropped Clinton off at our local shopping centre late one afternoon. He was to make his own way to a party at a friend’s house later that evening. I was due to collect him around midnight and bring him and his girlfriend, Tracy, back to our home. When I arrived at the given address at midnight, Tracy was waiting for me – and she was in a temper. She was terribly upset because Clinton had not arrived at the party. This was not unusual, since Clinton had a reputation for being unreliable and impulsive. Both Tracy and I thought that he had ‘found something better to do’ and we both commented that he could be most inconsiderate. I took Tracy to my home, since her mother was to fetch her from there the following day. We chatted until about two o’clock in the morning and went to bed, both of us still rather disgruntled. We knew that Clinton was bound to arrive at daybreak the following day and would share his escapades with us.

I woke up the following morning, stumbled to the kitchen to make coffee for Tracy and, on the way, I checked Clinton’s room – his bed was empty! He had not arrived home. I took Tracy’s coffee through to the guest room and told her that Clinton had not come home and we both wondered where on earth he could be.

We phoned all his friends but none of them had seen him the previous night. By 10 o’clock, we were beginning to worry. Tracy’s Mom collected her at about eleven, and I promised to call them as soon as Clinton arrived home.

By 2pm, I had spoken to all the local hospitals and police stations – at least twice! At three in the afternoon, a police sergeant phoned and said that a woman had come in to report an accident involving a pedestrian, and from the description she gave of the victim, it sounded like it could be Clinton. He suggested that I phone Tygerberg hospital’s neuro-surgical department. I had already phoned Tygerberg hospital and they had told me that no unidentified persons had been admitted at all.

I phoned again and was finally connected to the neuro-surgical unit. The English spoken by the person who answered the phone was not great and we had some difficulty communicating. I asked him if a young man had been admitted. He told me that they had admitted a young man and described the individual. By the description of the clothes, I knew it was my son. He told me that he would really appreciate it if I could come and “identify the body.” I was stunned! I asked him if this person was in the morgue or in a ward. He told me to come to the ward as soon as possible. To this day, I do not remember driving to the hospital, but somehow, I did.

I did not want to call Tracy in case I was wrong and it was not Clinton and so I drove to the hospital with great apprehension. The hospital itself was in a terrible condition, appearing dirty and unhygienic, but I finally found the ward for which I was looking. There were six patients in the ward, and I immediately recognised Clinton’s lanky frame.  I cautiously approached the bed, terrified that he was not just sleeping! At first glance, nothing appeared to be wrong. I could not find any staff, so there was no one who could enlighten me as to his condition. I established that he was breathing, but could not understand why he had restraints on his hands and feet. In desperation, I picked up the chart at the bottom of his bed and after many attempts at deciphering the medical jargon, I realised that he had sustained a serious head injury. At varying times the chart read, “Comatose,” and “non-responsive.” Still no sign of any staff – no one who could tell me what was going on. After some time – who knows how long – Clinton turned his head and the other side of his face became visible. Horror! This side of his face was badly damaged and bruised! His eye seemed to be swollen shut and a large bruise plus many contusions covered the top of his face and head.

In desperation, I phoned my family doctor and asked her advice. She asked me to read her the chart, which I did. She was quiet for a moment and then recommended that we contact a neuro-surgeon in private practice. She said she would call me back with a telephone number immediately. I phoned him as soon as I received the number and he promised that he would call the hospital to find out exactly what the situation was. Within minutes, he called me back and suggested that we transfer Clinton to a private hospital immediately. He said that he would send an ambulance for him.

While I was waiting for the ambulance to arrive, I called Tracy and my life partner to inform them of the situation. Whilst waiting for the ambulance, my life partner arrived, followed by Tracy and her parents. Eventually the ambulance arrived and we all followed it in convoy to the private hospital. When we arrived there, an entire team of staff was waiting for us.

They placed Clinton in the intensive care unit immediately as he was still in a coma.  At least I could finally have some answers to some of my questions. However, the medical team was busy with Clinton and there was no way we could interrupt the process. A nurse recommended that we go home and come back early the next morning.

The next morning, I went straight to the hospital. Clinton was in the intensive care unit with tubes and drips everywhere. All sorts of machines were beeping. I finally had the opportunity to speak to the doctor. As with any brain injury, the prognosis was not reassuring and no definite answers were forthcoming. Many times I was told we would have to “wait and see” or “we can’t tell at this stage.” This was quite distressing because we had no idea for how long this coma would last, or how Clinton’s cognitive skills would be affected, if he did emerge from this suspended state.

Since I had started exploring alternative healing practices, I immediately contacted all the complimentary health care practitioners that I knew and asked them to come to the hospital and assist with Clinton. Amongst others, I contacted a crystal healer, aromatherapist, reflexologist and reiki master. They all eagerly offered their services. The hospital staff was most helpful, but did not quite know how to react to the alternative healers. Some were sceptical, some were outright rude and others were quite accepting of it all. I decided that we should try everything possible to get Clinton to wake up: we had nothing to lose.

The following day I resigned from my job, since I knew that Clinton would require my undivided attention. Day by day, hour by hour, I sat at Clinton’s bed, sometimes just staring and, at other times, praying. I would talk to him all the time and tell him about my day. I asked his friends at school to record some of his classes – not in order for him to learn anything but just to play the familiar school sounds to him using a set of headphones. I did not know if any of this was making a difference but we – my friends, family and I –  carried on regardless. I found out exactly how many precious people were in my life. I received support from areas I least expected. It was overwhelming! One evening, as I left the hospital, there were hundreds of school pupils in the parking area, each with a candle, offering their silent support – Clinton was very popular at school. I simply broke down and sobbed my heart out, deeply touched by this display of compassion. Because Clinton was in intensive care, only close family members were allowed to visit.

On a daily basis, Clinton received prayers and encouragement, aromatherapy treatments, or reflexology, chiropractic, reiki, aura soma, all lovingly volunteered by people who knew us. I continued to play his school sounds as well as his favourite CD’s. Some days he would be quiet and peaceful and other days he would be very restless. His hands and feet were in sheepskin-covered restraints. This was to protect him from possible injury and to minimise the risk of him destroying the medical equipment attached to his body.

I learned to fear the number 130. On the days that he was restless, I would fearfully stare at the heart monitor attached to his body. The more restless he became, the higher his heart rate would climb. I knew that if it went over 130 beats per minute, the chances of his having a seizure would increase. This made me feel helpless and out of control. There was simply nothing I could do except stare in horror at the machine. Sure enough, when the monitor reached 133, his body would go into great spasms and the medical staff would rush in and give him a sedative. For a few, endless minutes, chaos seemed to reign, until he once more settled down into his private, distant world. One morning, as the heart monitor’s numbers climbed higher and higher, almost reaching that dreaded number, I began to sing to him, softly and gently, the same songs I used to sing to him when he was restlessly tossing in his little bed as a toddler. To my amazement, his heart rate steadily declined… 129, 128, 127… and then I knew that there was a part of him that could hear me!

After about eight days, I decided that enough was enough. My heart could not stand much more of this. I asked the staff not to be disturbed while visiting Clinton. I sat next to his bed, took his limp hand in mine and told him that I knew that there was some aspect of him that could hear me. I also knew, on a soul level, that he was around somewhere. This turned out to be the hardest thing I had ever done. I told him that he needed to decide – decide whether he would leave this world or stay – that I simply could not take this ‘in-between living and dying’ state. In my heart, I knew that I had, for the first and only time in my life, encountered complete, unconditional love. I stared at his still body and for the first time in Clinton’s life, I needed nothing from him. I did not need him to clean his room, pass a test, have better manners, or respect me more. I did not even need him to love me back. All I wanted was for him to know that I loved him – no matter what! This event had such an impact on me. I finally understood what the holy books were talking about – love without condition or need! I do not know how long this moment lasted, but it was the most serene, wonderful and peaceful feeling I have ever encountered. Tears were streaming down my face. I told Clinton how proud I was to be his Mom;  I thanked him for the years we had spent together; I told him that I would never ever forget him and that he would always be in my heart. Nothing happened. Eventually I took my bag and left the hospital. That night, I did not sleep a wink.

The following morning, I drove to the hospital dreading what I might find, wondering if my actions the previous day had had any impact while dreading that they may have. I sobbed all the way there, wondering how the world could possible continue spinning. People carrying on with their daily lives. Did they not know that my world was crumbling?

When I arrived at the hospital, Clinton was peaceful and quiet. I went about my normal routine of talking to him, telling him about the weather and the traffic. Finally, I put his favourite CD in the player and placed the headphones on his ears. I sat next to him quietly reading my book. After a few minutes, I looked up to see his foot moving in time with the music. I knew that we had made a breakthrough! My spirits lightened and I had hope for the future.

The following morning I arrived at the hospital and started my normal routine of sitting at Clinton’s bed reading to him. About mid-morning, he opened his eyes, looked around the room and said, “Who are you?” I immediately called the staff, who called his physician.  At lunchtime, the doctor stopped by for an assessment. He carried out a whole battery of tests and the reports were sent through to us as quickly as possible. We were informed that Clinton had complete amnesia. He could not recognise anyone or anything. What was even worse was that his short-term memory had been affected, also his vision, and although his eyes had remained undamaged, his brain had not. He slept most of the day and every time he woke up, he would look around the room with the same confusion and ask, “Who are you?” I realised that the long road to recovery was only just beginning.

Soon he was allowed out of bed and was able to walk around the hospital. He was not able to recall anything about his life and we had to repeat everything every five minutes. I would sit beside his bed and he would tell me that he had not eaten in days, although the dishes from the lunch that he had consumed only ten minutes earlier were still in his room. Clinton could not be left alone for a moment. He would simply get out of his bed, wander around the hospital, instantly forgetting who, and where, he was. He would walk into any ward and get into any bed, irrespective of whether there was somebody already in that particular bed or not. He would just tell them to move up and make room for him. This was quite traumatic for me at the time, but now, it seems quite amusing. The reaction of some of the other patients was quite comical.

Sometimes, he would walk from patient to patient and help himself to any tasty morsels on their bedside tables – much to my horror and the surprise of the other patients! It seemed so strange, since outwardly there did not appear to be anything wrong with him. By this time, his wounds had healed and there was only a slight discolouration around his eye socket. He seemed to have the awareness of a two-year-old. At this stage of his life, he was over 1.8m tall. Imagine a 1.8m toddler who could have very severe tantrums! Clinton had to be fed and bathed as he could do almost nothing for himself. Some days, I would bath him and he would be quite compliant; other days he would be impossible. Sometimes he spoke to me in a little boy’s voice, exactly as he did when he was a toddler. Mostly, he did not know who I was. Some days he was capable of bathing himself, other days I had to bath him and once we had finished, he would lift his arms up so I could lift him out of the bath. This is very difficult if one’s ‘toddler’ is six feet tall!

The neuro-surgeon confirmed that this was to be expected considering the brain injuries Clinton had sustained. When I asked if this would improve, I was told, “It may.” We had to wait and see. Within days, we were allowed to take him home. Here the healing process truly began. The doctor informed us that we should try to allow him to find his own way around the house once we were home. All the healers who so lovingly assisted us at the hospital would continue their work at our home. We could still not leave Clinton alone for a moment. He would wander out of the house and down the road and promptly forget who or where he was! He had several hallucinatory experiences as well. We spent every waking moment teaching him to read and write, to speak coherently, to butter his bread, make coffee, use the toilet, and tie his laces – too many things to mention. On more than one occasion, he would stand with his back towards the kitchen and ask me, “Does this place have a kitchen?” After telling him for the hundredth time that it did and that he had to find it himself, I’d watch in utter frustration as he marched down the passage towards the bedrooms in search of the kitchen.

Slowly, things began to improve. Clinton retained all the information we were giving him for longer and longer periods and the incidents of ‘out of control’ behaviour became fewer and fewer. Slowly, his vision improved as well. It also looked as though his sense of humour was returning as, finally, glimpses of the Clinton we all knew and loved began to emerge.

One morning, he was looking in the mirror and noticed for the hundredth time that his front tooth had been snapped in half. This seemed to amuse him no end. He kept staring at it whilst he prodded and poked it. He came out the bathroom and asked me what had happened to his tooth. I told him it had snapped off in a motor accident. “Really,” he said, “what happened?” We would have to go through the whole story again. I learned weeks after the accident that just after I had dropped Clinton off on that fateful day, he had stepped out of my car, and within minutes, crossed a very busy road and run head first into a fast moving 4X4 vehicle.

For months, Clinton did not feel any pain from this broken tooth. The nerve-endings were clearly visible! Until this point in time, I was not able to take him to a dentist to have the tooth capped, since his behaviour was too erratic: one minute calm and peaceful, the next moment he could become violent and out of control. I phoned Bobby, my delightful dentist, and discussed the situation with him. He asked me to bring Clinton in and we scheduled an appointment after hours, to be sure that there were no other patients at Bobby’s surgery. Clinton’s behaviour could change radically in seconds and I could never predict what he would do.

We duly arrived at the surgery and Clinton seemed fine. Bobby asked him to get into the chair and he promptly refused. Bobby was amazing. He took Clinton’s hand, led him to the chair and asked him if he liked Star Wars.  He went on to explain that this was the captain’s chair and that he could fly this space ship, but first had to get into the chair. Clinton seemed to accept this and meekly took a seat. Bobby explained the whole procedure very patiently. He took X-rays and was able to examine Clinton with the minimum of fuss. Clinton kept removing the instruments from his mouth to tell Bobby all his news. He told Bobby, “Hey man, there’s this woman who is taking care of me but she never gives me any food. She says her name is Hilda, but I have never met her before in my life.” Bobby simply played along and chastised me for not feeding “this poor chap.” Everything seemed to go so well, including the injections, but the moment Bobby turned on the drill, chaos reigned. Clinton lashed out – tried to bite and spit. It took us an age to calm him down. Eventually, the job was done and Bobby had successfully fitted a temporary cap. We were to visit again a few days later to have the permanent cap fitted.

Clinton’s condition improved every day and four months after his accident, I took him for a CAT scan. It was clear! Clinton was 98% recovered. We still had incidents of out-of-control behaviour but they were few and far between. Clinton was retaining most of the information we had fed him. He had no recollection whatsoever of the accident. Even now, ten years later, he recalls nothing about the accident or his slow recovery process.

This incident would change my life forever.

Just so that you know, Clinton is now fully recovered. He is working in the IT industry, following in the footsteps of his Mom, doing the invincible, yuppie thing! He is 6′ 3″ tall and is a beautiful young man! He is my inspiration and will continue to be the light of my heart.