On the year’s final payday, Philamon wasn’t in the mood for work…. His thoughts far away already. The planned holiday would take him thousands of kilometres back to his childhood roots in the Namibian desert to a tiny lead mining village called Aus.
The double pay packet, the big slap on the back and a wish for a safe return were the final act before the curtain came down on another year’s effort in Philamon’s primer bay at Van’s Panelbeaters.
Betty and his little girl Sophie were waiting outside the firm all ready and packed for this December’s trip.
Travelling by an overloaded taxi is not for the faint-hearted, especially in the mad pre-Christmas rush. Young Sophie got the job of sitting and riding shotgun on a 25-litre special PVA gift for Phil’s mum. As the cramped taxi thundered down towards the border in the searing heat, the endless loud music gave one and all a huge headache, amid the feeling that they were actually playing base guitar for Jimmy Hendrix.
After 20 hours of travel, they were finally at Aus. This was home and the first time his six-year-old kid had come to see the family. Philamon was straight off to the pub to see his old mates and to arrange a game of soccer – this was to be a dream Christmas break for the family.
Later that day, down at the old monastery sport field, things were hotting up, with Phil and his mates getting stuck into the game of footie. But just after half-time, disaster struck.
Little Sophie, who wasn’t too familiar with country life and was playing in some rocks nearby, was bitten by a large puff adder – the fat-bodied snake inflicting a massive bite on her leg. Shrieks of shock and pain soon followed.
No one knew what to do for the kid, who was completely traumatised by it all. They all dashed down to the old mission station, which was being used as an old age home, to Father Gabriel who had some knowledge of first aid.
He took one look at the monster snakebite and went for the keys of his old Peugeot bakkie.
Panic set in as Sophie started complaining about stomach pains. If she was to live, there was only one option – a drive through to the main hospital in Luderitz. Father Gabriel pushed his old motor as hard as he dared, all the way through Garub and Haalenburg and even got through one of the area’s notorious afternoon sandstorms.
On reaching the hospital over two hours later, little Sophie’s leg was horribly swollen from the venom that was attacking her nervous system.
For the next three days the family kept vigil at the youngster’s bedside as she struggled to survive – the antidote and intruding venom battling it out. This life-and-death situation at Christmas was an unexpected twist to the holiday of a lifetime. The ICU staff toiled for three days to save Sophie and thankfully, on the third day, with her leg looking like a misshapen balloon, she was deemed out of danger. The family went home to Aus and Sophie remained in the hospital for another week to recover.
Philamon and Betty were left wondering if it was going to be easy to have a good time this Christmas, as the great holiday plan was going somewhat awry. The family’s favourite child had made it through a life-threatening snakebite and all this rushing around had left them quite broke and far from being able to enjoy themselves.
But meanwhile the Luderitz hospital had commandeered a hotel visitor and his large 4×4 to transport the sick kid back to her family at Aus some six days later. The whole family were back together and getting set to enjoy the New Year and the long journey back to the Highveld.
Phil’s and Betty’s Christmas break would not be remembered as a burst of fun in the sun, but rather three days watching a kid covered in hospital intravenous drips.
God’s gift for the New Year was definitely Father Gabriel.