Letters from Sonja:  100% Sepsis
Flora sculpture.

Letters from Sonja: 100% Sepsis


I did not see Barbara again that day. I went home without knowing whether Barbara was still alive or not.

By Sonja Winklmaier
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First published: October 6, 2008


Click Here: Previously on "Letters from Sonja: Murchison Falls in 1965"


May 26th, 1965

Regarding the head: The head is made of clay. Isn't it fascinating that out of almost nothing such a masterpiece has been made? The head was made by an African woman named Flora who lives near Mt. Elgon on the Kenya-Uganda border. Flora is an African woman, like millions who can neither write nor read. These women carry their babies on their back and this way do their housework in a mud and wattle hut and work in their fields. Just by coincidence her talent was discovered by a missionary while she was once working at his mission station. Since then, apart from working in the house and in the field, Flora also makes this kind of art – mainly heads – but also complete figures and ensembles. The Flora-Sculptures are known worldwide in the meantime and you might be able to find them in an exotic shop in the Königstraße . (Königstraße used to be the most fashionable street in Stuttgart.)

Flora sculpture
Flora sculpture.

We, too, are not very keen anymore to go to the pictures. They don't make good pictures these days. It also is quite expensive (DM 2.75 per person) and we have TV now. Through TV in the middle of Africa we are connected to the world. At home it is comfortable and one can switch off whenever one feels like. The pictures finish by midnight and then we still have a long ride home.

The children got on very well with Aunty Gudrun. The house Gerd and his family live in now, is really super. It is 10 years since I have seen it, but I can remember every detail. I liked it very much.

By the way, Michy is very interested in Struppi and wants to know, whether his paw has healed well. He also wants to know, how old Struppi is. (Struppi was the Fox Terrier of my parents).

April 20th, 1965

I could not reply to your letter of March 8th. On Good Friday Barbara came out of hospital again. Drs. and nurses call it a miracle that Barbara is on her feet again. I see it the same way but yet I am not completely happy with Barbara's condition. I now describe everything in order as good as I can:

Michy with his monkey
Michy with his monkey.

On Friday, March 12th, I took Barbara to an eye specialist for the first time. He is a Yugoslavian doctor and I had a very good impression. During the eye examination, which is not so easy for a child, Barbara was in good form. She very quickly understood everything and responded very well. I was very happy after the examination, especially as Dr. Hadija mentioned that there is a chance that Barbara does not need an operation. Unfortunately the treatment had to be interrupted. On that same Friday Michy had invited a friend for lunch to play in the afternoon. Barbara played very well with the two boys and I was really surprised how fast she could climb up the pole of the swing, just like a little monkey. In the evening she was a bit tired as she did not sleep in the afternoon. She was quite normal on Saturday but she did not have a big appetite, something that happens sometimes in this climate and does not mean anything.

On Sunday she remarked that her leg is hurting. We could not see anything and she also did not have a temperature. She went for a ride with Hubert and Michy before lunch. Hubert said that she was very lively and played with another child. To me Barbara looked tired and she still complained that her leg is hurting. I said to Hubert that I do hope she does not get ill.

From Sunday to Monday Barbara had a somewhat restless night and developed a temperature of 39.4°C. I took Barbara to a German doctor in a Mission Hospital (Rubaga). Unfortunately I had to wait for about 3 hours before the doctor had a look at Barbara. She could not find anything apart from a slightly red throat. She thought that the pain in the leg could perhaps be in connection with the throat. She prescribed suppositories to control the fever and some medicine against her soar throat. I should phone at 8 in the evening and tell her how Barbara feels.

When I came home Barbara had a temperature of 41.1°C. The fever did not decrease in spite of the medicine. I had my neighbour, Jackie Hitchens, who had a telephone, call the doctor instantly. She said I should carry on giving her the suppositories and come again the next morning.

Barbara had a very bad night and only calmed down towards morning when she fell asleep. Hubert wanted to send me the car and also ring the doctor to tell her, that I am coming so that I don't have to wait for 3 hours again.

After Hubert had left, Jackie asked whether she could do anything for me. I thanked her and said no - Barbara was sleeping now and the car will be here any moment so that I can take her to Rubaga again. I kept Michy at home as I was afraid Barbara might get polio.

At this time normally everybody from the hill has left for work. Suddenly I hear a noise and go to the bedroom. Barbara had tried to sit up. She was completely blue and had foam in front of her mouth. I was in shock, tore her out of the bed and called for help. Our gardener ran in one direction and Michy in the other. Mr. Brown, our neighbour, was late that morning and was still at home. He heard my call for help and the barking of Arco and came instantly. He put me with Barbara in his car and drove as quick as lightning to the nearest hospital. Mrs. Brown called the hospital and when we arrived in Nsambya, they were already waiting for us in the parking lot with oxygen. They certainly did not loose any time. They put Barbara in a bed. One sister lifted the bed higher at the foot-end and put something like a cage over Barbara's legs so that the bedding could not touch her.

Another sister came along with 2 doctors. The doctor who was treating Barbara, Dr. Lewis, a young Canadian, who himself had 4 small children, took great pain with Barbara, but I can imagine that it is not easy to come to a diagnosis instantly in such a case. He first guessed an infection of the spinal marrow and took a sample. This did not look bad. Then he guessed malaria of the brain and started in that direction. At the same time blood samples were taken and various other tests made. Some of the samples were sent to the huge Government hospital – Mulago Hospital.

The sisters called Hubert, who came at once. Barbara gained consciousness again. At one point we were sent home and Dr. Lewis hinted that by next morning it probably would look much better.

Next morning it did not look better at all and while I was at Barbara's bedside I noticed it was getting worse. I had to leave the room and again doctors and nurses were running about in a great hurry. I did not see Barbara again that day. I went home without knowing whether Barbara was still alive or not.

Hubert did not let me go to the hospital and I cannot remember how many days passed before I could see Barbara again. I was just pacing up and down our sitting room for hours and days. Hubert went to the hospital three to four times every day and tried to convince me that Barbara is getting better.

When I saw Barbara again for the first time I was completely shocked. I then learned that in the meantime apart from a 100% sepsis Barbara also went through pneumonia on both sides.

I now have to go back again: Dr. Lewis told me later that on that Wednesday morning when Barbara's condition was very bad again, the treatment of malaria of the brain unfortunately did not work. The doctors and nurses had no more hope and then in the last minute the blood test from Mulago was ready and it was now sure that Barbara had a 100% sepsis. They then pumped great amounts of penicillin and another very new antibiotic into Barbara. Then she got pneumonia. The doctors and nurses expected that to happen and were prepared. They also expected an infection of the kidneys. Fortunately this did not happen.

Indeed Barbara's condition started to improve very slowly and about 2½ weeks later Barbara was given the first food to eat in a quantity fitting for a small bird. To begin with she vomited everything but then every now and then something stayed in her stomach and her bowels started moving again.

I was also told that Barbara's right leg was 2½ inches bigger at the thigh than the left one. Because of the infection the hip-bone became inflamed. The X-rays did not show anything however and therefore, only the skin above the bone was inflamed. In the meantime the swelling went back from 2½ to ½ inch. The doctor said it will take quite some time until it completely normalizes also as far as the lungs are concerned.

Barbara is breathing quite well now but I have to be more than careful with Barbara. For 3½ weeks Barbara got a penicillin injection every 4 hours. To begin with she got even more. For some time she needed oxygen day and night every 20 minutes for 5 minutes. During the last week in hospital Barbara only got one injection a day and now she has to take penicillin orally in form of a syrup. She can now walk again without help but she does not move her right leg normally. It also still hurts her, especially when she wants to bent down or when she has to sit on the. Dr. Lewis is convinced that this will soon normalize. Hubert says, in case it does not improve soon, I should fly to Germany with Barbara.

Generally Barbara is extremely weak and is crying rather often and I myself am rather useless; I am terribly nervous. During the night Barbara is still very restless. I sleep with her in the room and Michy sleeps in my bed. At the moment Barbara is having her afternoon nap. Today she was relatively cheerful. Michy has school holidays at the moment.

During Barbara's illness, a paediatrician from Great Ormand Street, the world famous children's hospital in London, who is working at Mulago Hospital at the moment, came to see Barbara every day. The Bishop of Nsambya, Dr. Billington, visited Barbara daily and on March 23rd he confirmed her.

As soon as Barbara started getting better I stayed with her in hospital every day from 7.45 am to 7.30 pm. I could eat in the hospital and Hubert and Michy went to eat in a hotel.

Dr. Lewis told me later, that if Barbara was not in such a good condition health-wise before she fell ill, she could never have pulled through. The Dr. from Great Ormand Street said it was very fortunate for Barbara to be in that small Mission Hospital, because in Mulago for instance there would not be the time for the care Barbara needed. Indeed, she was never left alone at all. I will always be more than grateful to the doctors, sisters and nurses.

Barbara eventually was released from hospital for Easter.

By the way Michy had a really good report for Easter with a praising remark by the head-master. He is one of the youngest children in form 4.

May 10th, 1965

Another X-ray was made of Barbara last weak. There are still signs of the pneumonia. Her leg is still swollen. The Doctor, however, said, that she is improving and he advised me to let Barbara go back to school so that she gets back in her routine. When school started again last Thursday Barbara went to school again and she seems to feel well.

Do you have a TV receiver in the meantime? We don't see American films anymore. They are boycotted because of political reasons. We now see mainly English films, but also films from China, Russia and Germany.

Next: Maxl has bitten him already
By Sonja Winklmaier
more from author >>
First published: October 6, 2008
Sonja Winklmaier moved to Uganda in the 1950s to follow her husband, Hubert Winklmaier, as the German Volkswagen Factory sent him to work with their agent, Cooper Motor Corporation.

Go to: Letters from Sonja