Wednesday, April 21, 2010

What happened?

The memorial service for Pieter will be held on Wednesday 28 April at 11:00 in the NG Kerk, Groenkloof, 75 Van Wouw Street.
People generally want to know what happened to Pieter, and sometimes it is hard to tell them, sometimes it is hard for them to ask.
In any event, it is useful for me to work through it, so here is how I was able to reconstruct the events that led to the tradgedy of Sunday morning, 18 April 2010.
Pieter had been suffering from thyroid problems for a number of years. It made him very tired, and coupled to his usually melancholy disposition, it was hard for him to bear. Although he was a medical doctor he did not believe in self-medication, and indeed, hardly ever took any form of medication at all. Instead he concentrated on physical fitness, and relied on the endorphins developed in this way to keep himself healthy. He was very strict on himself in every way and, through the nature of his job as an emergency anaesthetist also did not use any alcohol so that he could be called out any time of the day or night.
He worked alone and relied primarily on ad-hoc and emergency calls, although he had a few regular doctors who used his services. Being unmarried he lived with my mother and stayed in the only bedroom he ever knew, which was also his administrative office, his guitar practicing room and his email centre. That's where he lived and worked. His life was as sparse as that of a medieval monk and he had virtually no physical possessions, but a very good investment portfolio. Most of his discretionary income was spent on charity events, on supporting other institutions, attending just about every significant sporting event, walking the Otter trail, or even just spoiling my two sons. He did not have a cent of debt and more spare capital than he could ever use up.
Then, when the economy turned, some of his work slowed down, and, not surprisingly, the value of his investment portfolio virtually halved (still leaving him very comfortably off). Towards the beginning of the year an unscrupulous salesman of insurance policies, calling himself a financial consultant then advised Pieter that he did not have nearly enough money on which to retire. This was the first time ever that Pieter thought about money. He was shocked to the core and developed an obessive fear that, should my mother die, he would be out on the street. No amount of assurance by my mother and himself, that he would inherit her house anyway, and that he would be taken care of, either by myself or my boys, would set his mind at ease. Meanwhile his practice slowed down a little, but not significantly - yet it added to his worries.
He tried to deal with his anxiety by running and exercising and in the process, was proud to tell me, that he had lost 6kg, and now weighed only 64. He was skinny as a rake, and proud of it. He was also fitter than he had ever been.
Yet the anxiety grew and grew. My mother called in various "real" financial advisers who kept on assuring him that he was OK. However, he was still worried about not owning fixed property and some friends and I advised him to buy some.
Then he came down to Cape Town to run the Two Oceans. We all looked forward to his visit - the boys in particular, and, knowing that he was in a very bad space, I cleared my diary and made every effort to spend as much time with him as possible. We invited Elaine over to dinner, he even invited some of his friends to tea.
The day before the race he and I went to the beach in Hout Bay. He wanted me to close the roof of the cabriolet because the sun was bad for our skins, but he relented when I offered him a baseball cap.
We had a long walk on the beach and he shared his troubles. He explained his financial worries and asked if he would be able to pay the mortgage on an apartment. I explained that, firstly, yes he would, and secondly, renting it out would cover almost the whole of the bond and thirdly, should he run into trouble, I would bail him out, although it would not be neccessary, given that the economy was improving. Yet he was not satisfied.
As we walked the other worries came out. He had lost his self-esteem completely. He was deeply remorseful about two patients who died on the operation table when he was a clinical assistant right at the beginning of his career. No amount of discussion from my side - the fact that he was an assistant to the consultant in charge; the fact that there had been no investigation; the fact that he was part of a team and that the surgeon had equal responsibility. Nothing would help. As far as he was concerned the fact that nobody else through he was responsible did not take away the fact that he felt that he was responsible. We walked and walked but the discussion went nowhere. He referred to the blog I had written about him at . He said he did not know why I thought that any of his activities were worth writing about - or worth any praise anyway. It was very clear that his trouble was not financial, it was one of self-esteem.
He asked about Franci's sister who committed suicide 18 years ago. He asked if Franci was OK now. He told me that he had contemplated suicide while he was doing military service in Askham in the Eighties. I told him I knew. I did not realize that he was contemplating it again. I am just not good at picking up on hints. So I kept on re-assuring him that we were there for him.
Then he told me how lucky I was. I had a good job, a loving wife, good kids, a nice house. I lived in a beautiful city. I loved what I was doing. Then he said that he, on the other hand, had nothing. In fact, he said, he was nothing. He was worth nothing. No amount of re-assurance would help.
Then he returned to Pretoria and signed the contract on a really nice flat in Groenkloof Gardens. He telephoned me and asked if it was the right idea. I kept on assuring him that it was. He said he wanted to cancel the deal because he feared the risk. I told him that if the deal did fall through he could buy two smaller units elsewhere. But, I said, the bank would not lend him money if they thought that there was any risk. I also told him that I would have bought in Groenkloof Gardens if I had the chance.
Then he cancelled the deal. Then he got a fine of R50 000 for cancelling. All this when his biggest worry was his finances. Then he tore a ligament in his ankle and was told he could not work for six weeks. Then it turned out that his professional insurance would not pay out even one quarter of his regular daily earnings. The fact that he had enough cash in the bank to carry him for six months, did not seem to matter to him. More importantly, he could not run. He could not train for Comrades, he would not be fit yet to run Comrades anyway. And he could not work up endorphins from his daily runs. When he went to donate blood, they said his iron count was too low - so they didn't want his blood.
My mother Emailed me to tell me how bad he was, and I telephoned him. He did not want to talk to me. I told him I would help. He told me I couldn't. I emailed my mother telling her that he clearly needed help, and that when I got to Pretoria on the 28th of April, we should sit down with him and get to the bottom of it.
But he got worse. My mother consulted the financial advisers again, who re-assured him. His friends rallied around him. They all knew that he was not well.
On Saturday my mother asked her bridge friends to come and play at her house because she was worried about him. They obliged. He drank tea with them. He sat in his room and played the guitar. They thought my mother was over concerned and that he looked quite OK. My mother thought that he was looking much better. He was coming out of it.
On Sunday morning my mother heard him get up at six. She thought he was probably called out for a case. He pottered about the house a little and then returned to his room and closed the door.
At about seven a friend called my mother saying that he was worried about Pieter. He had called his cell phone over and over, but there was no answer. My mother said that he was in the house and she would go and look. She went into the room, saw him on the bed, and said to the friend over the phone, "he is dead".
He had used his training as an aneasthetist. His abiltiy to put people to sleep, and he had put himself to sleep. But there was nobody who could wake him up again.
The support that we have had from friends and family has been amazing. The news of his death has shaken the Groenkloof community who saw the little skinny guy running though their streets. The Tuks running club has lost one of their most loyal supporters. The medical fraternity has lost a valuable, trusted and amusing member. The list goes on and on. The phone calls, the emails. it has just been amazing.
I keep on thinking - if only he knew, if only he really understood how deeply he was loved, and how many people would hurt so badly...


Nicoline said...

Nicolai en ek dink al van Sondagaand aan jou, Fransie, die seuns, en natuurlik jou ma. Ek het self 'n broer op 'n soortgelyke manier verloor en verstaan die hartseer en vrae. Nicolai is vreeslik geskok; hy het Pieter immers goed geken en avonture saam met hom gehad. Pieter was so heerlik onkonvensioneel. Die eerste keer wat ek hom gesien het was seker 10 jaar terug by die seuntjies se tenniswedstryde. Hy was kaalvoet en het 2 bokse vrugte gehad en die spelers moes kom eet vir "natuurlike energie". So was daar allerlei interessante ontmoetings met hom. Ons wens julle sterkte toe in die tyd wat voorle.

Nicoline Wessels

Johan said...

Beste Johannes
Ons innige simpatie met Pieter se dood. Ons dink aan julle.

Johan en Hannalie Knoetze

Anne said...

Thinking of you at this time - I understand the worry of watching someone special teeter on the edge of suicide because of depression and lack of sel-esteem. I am so sorry this ended like this. You will be blessed for being there when he needed you and I hope you find the necessary strength from those who care at this time.

Sheila said...

Our deepest sympathy. May you and your family find peace and be able to draw strength from those who are with you in this time of sorrow.

Sheila and family

Cheryl said...

This is SO sad ... my heart aches for you and your family. At a time like this words are so inadequate, but we know that no one can take away the special memories that you have of Pieter and we trust that these memories will lift and comfort you all through this time.

With deepest sympathy, Cheryl & Kevin Williams

Markus said...

Johannes, ek kan my nie die pyn indink nie. Dankie dat jy dit met ons deel. Sterkte vir julle almal. Markus

Mark said...

Hi Prof Cronje, I read your tribute to your brother when you wrote it and found him an interesting person although I never met him. What came across is his unselfish, unassuming nature. It is something I see in yourself too. I hope that you and your family will find strength in the memories he left behind for you.

Mark C

Patsy said...

Thank you, Johannes, for sharing your loving and reflective accounts of your brother, Pieter. Leon and I were very moved and our thoughts are with you and your family at this time.--p@ c

rtosen said...

So baie jammer om te hoor van Dr Cronje. Hy het van tyd tot tyd vir my tandheelkunde pasiente narkose gegee. Ek het hom ervaar as iemand wat dieper dink, voel en ervaar as die gemiddelde persoon. Hy was 'n baie bekwame narkotiseer en 'n baie unieke en interessante mens. Die wereld het 'n baie goeie mens verloor. Ons is almal baie geskok en hartseer. Baie sterkte aan al sy geliefdes. Riette Tosen

Ari said...

Dear JC. Your pain (sadly) is another reality check that will always remind some of us of that tragic option to life. The signs of such a forthcoming event tend to be there (like WordPerfect's reveal codes) but while we are all seldom attuned to make sense of them, remember that Someone else does... I hope you and your family are coping. Sterkte, man. Ari Naidoo

Manti said...

Prof J,
daar's geen woorde, net saam dink, meegevoel.

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