Ninety-year-old double amputee an inspiration to others

Two years ago Brinkie Marais (90) had to have both her legs amputated after she’d been diagnosed with gangrene.

But it didn’t get her down. “I’m really looking forward to the future and the things I can still do,” she says today.

She’d always been busy and active and ready to tackle anything. For about 18 years she and her husband, James (94), farmed in various places in the country but these days they live in an old-age home, Huis Maudie Kriel in Ceres in the Western Cape.

Although she’s now confined to a wheelchair Brinkie as far as possible still looks after their living unit and takes care not only of herself but also of James, who’s weakened.

She says she often asks the Lord to bless her with more things to do because she likes to stay busy.

As she puts it, “Idle hands are the devil’s workshop and I want nothing to do with it!”  

About four years ago Brinkie started getting sores and aches in her legs.

“It was as if dogs were chewing my feet,” she says, “or as if I was standing barefeet on hot coals.

“Sometimes it felt as if steel wire was being wound around my feet, tighter and tighter.”

She was diagnosed with gangrene and was admitted to hospital in August 2016. By that stage the blood circulation in her lower legs had been badly affected.

She recalls her prayer at the time: “Lord, if I were to lose my legs at my advanced age, I just want to thank you that it didn’t happen years ago. Because then I possibly wouldn’t have been able to deal with it because I would’ve been too busy.”

Both her legs were amputated above the knee.

“I never complained about my lot,” she says of her emotions at the time. “I was grateful that I was still alive.”

But what did affect her was that she was suddenly dependent on other people, especially the first few weeks after the operation when nurses had to wash her.

“I lay there for hours thinking how I could help myself,” she says. “It was very difficult for me to have other people caring for me.”

She realised that she’d have to start seeing her wheelchair as an extension of her body – it was her new legs.

“I saw it as a challenge and not as a problem. I learnt how get myself from the chair into my bed, and back into the chair.

“Next I learnt how to wash myself at the basin and how to use the toilet without help. It helped me regain my self-respect and dignity.”

But she did fall apart once, she admits. A few days after she was released from hospital she saw herself in a full-length mirror. For the first time she was aware of how other people would now see her.

Shocked, she called out, “I no longer have a waist – there’s nothing! I look like a laundry bag on a chair.”

She was flooded with self-pity and started crying.

Her daughter, Riana Joubert, who was with her at the time, assured her that she wasn’t a “lesser human” just because she no longer had legs, that it was her personality that made her who she was and that she had the same human dignity as before.

She also encouraged her mom to always take care of herself because if she neglected her appearance she could easily look like that “pathetic laundry bag”.

Brinkie decided to stop feeling sorry for herself and adopted a positive attitude – and with this new outlook she soon started feeling better.

Today she’s full of life and can’t keep still. “I enjoy getting around in my wheelchair, or if my daughter pushes me down the street. I love it!”

She’s also learnt how to use her sewing machine again, even if she has to “pedal” with her hands. And when she hears about terrible things that’ve happened to other people she’s grateful that for 88 years she had the use of both legs, she says.

“The Lord has been with me my whole life and He’s still with me