It’s fair to say that the past few years of our lives read straight out of a crime novel, one that’s filled with unmarked cars, constant surveillance and threats that are both veiled and pretty out in the open.
After submitting reports to the Department of Social Development, the Department of Health and the national and provincial police departments regarding an illegally run care facility for the aged, the facility was closed down more than a year ago – and my wife and I haven’t stopped looking over our shoulders.
It’s no joke: Copywriting and journalism tells you more about the world, like which models make up the top 10 best vacuum cleaners for the year, but journalism also treads on toes.
What does this have to do with the game of bridge?
Everything: Bridge had gotten me through this time, and I had made sure that a card deck was closeby at all times. It was a way to distract, and a great way to get information from one point to the next by, simply, shoving pages inbetween the cards.
Other than this, I had suspected – unfortunately – that bridge games, gambling and the allure of alcohol and a nearby casino had been used as a cover to lure elderly, vulnerable people into signing up to the facility in the first place.
Make sure you know your bridge club, and make sure you know them well.
Here’s the whole story.
Arriving at FH
Far Horizon Frail Care.
The name made the place sound idyllic. Pretty good. The accompanying ad made it seem like an even better place: One that offered around-the-clock care, qualified and trained staff nurses and an on-call doctor at the facility.
Once my wife had booked ourselves into the facility and closed the doors behind us, we realized that we had made one of the biggest mistakes of our lives.
It was meant to be a clean, fresh start. A way for us to recover – physically and mentally – but it turned out to be a very literal House of Horrors that would come to be reminiscient of “One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest” and Rob Zombie’s type of film rolled into one.
We were driven to Far Horizon in a recycling truck.
This was the first clue that something was off. It wasn’t the equipped transport they claimed, and I had serious doubts that the driver had adequate licensing to drive a car, let alone the truck. (Later, this turned out to be an accurate thought.)
Our Lives at FH
Living at Far Horizon Frail Care took only about two-and-a-half months, but it felt like an eternity.
Later, we’d find out this (and the general haze of the experience) was due to the drugs we were being given. Benzodiazipines, and without a prescription, prescribing doctor or medical professional having been near the administering process.
We finally found this out through a look at the medical files, bearing my legal name and the drug I was supposedly given – far more than once.
Is it necessary to mention that this was entirely without consent?
Debbie Sharp and her husband ran Far Horizon like a tight ship: Picture Nurse Ratchett with a looser haircut, though the same cold demeanor.
Together with them, “Nurse” Melita Groenewald took care of everything else. This included care of several elderly patients with severe dementia. the administering of injections and the procurement of drugs that today make me wonder how in the hell drugs of this type were “procured” and where from.
I remember the very night I looked at my wife and said, “We have to get the hell out of here alive.”
From Worse to Hell
It didn’t take long for us to figure out that we were being drugged, presumably heavily.
Nothing felt right. One day blended into the next: Debbie would bring her round of “nightcap” drinks for patients, regardless of what medication they were taking or their current mental state, and then disappear off to her room (or the casino where she worked for the rest of the night).
We felt better once we refused her daily “nightcaps” and the in-house meals.
For a while, we switched to gas station pies and KFC gravies. Things felt clearer and we could piece together what was going on.
At night, we pieced together the story: I kept writing and playing bridge, sticking to odd hours. Now was not the time to arise suspicion when we were still caught in the middle of the lion’s den with a card deck.
Then, Far Horizon got worse.
At least four patients died during our time there. To this day, I’m not sure how or why – and even less sure I would like the answer.
One part of the facility was used exclusively for recycling: Trucks in and out on a permanent basis.
The other parts of the facility held the “patients” and the rest became accommodation for holidaymaker (who I’d assume weren’t told about what was going on in the rest).
My wife and I started submitting reports and evidence in every direction to everyone who would listen during this period, including cutting the information to laser-disc and spreading copies to all corners of the world with our fingerprints on the front.
It was a terrifying time, and if I didn’t have bridge, I wouldn’t have had focus (or distraction).
Here’s the Rest
“You’ll write me a review, and a good one.” Debbie said to me one night. The implication if I didn’t was that my wife and I would find ourselves out on the street or dead in a ditch, whichever came first.
An e-mail arrived in my inbox containing the essential details of the Far Horizon holiday package. This was apparently what I was going to be using to write this review – or risk getting killed for it.
It goes without saying that I told them to fly a kite on the same night.
Loyalty is a strange thing: Many people are willing to die for it. That night, I was.
I had loyalty to the patients being tortured in Far Horizon and loyalty to my wife. That, I think, is the simplest way I can put it in words today.
Not long after the refusal of writing this review for Far Horizon, the gate leading to the outside was padlocked. This, of course, was terrifying, and we had realized by this point that the local town police were turning a blind eye.
Getting Out: Arrests Made
We escaped from Far Horizon under cloak-and-dagger that belongs in a Bond novel.
Packing was quiet, evidence was stashed and we hired an armed security guard for the day’s worth of travel to the outside.
We had word from Social Development that it was time to leave. Official documents recommended immediate closure of the facility
Not long after, news reported the arrest of Melita Groenewald, accommodation scammer.
Reading this was a relief. Part of the scam was now out in the open, together with the Sunday Times reporting of the facility’s closure.
It’s Not Over
I thought it was over, until sometime nearing the end of February. The woman who had recommended the facility to us in the first place stopped her car next to me on the road.
“We’ve just gotten my father out of Far Horizon. It’s still operating. We’re driving him home.”
My blood turned to ice as I looked at the old man, shivering on the back of the car with a dollar ice-cream, looking as innocent as a child.
The same day, Melita’s husband – an apparent accomplice in the accommodation scam part of all of this – would stop next to me on the same road, offering me a lift.
“Hey, buddy… Are you the same Alex from Far Horizon?”
Needless to say, the answer was no.
Right there, this information went to high-ranking police: South Africa’s Brigadiers. Captains and Generals.
What they do with this information from here, I don’t know, and I have reached the point where I’m not sure I want to know.
I want to see justice, and I want to see that no bridge game, card game or casino ever gets roped in to prey on the vulnerable, the disabled or the elderly.
When I tell people to know their bridge club and the people who frequent it well, I mean it – and this is why.