“They were probably the worst three minutes of my life.”
Five years have passed but Robert Lynn remembers every word of the conversation with the doctor in a South African hospital that changed everything.
Sitting at his kitchen table in his house in Co Antrim, he is describing a time and place, thousands of miles away, that he can never forget.
His mind drifts back to the Sunday night in the hospital in Middelburg, where he is recovering from brutal injuries suffered in a violent farm raid.
In those three minutes he is told he has survived being shot and left for dead. Elsewhere in the hospital, the medic says, Susan, his wife of 40 years, is lying mortally wounded. He is told to decide when to “throw the switch” on the machine keeping her alive.
“I couldn’t comprehend what was going on,” he said, his voice still incredulous.
The passage of time and returning to Northern Ireland have not helped him escape the horrific events that unfolded in the early hours of February 19, 2017.
The physical scars are still there — the marks on his legs from where the gang used a gas-powered blowtorch. A bullet is still lodged in his neck.
So, too, the mental torment. “I will never be at peace again,” he told a sentencing hearing last month.
The couple met in South Africa in 1977.
Susan, from Southsea in Hampshire, came to Johannesburg after her father, who served in the Royal Navy, relocated the family for work reasons.
Mr Lynn’s early years were spent at Ben Madigan Park South, near Belfast Zoo.
A trainee engineer at what was then Northern Ireland Electricity Services, working at Ballylumford Power Station, he emigrated at 28 after spotting an advert from Johannesburg city council’s electricity department in The Sunday Telegraph.
The five-year contract offered security at a time when delays to the new power station being built at Kilroot made his prospects here far less certain.
It was to be a five-year stay. It ended up being 40 years. He worked from 1977 to 2001, retiring at 52.
In 2001 the couple moved to Dullstroom, a small farming town in Mpumalanga province, three hours east of Johannesburg, where Susan ran a riding school.
After that closed they kept two of the horses and bought a farm 4km outside Dullstroom with their friends Allan and Claire Taylor in 2006.
Farming is one of the most dangerous occupations in a country with a shockingly high crime rate. The first two months of 2017 saw 59 farm attacks and 19 murders.
“I’m afraid we were in denial in that we were one of the ones who said: ‘It will never happen to us’. And that was obviously a big mistake,” said Mr Lynn.
He added: “Susan’s nickname with the Africans was ‘the English lady with the horses’. Everybody knew there was nothing there to steal. There was no money on the farm, there was nothing of any worth unless they wanted the TV or something.”
Their false sense of security was horribly shattered that February morning.
It was 2.10am. The men came through the bedroom window, the breaking glass shattering the peace of the night. One of the men fired two shots. Mr Lynn initially thought they were aimed at him.
“I could see the gun. I saw the flash and then I heard the bang. And I could see every bullet in the chamber, because it was a revolver,” he explained.
“And obviously the first bullet — the two bullets that were fired — were at Susan.”
One hit her above the eye, he said. “That’s when she was comatose, she was out of the game straight away.
“It was pandemonium, we’re talking seconds, we’re not talking minutes.
“The one with the gun hit me on the back of my head, pulled me out of bed, and they took me into the living room, and then it all started: ‘Where is the money? Where are the guns? Where are your safes? Do you have a wall safe?’ All this kind of nonsense.”
Mr Lynn, his hands tightly bound behind his back, was pushed into a seat.
“That’s when they started to torture,” he added.
Pointing to faint white scars on his legs, he recalls how they took a blowtorch to burn his body.
“I was lucky because the gas ran out. They were starting on my stomach, they had finished with my legs… they were working their way up. But then it just went dead. There was no gas left in the canister. If they had searched the garage they would have found another 20.”
Mr Lynn gave the gang whatever cash was on the table, around 200 or 400 rand (£10 or £20). He handed over his bank card and PIN.
“But that wasn’t enough, so they started again, so then I thought: ‘My last chance is the safe, and I don’t know what’s in it — and first of all I don’t know what the bloody code is’.
“This was a little wall safe, but it wasn’t in the wall, it was in a closet.
“So I took them back into the bedroom, and that’s when I saw Susan, and she was lying on her side in a foetal position, and the blood was all over the pillow.”
He tried to guess the safe code. When he tried his own birth date, it didn’t work.
“One said: ‘Stop f****** me around’. This was the one who was the boss man, I reckoned. So then he came back with a steak knife and started stabbing me in the chest… just prodding.
“So I started bleeding, and I remember saying ‘My God, Susan, this is unbelievable’, thinking Susan was going to get mad now as there was blood on the carpet.”
In desperation he tried his wife’s birth date. The safe opened. The gang grabbed whatever was inside.
But the couple’s ordeal, which lasted about two-and-a-half hours, was not over.
The gang was well enough informed to know a maid worked at the farm, although not well enough to know Sunday was actually her morning off.
They dragged Mr Lynn into a ‘bakkie’ (pick-up truck).
“I sat there for I don’t know how long, in the dark, and I heard what was like a sack of potatoes being thrown into the back, and then I heard the moaning, and I realised it was Susan,” he said.
They were driven away on back roads and onto the road towards Stoffberg, about 60 minutes west of Dullstroom, stopping at a makeshift lay-by.
Mr Lynn remembers being pulled from the vehicle and “frog-marched” across a field and through a barbed-wire fence.
His feet were bare and bleeding. He was in pain.
“You could see what was going on because the full Moon had come out. There was no cloud... stars,” he recalled.
“Number three, the boss man, he told me to get down on my knees and I told him to f*** off. Then, I don’t know what happened.”
The next thing he recalls is hearing voices as the gang made off, and lying on his side.
“I had been shot, but I didn’t know. I didn’t hear anything, obviously it came from behind.
“And I felt this hot stuff running down my back, round my neck and round my throat area.
“And I couldn’t get my hands, my hands were tied, so I didn’t know what it was, but it was very hot.”
In the distance he heard the vehicle drive off, then stop again.
“I heard two shots, and because it was like a valley, it echoed all over the place,” he added.
The sound, he later learned, was his wife being blasted again.
Despite having been shot in the neck, Mr Lynn freed his hands and crawled away in search of help. Hearing sounds from a forested area nearby, he crawled over and found his wife in a ditch, a plastic bag in her mouth.
He dragged himself to the road, where he stopped a Jeep carrying two men heading to a nearby dam to fish.
The authorities were alerted and the couple taken to the ‘MidMed’, the central hospital in Middelburg.
“I don’t remember anything after that until the Sunday night, it was about 9.20pm and I came around,” he said.
What happened next still leaves him shocked.
“The lady surgeon came in, and these were probably the worst three minutes of my life.
“She just came out straight away and said: ‘Mr Lynn, I’m not going to take the bullet out, it’s too near the vertebrae, but you’re quite entitled to take a second opinion’. I thought: ‘What are you talking about?’
“I said: ‘What about Susan, how is she doing?’ The words she used were: ‘Well, you’re quite entitled as the spouse to throw the switch’.
“So she told me I had been shot, now she’s telling me that she’s on life support and that, as she said, all her major organs are showing signs of distress and ‘you’re quite entitled to throw the switch’.”
A photograph showed his heavily bandaged wife in her hospital bed. Local police told reporters she was unrecognisable from her injuries.
“They took me down to see her, but you could hardly see her, she was covered in tubes and everything,” Mr Lynn said.
“Tuesday morning, at 9.20 or something like that, her heart stopped. And that was it.”
The three-man gang was apprehended after mobile phones stolen in the raid were tracked. They were found in possession of the couple’s ATM cards.
Legal delays meant it took five years for the case to reach trial. One of the three accused died while on remand.
Last month Meshack Nkosinathi Yika (28) and Themba William Yika (38) were each sentenced to 37 years in prison.
But Mr Lynn has no sense of closure.
“They will be out of prison sometime but I am still in prison,” he said. “They put me in prison. I haven’t got a chance.”