'Emotionally drained' nurses devoted to saving lives as Covid-19 cases spike

File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

File picture: David Ritchie/African News Agency (ANA)

Published Jun 26, 2020


Cape Town – As South Africa approaches its Covid-19 peak, with a record 5 688 new cases confirmed in a day this week, two Groote Schuur hospital nurses on the front lines remained resolute and committed to saving lives.

Verna Collins and Judith Parenzee – stationed in the C27 Respiratory ICU, which is now used as a Covid-19 ICU – work 12-hour shifts and, because of staff shortages, sometimes work on their days off.

“We get here about 6.30am, leave at about 7.30pm at night. Normally we’ll work a Monday, Tuesday, then have Wednesday and Thursday off, and then work the weekend. 

"But now there’s just no staff, so now they ask us to work one of our off-days as well,” the nurses said in a testimonial via the Groote Schuur Hospital Facility Board’s Heroes of Groote Schuur project on social media.

The project aims to share the stories of those working at the facility.

While the long hours were emotionally draining, they said there was not much time to make connections with patients and families were not involved.

“We used to have six beds in here, now we’re sitting with 18 beds in the unit that I’m currently working in. We’ve only had one patient that’s actually left. 

"We’ve been admitting constantly. It just goes on and on and on. The thing that I can’t handle the most is the families not being involved with the patients, especially if they are at their end. How do you communicate that?”

The nurses said previously they were able to create a rapport with patients and meet their families. 

“So now that part is totally taken away. It’s only a phone and then you don’t know who you’re talking to on the other side. So now what they do is video call.

“The family wants to see their

relative. You can tell them the patient is ventilated, the patient is sedated but to physically get a picture and see all the tubes – they don’t even recognise the person that’s lying there.”

As of Wednesday, the Western Cape had recorded 56 345 Covid-19 cases and 54 more deaths, bringing the number of coranivirus-related deaths to 1 619. The province recorded 39 475 recoveries.

Earlier this week, the head of the Provincial Health Department, Dr Keith Cloete, said at least 22 health workers in the province, private and public, had died because of Covid-19, with 2 560 testing positive. 

As the province moved close to the peak of infections, the Department of Health was recording more than 1 000 new cases daily, said Premier Alan Winde.

“We cannot be certain whether we have started approaching our peak or whether it has been pushed out, and we are therefore undertaking an additional calibration of the model using the latest data and trends,” he said.

Winde said the province had 1 700 patients with Covid-19 in public and private hospitals.

“This is the highest number of Covid-19 hospitalisations to date, and we are anticipating and planning for a further increase.

"The additional capacity provided for by the Hospital of Hope at the CTICC has already provided significant support, recording 230 admissions by Wednesday; 176 people have been discharged from this field hospital to date.”

Winde thanked those on the front lines. “Staffing remains a very real challenge because all new facilities need people to make them effective. 

"We have introduced a number of mitigation steps to address this, including the use of volunteers, bursar nurses and the Cuban doctor contingent,” he said.

Cape Times

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