A year of lockdown: We can never replace family but we tried, says doctor working on the frontline
On the one-year anniversary of South Africa’s national lockdown, Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi and Marchelle Abrahams chat to two frontline workers about their personal experience of working in public healthcare.
For Liesl Hermanus, the clinical services co-ordinator at The Perinatal Mental Health Project at Hanover Park Midwives Obstetrics Unit (MOU), seeing the effects first-hand of Covid-19 was an everyday occurrence. And yet, it never really hit her until her colleagues started falling ill.
She took note of the stats and numbers of deaths, but it's only when people close to her became positive that she realised how dire the situation was.
"I remember at the beginning of Covid, everyone was taking every precaution into consideration, and because of Covid, the way the hospital runs was completely different than before.
“We've had to put so many new systems in place. And obviously at first there was a lot of adjustment and many challenges, but when it came to the second wave, we were much more prepared," the mental health advocate said.
But after the first wave, many hospital staff started testing positive, despite wearing PPE and taking precautions. "You become so aware of how easily people can become infected, and so I became infected in the second wave," she said.
It was also around the same time that many other staff members at the facility tested positive.
Hermanus explains that in the first week she experienced severe fatigue, and initially didn't think much of it until her eyes started paining, just one of the symptoms of Covid-19.
Her symptoms were mild compared to her other colleagues, but she does recall days where she wasn't able to get out of bed because of the body aches, headaches and exhaustion.
After two weeks in isolation, she was grateful to return to work and serve her community.
As a front-line worker, Hermanus has also decided to take the vaccine, even though there is a lot of scepticism around it. "I do believe that some protection is better than no protection. And I'm not only thinking about myself, I'm thinking about other people with co-morbidities."
Dr Daniel Tharratt is passionate about medicine and is working at Itireleng Community Health Centre doing his second-year internship.
Tharratt says starting his internship during the pandemic and subsequent lockdown was challenging but also fulfilling. During the first wave, Tharratt says there was a lot of uncertainty but they navigated through the virus and adjusted to the new normal.
When the country experienced the second wave, “the health system was more prepared even though there were still challenges, such as PPE, we managed them and we had more positive outcomes,” Tharratt said.
To manage the pandemic, hospitals introduced a policy of no visitors. Tharratt says that was sad to watch.
“In the afternoon the hospital's wards were vibey. We had visitors, a family who brought positive energy. But the mood during the pandemic became sombre because most patients did not have the family support that we are used to seeing,” Tharratt said.
What he said was amazing to watch, was seeing how sometimes the health workers doubled up to support the patients beyond the call of duty. “We can never replace family, but we tried, as exhausted and stretched as we were,” Tharratt said.
With the roll out of the Covid-19 vaccination, Tharratt says he is seeing the light: “I've been vaccinated.
“Having a vaccine is a relief, not just for myself, but because it will allow society to go back to a more normal environment: humans are social beings and to be able to go back to that is something that we can all appreciate.”