Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)
Picture: Phando Jikelo/African News Agency(ANA)

Covid-19: What it's really like working on the front line

By Viwe Ndongeni-Ntlebi Time of article published May 9, 2020

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As the coronavirus pandemic ripples through the world, the pressure on medical personnel is mounting.

Health workers have been hailed as heroes, but getting that title comes with sacrifice and sometimes losing a life.

Family members and colleagues of the first nurse to succumb to Covid-19 related complications, buried Petronella Benjamin this week.

Magda Mocke, a nurse and programme coordinator working in the Unit for Infection Prevention and Control at Tygerberg hospital, says nurses who work in the Covid-19 wards face more emotional and psychological challenges.

Mocke works at the Covid-19 screening and testing centre, and says the team has to regard every client/patient as being potentially infected. 

“We know the risk and therefore are constantly aware of how important it is to protect ourselves and in turn our client/patients too,’’ says Mocke.  

She adds, “It is always sad to lose a patient. The mortality rate of Covid-19 infected patients put in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is much higher than any other patient.  We are human and are affected by the death of our patients but we support and motivate each other and will try our very best to deal with this outbreak and provide the best care possible to the patients”

Since the Covid-19 pandemic outbreak, Mocke says her family has also had to adapt to a few changes. 

“When it comes to family, the house rules have changed.  Greeting from a distance, changing shoes and decontaminating the hands before entering the house, followed by taking a shower and changing clothes before having a cup of tea and chat. They are more attentive and have taken on more of the household responsibilities. They understand when I need to work irregular hours and will send caring and motivational messages.”

Professor Renata Schoeman, Head of the MBA Healthcare Leadership Programme at the University of Stellenbosch Business School (USB), says that the rapid spread of the virus has an enormous impact on medical professionals

Schoeman has urged healthcare sector leaders to be aware and take measures to protect their staff, while healthcare workers need to be vigilant and take care of their own health while also taking care of patients. 

“In an already stretched, under resourced environment, medical professionals are finding themselves powerless. They are suffering from fatigue, longer shift hours, guilt as they are not able to assist everyone, fear of running out of supplies and ventilators, and fear for their own health as well as putting their own families at risk. They are torn between ethical professional duty and the instinct to protect their own.”

Another nurse Blossom Gordon-Cebo, who works at Groote Schuur hospital at the Covid-19 ward says dealing with Covid-19 patients on a daily basis made her realise that they “are only patients in need of care and support”.

“I spend a few minutes with patients every day to encourage and reassure them that everything is going to be fine.They must just have hope and faith to see them through.

“When patients die, we feel very sad and helpless. We feel we could have done more to assist the patient. We cry together in changing rooms and support each other through this difficult time.We also know that we are human and we could do only our best for our patients.

“As for me, I have a very strong family support system  and because of their support I can be strong and do what I am doing.My family is my motivation as they encourage me to be the role model and assist in this fight against Covid-19.​

“However, sometimes I fear for my family, and the questions pop up in my head all the time: what if I infect my whole family? I will never forgive myself for that,” says Gordon-Cebo.

Across social media, the message to the public from medical professionals has been clear: “We stay at work for you and your family, please stay home for us and our families”.

Prof Schoeman says that it’s vital for the community to support and encourage medical professionals and not stigmatise them during this crisis.

“Don’t avoid your friends who are out in the field! Connect with them on online platforms and never underestimate kind gestures such as ‘thinking of you’ and ‘thank you’. Buy them groceries and leave it at their door or do a virtual homework session with their children.”

“Please don’t make their work even harder by spreading and sharing fake news. It can really break the spirit for someone that tries to help patients based on sound scientific principles. Rather share hopeful and positive stories of recoveries and post inspirational messages instead of doom and gloom.”

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