Covid-19 Frontline Stories: The day in the life of a Durban doctor
South Africa’s hospitals are filling with the sick fighting the Covid-19 virus as the second wave has led to more than a million infections and over 26 000 deaths. This has had an untold toll on our frontline workers, many of whom are now coming forward with their stories. This is one of them.
OPINION - I've been wanting to write my feelings and experience of what it is like to be working in this pandemic.
The following is a summary of one of my shifts.
I write this not for thank you, not for glory but for people to have insight as to what I see from where I stand in this pandemic.
7am I take over from the night Doctor, she looks tired like she's had no sleep the entire night.
She hands over 5 patients waiting from the day before for beds and 2 for review.
She can barely speak because of the mask and long night. I say get some rest, she looks at me, giving me the look of "good luck", the night has defeated her.
I go back to my car. Put on my plastic apron, my butchers thick apron, my half face respirator and my visor and I'm ready.
The Covid clinic is already full.
I go and don my gown, double boots another plastic apron and double gloves.
I see patients ranging from those battling to breathe on double oxygen to those who are sick but who will probably manage on meds at home, I hope and pray.
As I listen to each ones chest I pray my seal on my mask is on proper.
I can barely hear their breath sounds. I smile even though they can't see it and say "don't worry you going to be ok, we will look after you" like I always do at the end of the consult.
But now its different because I know for some I'm lying to them.
Normally I'm a very imposing figure but one can imagine seeing me in full PPE trying to reassure someone and that person finding hope while looking at me like that, will be very difficult.
I sit down go through each file again. Write up about 6 different meds for the patients. Hoping that it will alter the course that they on.
I glance outside the line to get in has doubled. More that 20 patients waiting.
I review those whose results are ready and discharge 3. Another 5 waiting for beds, 10 now waiting.
I rearrange the files from most sick to least sick, knowing that really they all sick and all need beds.
My nurse finding beds up to Harrismith, looks at me in distress, he's only found 3 so far.
But he gets at it.
I look for blood results they not ready, I shout to move faster and get the results at the nurses because now there are 30 people waiting in line.
I feel guilty because I know these nurses are are giving their best.
We must push harder because this is what we do. I think this virus will not defeat us.
I urge everyone to work harder work faster because our patients need us. They can't, they haven't had a sip of water yet nor gone to the loo.
My phone rings, a friend is ill I tell them to come to the hospital and I'll make a plan.
What plan, I have no idea.
Bloods and xrays are ready. I discharge 5 patients, 2 more patients are added to the waiting for bed box.
My nurse asks me if I had something to eat, I say no time for that and move to the next patient.
The next doctor arrives. I tell him don't worry about those I've seen I'll sort them out, see the new patients.
He doesn't have have any empty beds to see new patients.
I get a call from my friend, another one of my friends I grew up with can't breathe, they on the way to the hospital.
They arrive, he gasps for air, we get a bed as its now life or death so he goes up to the top of the waiting to get in list.
I'm afraid, I may have to ventilate one of my closest friends. I start his treatment.
Thank God he responds to treatment. No need for intubation. He's stable. I tell his wife he's ok over the phone, she's crying. I tell my other friend who brought him well done for getting him to hospital, now go home because he's not sick.
I see the rest of my patients whose results are ready. Add to the waiting for bed pile, I've lost count.
I walk out head down as I'm exhausted but people are still waiting for help. I'm mentally and physically exhausted.
I open a new bin bag in the car throw all my reusable PPE in and seal it.
Spray my shoes and pants bottoms with sanitizer.
I phone my wife. I tell her to put on all her PPE, I'm coming home, she has to help me soak everything.
I get a call from another friend's wife, he can't breath. I tell her get him to hospital. I can't help him at home.
I feel guilty again but I have to think with my head not my heart.
I get home park the car, forget I must leave it in the sun, move it out again.
My wife comes, she looks like a minion in her PPE.
I strip naked soak all my clothes in a tub with soap and disinfectant.
My wife gets the rest and soaks it and wipes everything with dettol, I hate that smell now.
I walk into the house straight into the shower. Scrub with Sanex and Dettol.
I sit on the bed. I ask for my phone. I start returning calls. Lots of people need advice.
Ask specialists in other hospitals to check in on friends in hospitals I don't work in.
I warn my wife again that my mother is not to come downstairs.
I'm afraid if I do bring something back and I infect her at 75 years old I know I'll lose her, she's all the blood family I have left.
I lie on my bed. I tear thinking about all those I couldn't help and can't help.
I'm still checking on some while I type this.
While I type this my throat is burning, I pray it's because of the respirator and not the virus
This is a summary of my shift. I've left out a lot, but I hope this helps you reading this what is actually going on and why its important that you stay safe.
I'm not a health hero, a hero can sacrifice himself and save everyone.
Even if I do sacrifice myself I won't save everyone. That's not heroic in my eyes.
I'm just trying to do as much as I can and make a difference. Currently its not working.
God help us all.
Please read and understand the message and not critique it, I've done that enough to myself but if I can save one more person by prevention via this message then it was worth typing.
This first hand account by this doctor first appeared on Facebook. At the request of the doctor, IOL is not naming him.