A year of Covid-19 in SA: The front-line workers you don’t hear about

By Rudolph Nkgadima Time of article published Mar 5, 2021

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Cape Town - Over 1.5 million positive cases have been recorded in South Africa and more than 50 000 people have succumbed to the virus.

This time last year, the National Institute for Communicable Diseases (NICD), confirmed the first positive cases of Covid-19 in South Africa.

The patient was a 38-year-old male who travelled to Italy with his wife. They were part of a group of 10 people and they arrived back in South Africa on March 1, 2020.

As the last responding front-line worker, Sheila Hill, a forensic pathology officer based at the Salt River Forensic Pathology Laboratory, says her experience as a front-line worker during the pandemic can be summed up as “compassionate fatigue” – fatigue in all aspects.

It has been a roller-coaster year, she says. “We have celebrated the decline in trauma-related deaths (due to our lockdown regulations) but simultaneously mourned the incline in Covid-19 deaths, and vice versa,”

“Having to push down the effect of Covid-19 on our personal lives, we needed to pull up our front-line worker responsibilities and suddenly conform to a new normal. Our personal actions and lives revolved around our duties as front-liners. Front-line workers became outliers,” Hill said.

From being masked for most of the day, solely during post-mortem assistance, to being fully masked during a 12-hour shift, pandemic has imposed unforeseen and unfamiliar daily experiences that needed adapting to, which Hill says requires dedication and adjustment.

Hill attests that her job has always been a risk of exposure to the unknown and this pandemic has brought shone a brighter light on this reality.

“It is not a skill, however I draw on the biblical practice of love in all I am and in all I do. In the current chaos, closed off with multiple layers of protection, empathy is all I can offer to mourning families. I can only hope it can be felt from our 1.5m distance,” she said.

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