A doctor attends to patients in a hospital. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)
A doctor attends to patients in a hospital. Picture: Ayanda Ndamane/African News Agency (ANA)

A hospital matron’s chilling account of her day-to-day life on Covid-19 battlefield

By Zelda Venter Time of article published Jul 3, 2021

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Pretoria - A matron at a leading private hospital has given a chilling account of her day-to-day life on the Covid-19 battlefield.

The matron asked to remain anonymous as she was not allowed to speak to the media.

“I have no idea where to begin. The current situation is new for every health-care worker. This is a totally different picture than we saw during the first and the second waves of the pandemic,” she said.

“Tents are being put up outside the hospital building to support a possible full emergency unit. Containers arrived in droves and were placed in the parking lot to test the public for Covid-19.”

According to her, emergency units are declared “red zones” and all other sections are full with Covid-19 patients.

“It’s chilling to see mobile coldrooms being driven to the back of the hospital because the morgues are already full to capacity.

“When I do my rounds in the mornings, it’s no longer weird and unusual to hear how many people have died during the night or the past 24 hours.

“I’m not only referring to deaths inside our hospital, but also people who died in private cars outside the emergency unit.

“Family members stop their cars outside the unit and hysterically call for help, saying their loved ones need help or are ‘breathing funny’.

“Emergency staff frantically run to these cars to try and help. They rush these dying people inside to the resuscitation area, where they try to save their lives – and fail.”

She said in most cases, the victims were relatively young adults.

“The miscomprehension around Covid-19 vaccines is also worrisome. People who refuse to take it – we often look at them in total surprise with a question mark on our faces.

“There are different sides – on the one side are people who had their vaccinations and think they’re untouchable and don’t need to wear masks anymore. They don’t screen for Covid-19 before coming to hospital because the think they can never be infected again.

“On the other side are those who refuse to take the vaccine, saying it’s associated with the ‘mark of the beast' or for many other reasons. Then there are some health workers who refuse to take the jab for various reasons.”

The matron said the past two weeks were hell in the private health sector.

“When you walk into a unit, you’re greeted with ‘welcome in the war zone’ mood – and this is literally what it is at the moment, a true war zone.

“Health workers are burnt out – physically tired and in a mode of survival. We have no other choice but to push through. It’s difficult for all of us.

“Apart from a stressful working environment, many of the staff have added problems. They have family members who died of Covid or are ill, and breadwinners who have lost their jobs.

“Then there is always the fear that we may take the virus back home and infect family members. To attend to a patient with Covid-19 means that you have to wear full protective gear for your entire 12-hour shift. At the end of the shift there are not only tears, but sweat and pain from the gear.

“There’s no doubt that our health system is under tremendous strain. How long this can last, is the question.

“Patients literally lie for days in the emergency unit, waiting for beds. Some patients are beyond help and don’t qualify for a ventilator ...

“Even if you qualify, there is no guarantee that there’s one available. Medical equipment is limited and it’s awarded according to priority.

“The most scarce commodity is our intensive care beds. Getting such a bed is a luxury at this stage.

“We are at the point in Gauteng when patients need ICU beds, we consider transferring them to other provinces where Covid-19 is not so bad.”

She said another challenge was that Covid-19 had become “part of our life”. If a patient was admitted following a car accident for instance, they first had to do a Covid test, she told the Pretoria News.

“This ends up as a positive case in many instances. People becoming infected inside the hospital is also not as foreign to us as it was during the first and second waves.

“We also see patients arrive here Covid-free and testing positive within three days. These are usually cases where it was a false negative result on admission. This virus is deceptive.

“During this third wave, we also see many more paediatric patients (children) who are infected than we saw during the first or second wave.

“While we saw a surge in suicide cases from October to December, we’re now inundated with these cases. People are simply tired and heartbroken by the loss of loved ones or desperate due to a lack of money.

“Even giving birth at the hospital has taken on an entirely new dimension. Many women have to give birth on their own. No family members are allowed – even if everyone has tested negative. So no more visits for grandparents to see the new arrival.

“Staff deaths due to Covid-19 are part of our everyday life. Colleagues who contract the virus go into self- isolation and never return.

“The mental toll Covid-19 is taking on the health workers – from doctors to nurses to everyone involved – is beyond description. It doesn’t discriminate and we each have our own way in dealing with it.

“Covid is keeping us all humble at this stage. We’re just grateful to return to hospital each day without symptoms. And we are happy to leave after a shift, realising how blessed we are to once again reunite with our families.”

■ Visit https://sacoronavirus.co.za/ for info on vaccine registration.

Pretoria News

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