A nurse administers a covid-19 vaccine to an elderly man. Photo: Facebook.
A nurse administers a covid-19 vaccine to an elderly man. Photo: Facebook.

Having seen the horrors of Covid-19, health workers urging all to get vaccinated

By Lethu Nxumalo, Nathan Craig Time of article published Aug 22, 2021

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Durban - With the country reaching a 10 million vaccination mark and the fourth wave predicted for late December, healthcare workers in KwaZulu-Natal are urging those eligible for the jab to join the queues which could save their lives.

On Friday those aged between 18 and 35 years old came out in their numbers to be vaccinated as approved by the government in an effort to increase the vaccination programme roll-out.

Specialist physician Nerika Maharaj was the first healthcare worker in the province to be vaccinated.

“The last few weeks have been crazy. KZN is behind the rest of the country in terms of the third wave but now we are at the peak and most of the ICU patients or those admitted with severe illness and requiring oxygen support are not vaccinated,” she said.

Maharaj said working in the Covid-19 ward at Prince Mshiyeni Memorial Hospital, in Umlazi, had opened her eyes to the horrors of the virus.

“This week we had a group of people on the same street admitted. A family contracted the virus and their neighbours tried to help but now they are all hospitalised. I have made sure that all of my family members either got or registered to get their vaccination.”

She said the virus robbed families of closure and final goodbyes.

“A mother is currently fighting for her life in ICU while her son is hospitalised and her daughter just wants to say comfort or say goodbye to her mother but we can’t allow it.

“It is traumatising to the families and to us as doctors, we are not monsters but we must follow regulations. Having to break the news is heartbreaking as you know what it is like to lose a family member but not being able to say goodbye leaves a whole in your heart.”

Sister Lolo Ndlovu, ICU unit manager at Netcare St Anne’s Hospital in Pietermaritzburg, said the pandemic had robbed them of seeing the smiles of their patients.

“I don’t recognise my patients, I’m sure they long to see our faces too. There is a cloud of loneliness that is following us everywhere. We miss hugging,” she said.

Ndlovu said her unit was the first to receive a 21-year-old patient last year, who was a son of a colleague.

“At that time we all feared that once you have covid-19, you died. We supported and checked on one another, we had to be there for each other.

“Fortunately, the young man survived and this year, on the anniversary of his hospitalisation, he celebrated by sending a message to all of us.”

She said currently, there were fewer patients admitted as the vaccination and the non-pharmaceutical precautions that communities are taking were helping.

“I’m begging people to get vaccinated. The vaccination will prevent you from spreading the virus, it will reduce the severity of illness and will result in fewer hospitalisations. It represents the difference between a fairly minor versus a severe illness. We’re trying to preserve lives.”

Tim Hilliar from Durban getting vaccinated on Friday. Photo: Facebook

Private doctor Mags Moodley has not only fought Covid-19 in hospital wards but before his vaccination, he ended up having to fight for his life after testing positive during the second wave.

“I was hospitalised and ended up in high care and even a month after being discharged, I was still battling symptoms but I survived and wouldn’t wish that on anyone so people need to vaccinate.

“In the beginning you heard of colleagues dying or being hospitalised but since getting vaccinated we are safer and more confident,” he said.

Moodley said as healthcare workers they were suffering from mental, physical and compassionate fatigue.

“It has been about one-and-a-half years of this pandemic and we are exhausted. We (are) humans and everyone has their limits and we are being stretched. We care for our patients but at the same time we are becoming desensitised and numb to it all.”

Sister Lucia Sikhakane, manager within the surgical ward, which has now become a covid 19 ward at the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital, said there was an influx of patients during the second wave, but that the numbers had since dropped.

“It is scary having to nurse the little babies but fortunately they are not so severely ill. At present, there is a tremendous disparity in the ages of the patients we are caring for. For example, right now we are caring for a one-month-old baby as well as a 100-year-old patient,” she said.

Sikhakhane said losing patients in the past year had been painful but it was particularly difficult when it was one of their colleagues.

“Some patients we knew, others we did not but while nursing a patient you get close to them. Losing a patient is hard, no matter how long or short a time you nurse, it is always traumatic. Afterwards you continue questioning yourself, asking ’did I do enough?’”

She urged all those 18 years and older to do the right thing by getting vaccinated.

“A vaccinated patient was recently admitted and the way this patient progressed was quite remarkable. In fact, the doctor said that this particular patient would certainly have been ventilated had they not been vaccinated.”

Sister Marion Irvine, maternity unit manager at Netcare Parklands Hospital, who also works as vaccinator at the Netcare St Augustine’s Hospital vaccination centre, shared that for maternity nurses caring for patients in their environment, a place where human touch and a personal connection is all important, had become heartbreaking.

“A patient in labour might want you to rub her back, but with Covid-19 any contact is strictly limited,” she said.

“Nursing with a mask, visor and gown is extra hard work and you are often pouring with sweat. Your patients cannot see your face and it is just that much harder for them to feel your love as the personal protective equipment can prevent you from establishing a true connection.”

Irvine said the death of colleagues prior to vaccination had left devastation but with vaccination, the fear had lessened as those who are vaccinated were not getting severely ill.

“To our knowledge no vaccinated patients have gotten seriously ill. We are however seeing younger patients this time around and they have predominantly not been vaccinated.

“I did not hesitate when my opportunity to be vaccinated came around. In fact I felt very privileged and have never been so proud. I would recommend vaccination as healthcare professionals have not hesitated as they know the benefits of being vaccinated.”

Sunday Tribune

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