'I lived in fear of infecting my son': nurses on the frontline against virus

12 May 2020 - 15:35 By Nomahlubi Jordaan, Nonkululeko Njilo and Kgaugelo Masweneng
Tsakanane Zitha, a maternity nurse based in Ekurhuleni, said the Covid-19 pandemic has forced her to make sacrifices to protect her family.
Tsakanane Zitha, a maternity nurse based in Ekurhuleni, said the Covid-19 pandemic has forced her to make sacrifices to protect her family.
Image: Supplied

There is nothing that puts a smile on Sister Vuyiseka Gqabhuka's face like delivering a healthy newborn baby.

"I love bringing babies into this world. It is rewarding and fulfilling to see what my hands can do in a few minutes, bringing a healthy baby into the world," said Gqabhuka, a mid-wife at Stretford community centre in Orange Farm, Johannesburg.

Gqabhuka, who has worked as a nurse since 2016, regards her job as a calling. And it's a special occasion on International Nurses Day.

“I worked in other departments when I had just qualified as a nurse, but they were not challenging me enough.

“With midwifery, I am constantly challenged. I know I cannot fail a pregnant mother whose dream is to embrace her baby. You have to do everything in your power to ensure the baby is alive and healthy."

As fulfilling as her job is, Gqabhuka said it is not without challenges.

"No mother wants to hear they will be going home without their baby. It is difficult to break the sad news. When you do, you need to counsel that mother.  

"Our workload has doubled because some nurses in our group were deployed to public hospitals and isolation centres. We deliver more babies now. The number has doubled. We used to deliver at least two to three babies every day.”

 She commended the government for ensuring they had personal protective equipment.  

However, she added: "I don't think nurses are adequately rewarded for their jobs. We are paid very little and the bulk of our salary is taxed."

Leshilo Labionda from Tswane District Hospital said nurses are scared for themselves, their families and their patients.
Leshilo Labionda from Tswane District Hospital said nurses are scared for themselves, their families and their patients.
Image: Supplied

Dr Sibongile Ntshangase, a medical practitioner at a public hospital, said nurses play a crucial role.

"I have been a doctor for six years and I've worked closely with nurses. They are very important because without them, there is no health-care system," Ntshangase said.

She said nurses are a patient's first point of contact when they visit a health-care facility.

“Nurses take more time to talk to patients. They help with counselling and tell us which patients to prioritise in consultation. As doctors, we constantly have conversations about nurses and we all agree that if you are a doctor and you don't have a nurse on your side, your shift becomes horrible. Doctors are nothing without nurses."

Tswane District Hospital nurse Leshilo Labionda said sanitising her home can sometimes be a challenge.

“What I do mostly when I return from work is to take off my uniform before I actually enter the house, and then head straight to the shower. I use sanitisers and have hand soaps in all basins."

She said hugs and shaking hands upon arrival was out of the question because of the risk of cross-infection.

She said work has been “extremely difficult".

"Giving the best we could, we are all scared for ourselves, our families, and for our patients.”

International Nurses Day is exciting, she said. 

“It's a very special day for me because nursing has brought me into the lives of people who I wouldn’t have met if I weren’t a nurse. Some of the most interesting people I have ever met came into my life through the profession,” said Labionda.

Nurses are very important because without them, there is no health care system
Dr Sibongile Ntshangase

Tsakanane Zitha, a maternity nurse based in Ekurhuleni, said the pandemic had forced her to make sacrifices to protect her family.

Theses included sending her child to stay with another family member.

“There’s a good chance I might contract the virus, so I lived in constant fear of infecting my son. I eventually decided he should stay with his father because he works from home,” she said.

Zitha, who joined the profession five years ago, said the pandemic had changed a lot of things at home and at work.

“It’s totally different, awkward in fact. We can’t interact with patients like we used to, we have to keep distance, have to wear gloves and we can’t even interact with colleagues."

Zitha said:  “It’s straining for all of us, even the patients. Everyone is scared. They assume we might have the virus, which is not necessarily wrong because some people are asymptomatic."


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