'Nurses have seen the worst — please protect yourself from the coronavirus'

Appeal comes as government meets to discuss ways to handle rising Covid-19 infections

02 December 2020 - 10:36 By shonisani tshikalange
'It’s painful to see a patient who you have bonded die or not get well,' says a Pretoria nurse.
'It’s painful to see a patient who you have bonded die or not get well,' says a Pretoria nurse.
Image: 123RF/Sergey Serdyuk

A nurse at a Pretoria hospital, Phumudzo Mbedzi, said after being in the war against Covid-19 for almost a year, she shivers when she thinks of a possible resurgence of the coronavirus.

The 33-year-old said the year has been stressful for all health workers in the country.

“When this started, everyone was scared. We were told to dump our leave and get to work. We were working because we had to,” she said.

“It was a time when every day when you went to work you knew all your patients had Covid-19 and you didn’t know whether you were going to contract it when you knocked off. It was worse because sometimes you would find there was not enough personal protective equipment [PPE] to protect yourself.

“It was a tough year, but there came a time when we thought we were getting relief. But it is like we are going back to where we started.”

The government is meeting this week to discuss possible intervention measures as SA experiences a resurgence of Covid-19 cases, particularly in the Western Cape and Eastern Cape.

From this week, all planned events in the Garden Route region have been banned until further notice. This as the province's disaster centre addressing Covid-19 said “drastic action is required”, action which it is “not afraid to take”.

The centre said it is “already enforcing existing disaster management regulations across the province with roadblocks, blitzes and unannounced visits to high-risk areas to ensure compliance”. It is doing this in partnership with national police, municipal law enforcement and the departments of labour and health, among others.

The Nelson Mandela Bay metro is publishing a map of its hotspot areas, and acting mayor Thsonono Buyeye said he would welcome stricter regulations as “free movement within the city is spreading the deadly virus”.

“With the festive season looming we are at a higher risk of having the virus all over the country if we do not enforce stricter regulations now. We see videos and pictures of irresponsible social gatherings, of young people having parties, and we are extremely worried because we believe we have done everything we could do to educate residents about the seriousness of our situation.”

Noting the metro has recorded 1,788 Covid-19 deaths, Buyeye said: “Each one of us by now knows of someone who has died due to Covid-19. It is painful to see so many people die when some of these deaths could have been avoided.”

He appealed to metro residents “to seek the government quarantine sites if the situation is not conducive in their homes for them to quarantine or self-isolate”.

“We do not wish to lose more people in our city to this deadly virus. The number of patients in intensive care units (ICU) is increasing every day. We are told 109 patients are currently in ICUs, with 95 in private hospitals and 14 in public facilities. A total of 43 patients were on ventilators, with 42 of them in private hospitals.”

'You can never get used to it'

Mbedzi said losing colleagues to the coronavirus, and those who fell ill with it, worsened the stress of health workers.

“Imagine being told someone you work with is in ICU, and the person died in that ICU ward. You don't know whether you will survive.”

Mbedzi said the number of infections were so high at one point that fewer nurses were on duty to attend to patients.

“Our problem is that even when they can see we have been working hard under tough conditions, they don’t thank us. It’s very painful.”

When you see what your patients go through, it makes you realise you might die in the same way.
Phumudzo Mbedzi

She urged people to protect themselves to avoid a resurgence as health-care workers are exhausted.

“What scares me about the virus is that one moment you are together as colleagues saying your goodbyes [at the end of a shift] and when you come back to work, a person has died, ” she said.

“It’s painful to see a patient who you have bonded with die, or not get well. When you see what your patients go through it makes you realise you might die in the same way if you contract the virus.

“You can never get used to it. You can tell when someone is dying and it affects us physically and emotionally.

“I shiver when I hear there might be a resurgence and a lockdown again. It was horrifying. We have seen the worst as nurses, to the point where sometimes we would feel sick entering a ward. I don’t wish that state to come back again.”

Mbedzi said she is homesick after not being able to see her young children for an extended period this year.

She hopes to spend her festive season in Pretoria with her family, then travel to Limpopo for New Year.

“I hope there won’t be a need for a strict lockdown because I want to spend time with my children. There was a time when I did not go home for six months,” she said.

“I used to tell myself I was contaminated by the virus and didn’t want to go to Limpopo to  infect my innocent children. I told myself I will only talk to them over the phone, even though they won’t understand.

“There was also a time when I couldn’t go to shop to buy myself clothes I needed. It was only me and work. I was neglecting myself. It was bad.

“It hasn’t been easy for us. We didn’t get relief from the government or an increase, but we were working hard. This has added to our stress of Covid-19. It was very difficult. We were overwhelmed.

“It's a worry that people are so relaxed. They no longer bother about Covid-19,” she said, urging people to follow the protective measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus.