Booze restrictions will help until we get a Covid vaccine: specialist at busy hospital

01 January 2021 - 11:36 By alex patrick
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Prof Mervyn Mer, principal specialist in critical care and pulmonology at Charlotte Maxeke.
Prof Mervyn Mer, principal specialist in critical care and pulmonology at Charlotte Maxeke.
Image: Sebabatso Masomo

A front-line worker at one of the biggest hospitals in Gauteng said the number of Covid patients being admitted to the hospital was steadily increasing and that a vaccine was the only way to help ease the burden in hospitals.

Prof Mervyn Mer, a principal specialist in critical care and pulmonology at the Charlotte Maxeke Academic Hospital, spoke to TimesLIVE on New Year's morning after another busy night at the hospital.

Mer has not had a day or night off from work in 10 months — since the virus took hold in SA.

“This morning we have already had multiple patients put on ventilation. These patients are very sick and the [work to keep them alive] is enormously labour intensive.

“The numbers [of patients] are increasing steadily and the [ICU] unit is pretty full, but we are expecting it to get worse in the coming week as people come back into the province.

“We are also having a staff change [to allow for a break] so we will have some brand new staff members which can be a bit of a challenge at first. But the staff are dedicated. The work is very taxing — very tiring. Many people are really tired and the demands [at the hospital] are really significant. We still need to maintain a service to non-Covid patients too.

“The [health] system hasn't always been prepared but a number people have gone above and beyond on the front line. It's not an easy task to get up and see mounds of really sick patients. We get calls every day from around the country — [medical] people asking for direction and advice. The only thing which will address the problem is a vaccine — but we must keep heads up high.”

Mer is a contagiously optimistic person who encourages hope and the spirit of ubuntu in his ward.

"[The work] has been a big ask and many people have done remarkable work and have been dedicated to work. Even in tough times there is a little light and the light brings us hope.

“From my own perspective I have not had a single day or night off in 10 months. But that's the job — I have a unit to run. I need to ensure spirits are kept high, that the ward is running well, that there is adequate PPE. I've got to be around all the time — we've all got to keep our heads high and move forward.”

The hospital traditionally serves region F and some of region D of the city — which includes Hillbrow, Alexandra township and Diepsloot, but in critical times like this it will take in patients from elsewhere if there is capacity.

In July an additional 29 beds were donated by FirstRand’s Spire fund to combat the rising number of Covid-19 cases seeking treatment at the hospital.

The new ward cost R5m and added to Charlotte Maxeke's 17 other Covid wards.

The hospital's cardiology ward was chosen for the Covid cases because it already had the life-support equipment needed for critical patients.

Mer said the addition of this ward was critical to care for their huge influx of patients at the height of the pandemic in the country, and it will go a long way in helping with the second wave.

He said the alcohol restrictions went a long way in helping the hospital cope with the influx of patients as trauma beds had been spared. He appealed to the country to maintain behaviour in this time of crisis.

“The disease won't go away — a vaccine is the only hope. In the meantime these measures will help ease the burden on the health-care system which is already fragile.

“There is no doubt that restricting alcohol also restricts the number of patients we deal with. Especially in this province where people are returning from holiday, it will free up beds and we've been able to save the lives of people who have complex medical cases [other than Covid] — where we've been able to offer them beds.

“We have a responsibility to make sure people without Covid also get the service they deserve — it would be a huge travesty if you can't provide service to those who require it.

"[With the vaccine] transmissibility will have less impact on health services and will limit the number of people who have to deal with the disease. Many of these people are physically and mentally exhausted.

“The numbers of health-care workers who have died is significant and we've got to try halt the disease so we can get back to some sense of normality.”

But he said people needed to keep up their hopes.

“So much has been done by just a few and that's certainly the case in critical care.”


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