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IN HER OWN WORDS: Nurse Freda Staebler lost her mom to Covid-19 but works long hours to save patients

05 August 2021 - 15:19 By Freda Staebler
Nurse Freda Staebler has been nominated as a hero of Groote Schuur Hospital.
Nurse Freda Staebler has been nominated as a hero of Groote Schuur Hospital.
Image: Groote Schuur Hospital

Freda Staebler started her nursing career at the age of 40. Everything changed under the coronavirus pandemic. She has seen patients die, daily. But those nursed back to good health, who get to go home, bring a sense of joy. 

Staebler has been nominated as one of the “Heroes of Groote Schuur Hospital” in Cape Town. This, in her own words, is her story:

I worked in a factory for 16 years before becoming a nurse.

A friend that used to work in the factory with me encouraged me to leave and do my nurse's training. She said I had what it took to be a Groote Schuur nurse. So in 2013 I left my job and started studying for three years to be a nurse.

I started here at Groote Schuur in 2016, when I was 40.

I started in the orthopaedic ward. I love orthopaedics. But then during the pandemic we became a Covid-19 ward and everything changed.

If you had to see what goes on behind closed doors in the Covid-19 ward, you would never take a chance again. The number of patients whose faces we must close.

We have been getting counselling at the hospital, but we also had to learn to counsel others, like the patients. Patients lie there seeing the others around them dying. Sometimes we can't get to them in time to pull the curtains around them, and a patient will call us and say “that auntie next to me isn't breathing any more”.

It's not just the patients in ICU that are dying any more. Because ICU is full, now there's criteria for getting a bed. We have patients dying in our ward every day. I don't want to talk about my bad experiences because I'm too emotional. But I find joy whenever a patient gets well and goes home. For me that's the highlight of my job.

I live with my father, my sister and her child and my 21-year-old son. My mother died of Covid-19 six months ago today. We've all had Covid-19 at home.

I wake up at 4am to get here in time for my shift at 7am. The public transport is a nightmare at the moment [after the recent taxi violence]. We leave here again at 7pm.

At the moment we are working six days a week.

On my day off I like to clean, read, watch TV or go to the beach.

When the sister in charge called me and said she nominated me to be a hero, she said: “I know you will be upset with me.” I felt nervous but also very proud. But it is really a team that does this together. We are all heroes, not just me. I don’t think of myself as a hero.

This is part of a Heroes of Groote Schuur series being run by the Cape Town hospital. Article republished with permission.