Krugersdorp doctor's daily voice notes keep Covid-19 families in touch

15 October 2021 - 08:00
Members of the Hoenselaar family are, left to right, Damon, Paul, Nicole, Melanie, Alannagh and Jason. Paul and Alannagh were both under the care of Dr Mohammed Variava, who kept the family updated with daily WhatsApp voice notes.
Members of the Hoenselaar family are, left to right, Damon, Paul, Nicole, Melanie, Alannagh and Jason. Paul and Alannagh were both under the care of Dr Mohammed Variava, who kept the family updated with daily WhatsApp voice notes.
Image: Supplied

For those lucky enough not to have experienced the pain of dropping a loved one at hospital and not being able to go in with them, imagine waiting at home for days, weeks and even months without any knowledge of their condition.

With this in mind, a doctor in Krugersdorp, Gauteng, decided at the beginning of the Covid-19 enforced lockdown that he would send the families of every one of his patients an update every day.

Dr Mohammed Variava, a nephrologist at the Netcare Pinehaven hospital, would normally call these families but with about 60 patients a day because of Covid-19, he now uses WhatsApp.

Every day as he does his rounds, he sends a detailed update to the social media platform explaining the procedures or conditions of the patients. On occasions where patients are very unwell he will send another update in the evening. 

Variava is a modest man — he wouldn't even send a photo of himself for publication with this article — so this comes naturally to him. But for the families of patients his messages are a godsend. 

Alannagh Hoenselaar and her husband Paul were both in the doctor's care. Paul died this week of a brain tumour and Alannagh is still recovering after Covid-19 and a hip operation.

Their daughter Melanie said waking up to Variava's messages was a relief and took the hassle out of trying to get hold of ward staff and being sent “from pillar to post”.

“This man is an angel,” she said. “He is above and beyond. He saved my mom's life and I know he did everything he could when it came to my dad.

“It's such a relief to wake up to his messages. He is the biggest blessing and the best thing is I was being able to send the messages on to family members which takes away the exhaustion and repetition.” 

At the end of June Alannagh was under Variava's care for Covid-19. She spent more than six weeks at the hospital and managed to survive a cardiac arrest as a result of the virus. She spent another six weeks at a step-down facility. 

Paul was admitted on September 6 for a brain tumour.

Alannagh was then readmitted, but this time for a hip replacement, on September 26. From then till October 1, when she was released, both were under the doctor's care. 

Paul died on Tuesday.

“Mom is doing OK; she's trying to recover.”

Jabulani Mabaso died from Covid-19 on July 24 after being in hospital for almost a month.
Jabulani Mabaso died from Covid-19 on July 24 after being in hospital for almost a month.
Image: Supplied

When Nonandi Mabaso's husband Jabulani died from Covid-19 on July 24, he had been at the hospital for almost a month.

Mabaso said Variava's message on June 22, when Jabulani was admitted, was a surprise but it helped her get past her initial panic.

“I had other people around me whose loved ones were in hospital and they were clueless as to what was happening.”

Jabulani was taken to Pinehaven in the morning.

“I followed the ambulance but obviously they wouldn't let me even register him because I had been exposed. I came back home and Variava sent me a message: 'Morning Mrs Mabaso, I'm Dr Variava and I'm looking after your husband and this is the situation ...'

“He would give a short clinical report usually in a voice note not more 1 min 30 sec, telling me his condition and his infection levels and then what they were going to do further.

“He would then make me understand: 'Mr Mabaso is very sick'. And his closing — without fail was 'God bless'.”

She said the doctor took a weekend off while her husband was in the hospital.

“He sent me a message on Friday to say he was going on holiday and would be back on Sunday and gave me the name of the doctor who would be taking over and not to expect a message on Saturday. He messaged on Sunday evening to tell me what had happened while he was away. 

The Saturday he was away she got a call from Variava to say Jabulani had had a heart attack and that the hospital would call her once they knew what had happened.

“Even on the day he died, [Variava] called me at 03:40 to say his condition had deteriorated.

“After he had died we spoke on phone and he told me about the paperwork and when and where I needed to collect it. He always made it easier even after he was no longer in his care — otherwise you're in the dark.”

Variava said that is just what he does to help care for his patients.

“It all started last year at the beginning of Covid-19 when patients would come in and they would be here for 14 days or so, or they would leave in a body bag, and the family has had no contact with them for that time, they don't know what is happening day to day.

“I've always called the family of my patients, it is something I do — not all doctors do the same. But I like to give the families peace of mind.

“Now I can't phone everyone because I'm looking after about 60 patients [because of the virus] so I decided I would send a WhatsApp which is quicker. Sometimes families will add me to a family WhatsApp group so everyone will get the message. If they don't understand something then they can ask.”

He said some patients had family overseas and he would let them talk to their loved one in a video “so that if the patient does die then at least they have had a chance to speak to each other”.

“I think people do appreciate the updates and it also means that there is nothing 'lost in translation'.

“I did this with my own family. I looked after my grandfather until he passed. Pinehaven is a small hospital but he wanted to be close to family. I was able to keep in touch with my family.

“For me it started organically. I know it's not something every doctor can do — or should do — next thing I'm going to get the medical fraternity swearing me,” he joked.

Jacques du Plessis, MD of Netcare’s Hospital division, celebrated the many doctors who have left their families during the pandemic in service of others.

“Many doctors throughout SA go the extra mile every day, often sacrificing personal time with their own families in service of the patients under their care and their anxious loved ones.

“In these difficult times, given what they have been going through these past 18 months, the empathy and humanity of Dr Mohammed Variava, who is an exceptional human being and consummate professional, is particularly meaningful and much appreciated. We wish to pay tribute to Dr Variava and other healthcare professionals like him.”