Dr Vusummzi Mehlo, a clinical manager at St Barnabas Provincial Hospital in Ntlaza, near Libode in the Eastern Cape, reminisced about the fear and stigma associated with Covid-19 in the early days.
His was the first hospital in OR Tambo district to treat the disease, and at times he had to leave his desk, put on PPE and treat patients.
“Staff had a lot of anxiety and were not prepared to risk their lives. As a manager I had to lead by example, and the first patient that we admitted was initially treated by me and other managers," said Mehlo.
"We had to allay fears of the patient, too, as he panicked after witnessing the anxiety among healthcare workers.”
Mehlo, who in the early days also had to drive a Covid-19 patient to Mthatha General Hospital when ambulance workers refused to do so, described the past year as one of the toughest periods in the lives of many healthcare workers and himself, both emotionally and spiritually.
“The second wave was very catastrophic, especially in rural areas where patients presented to hospitals very late after their herbal concoctions had failed to make them better," he said.
"People believed that there is more chance of dying at hospital than at home so they self-medicated and sometimes consulted traditional healers until the illness started to complicate.
"By the time they got to hospital the prognosis would be so poor that they ended up succumbing to the virus.”
But there were highlights, too, including saving the life of a 98-year-old Covid-19 patient. “This helped us gain reputation as a caring hospital and people started to come here in droves,” said Mehlo.
"With more than 90% of staff vaccinated, he said he is optimistic. “Staff are ready for the third wave, and we hope it won’t be as bad as the second wave. By this time next year the situation should be looking even a lot better compared to the past year.”