The COVID-19 pandemic affects us all across the world, but healthcare workers bear the brunt of the fight against the virus. Facing sick people every day is no easy task. The Heroes of Groote Schuur Facebook page shared a detailed experience of what life during a pandemic is like for nurses on the frontline.
Verna Collins and Judith Parenzee both work in the Groote Schuur ICU ward, and say that life is not easy for them.
According to the nurses, their job seems to never end, as more and more people are being admitted to ICU as the days progress. A total of 1653 people in the Western Cape are currently hospitalised due to COVID-19, with 326 in ICU or high care.
The Western Cape currently has 13 444 active cases of COVID-19, with a total of 52 178 confirmed cases and 37 234 recoveries. The peak of the virus is expected to hit at the end of June and beginning of July.
The nurses explain they typically work 12-hour days from 6.30am to 7.30pm, and even sacrifice their days off because hospitals are short-staffed.
“Normally we’ll work a Monday, Tuesday, then have Wednesday and Thursday off, and then work the weekend. But now there’s no staff, there’s just no staff, so now they ask us to work one of our off days as well,” explain the nurses.
“We used to have 6 beds in here, now we’re sitting with 18 beds in the unit that I’m currently working in, we’ve only had one patient that’s actually left. The turnover is so bad. We’ve been admitting constantly, it just goes on and on and on.”
Beyond the mounting cases, what breaks their hearts most is the isolation the patients experience.
“The thing that I can’t handle the most is the families not being involved with the patients, especially if they are at their end. How do you communicate that?
“And there’s no time for us to make that connection with patients because of the workload. It’s like a machine, you work from bed to bed to bed, then you go back to the beginning, so the norm that we knew as nurses and the contact we had with patients is no longer there because you won’t get through the day’s work, it’s crazy. None of the patients can communicate, because they’re all paralysed, they’re all sedated. We paralyse and sedate the patients with medication because we need to protect their lungs.”
Many families video call their sick loved ones, which can be a heartbreaking thing for those in the worst condition.
“So now what they do, the families, is they video call. If the patient’s doing well then it’s okay then at least they can see progress. If they’re dying how do you video call the family? The family wants to see their relative. You can tell them the patient is ventilated, the patient is sedated but to physically get a picture and see all the tubes – they don’t even recognise the person that’s lying there. This is the worst part for me.”
Amid the fight against COVID-19, healthcare workers sacrifice their own health and quality time with their family. Many healthcare workers have become infected with the virus, with some even dying from it. For those that survive, their emotional health suffers.
“We’re all parents, we all have families we need to take care of,” say the nurses. “And you still go home with whatever’s happening here. This place steals a lot away from you. We are emotionally drained. I’m emotionally drained from yesterday and now I have to face today.”