Those were the headlines in one of the Sunday papers.

He was around fifty years old and with his wife. They stood in front of me in the supermarket. He was in shorts and a light blue t-shirt, wearing beach flip-flops. Standard casual wear for the holiday beach town where I work at Netcare Kingsway Hospital in Amanzimtoti, on the KwaZulu-Natal South Coast of South Africa.

I could see him reading the headlines. Then he shook his head and muttered something to his wife.

“News” was all I heard. It was accusatory, devoid of any connection to the surge in Covid-19 infections we are experiencing in this province. 

I was not in my surgical scrubs. I too wore shorts and a t-shirt, although not as smart as his. Instead of flip flops I wore my Crocs. Every day at the hospital I wear closed restaurant Crocs that I wash every day with my scrubs. It was good to be in my beach and bush Crocs.

“It’s true, you know” I said. “ I can take you to Kingsway Hospital down the road and show you the people waiting outside.” I knew they were there,  sucking on oxygen from  battered black cylinders. They would have been triaged by a team of nurses, vital signs recorded and placed on the oxygen as they waited for a cubicle in our emergency department. A colored sticker on their shirt or blouse would identify them: BLUE for family members, YELLOW for non-Covid medical problems ( the minority) and RED for COVID-19 patients.

“I don’t believe it. I don’t know anyone who has it. I don’t know anyone who has died from it. I know hundreds of teachers, and not one has it. But I do know people who have been murdered in the last year.” He was calm and spoke his truth.

His words hurt me.

I chose not to argue. He would not recognize me when he came to the back of the emergency department. All he would see is my eyes above the mask and behind the visor. I would be unable to help him. Not because he did not believe that Covid-19 was a real problem. I would not be able to help him because there would be twenty other patients waiting for a hospital bed. Maybe he would get one on the other side of the city, or even in another town. I would not wish ill on him. But he should see the eyes of those pleading for care and attention. He should see their eyes when the person lying on a stretcher next to them dies. He should see all the bodies waiting in the holding area.

They are waiting for the undertakers who can’t keep up with the burials.

The nurses at my hospital can’t keep up either. I cannot keep up with how many get sick with Covid.

One of the emergency doctors steeled himself before a shift. “I can’t do this anymore.”

He was tired of seeing patients and not having beds for them. He was tired of seeing people die. He was tired because two of his colleagues were sick with Covid and he had to carry the extra shifts.

Still he went out to face the death and destruction that this disease forces on us.

The man in front of me at the supermarket que would not believe any of this.

The amazing thing is he would still be treated at my hospital like anyone else if he needed help. He would be treated by nurses and doctors who just can’t keep up. 

He may end up with a RED sticker on his blue t-shirt…

Begrafnisse: Ons kan nie voorbly – Afrikaaans for Buritals: we cannot keep up

27 thoughts on “Burials: We can’t keep up!

  1. What you are doing as a person and as a doctor is heroic with true meaning of the word.
    And still have the time and energy to blog about the difficult times that we going through. I have lost for words.


  2. Holding you and all medical staff in my prayers and in my heart Basil. The work you do is recognised and respected by the majority of people who are thankful for dedicated doctors like you. Anita


  3. I’m battling this Covid right now as we speak. I didn’t expect to be so ill. I’m healthy, I eat and drink healthy, but I’m going through stages of panic when I check my sats on my little portable stats monitor. I haven’t gone below 92% but it’s scary. Thank you for these words


  4. I guess not having a connection to the surge is the Ideal at the moment, which means the numbers have no names and Covid has no face. Not many will understand the struggle in the eyes behind the mask, where acceptance of one’s own mortality is a prerequisite to provide care for those faces in need of medical care … then you still have to do your job .
    Thank you Basil for going above and beyond the call of duty


  5. You are the epitomy of compassion,strength and leadership during these dreadful times and gone beyond the call of duty.A selfless hero behind the mask.Thank u Basil.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Hi Basil, How soul- destroying it is, that at this stage of the pandemic there are still so many people in denial! Especially when you and the medical fraternity are working at the coalface, seeing the devastating toll it is taking! He, and the many others who continue to spread regardless, do not deserve to take up hospital beds! Wish there was a way! Apologies for the rant, but this mindset is so prevalent, one cannot believe how people in our community can ignore such a tragedy! Regards, Margie



  7. Unconscionable, that anyone can be in denial in the wake of this devastating pandemic. It dishonours the monumental efforts made by those who risk their lives daily to alleviate suffering and bring comfort to those afflicted. And it abases the sacrifice of those who paid
    the ultimate price to be of service to mankind.

    Poignant, powerful prose that gently amplifies the many current truisms.

    You are unparalleled, Basil.


  8. Respect Bas.
    I hope this gets under control soon. You are a special person and friend. Hang in there. You and your staff are heroes. That may sound strong but you are.
    Stay safe .


  9. Hi Doctor Stathoulis
    As a nurse at the hospital itself we recognize you as a true hero from theatre, selflessly always going over and above your call of duty. Thank you on a personal level for always providing support structures to the staff members, for always going the extra mile in showing compassion and empathy not only as a doctor but a common human being. We at Kingsway theatre salute you and may the works by you hand continue to be blessed always.



  10. Dr Stathoulis, you are truly also our Hero, always willing to help even when you are exhausted from all the long hours, you are always willing to listen and still give a helping hand. Thank you so much !!!


  11. This pandemic has brought out the best in people and the worst in people. Above this it has also revealed the legends and giants of the medical community. I have respect for you as a skilled and empathic doctor, and `I have respect for you as skilled and sensitive writer. Thank you for so graciously sharing the best of both with us. Stay safe.


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