I could use superlatives to describe our nurses at Netcare Kingsway Hospital.
There are fancy words like unprecedented, incredible, amazing, unbelievable, conscientious and self-sacrificing.
But I will not.
I will just tell you what they do:
Our nurses work twelve hour shifts. They arrive early and leave late. They wait in line to sign in with a thumb print for work. Then they log in on their cell phones to be screened for Covid-19 symptoms and checked for fever. They queue up to sign in. Then they wait to be screened.
From there they walk to their ward. There is not as much noise as before. It is quiet as they put their bag and food in their locker. Before they used to leave their phones in the locker. Now the phone is a vital tool to connect. Not to social media, but to hospital and doctor groups. Orders, stats and death notices fill the small screens.
They don PPE to start work and care for their patients. They wear a mask, visor, gown and gloves all day. It gets hot. Their throats become dry. Tea and lunch breaks are short and sometimes missed because they are busy. They cannot sit with friends. The tea rooms only allow two nurses at a time. I see them walking to their cars to eat lunch. There is no life in how they spend the time which is meant to recharge their soul.
The wards are full. We can give each patient an oxygen mask or rebreather. Not everyone can get high flow oxygen because our oxygen supply system will fail. This even after we installed a huge tank and free flow piping that we hose down every hour to prevent the freezing of the pipes. I do not need to explain the cap we face if we need to escalate breathing support. There are a fixed number of ventilators with a waiting list.
As I write this, the words seem without aim.
I have chosen my words to reflect the staccato world of talking through masks and behind visors.
Yet somehow richer words appear. The intensity of the ICU’s is cloaked in an almost church like peace as these highly qualified nurses work around the clock to save lives. When I talk to them all I see are tired eyes above the mask line, yet there is a gentleness and concern that pervades their every action.
My theatre staff have lost all sense of stability. They have to work in wards, ICU, the emergency department, triage or screening. They also call the families to update them of the loved ones condition. My theatre staff have another duty: they care for those we have lost. They do this with great dignity.
This week I got some grass cutting helmet visors (I am holding two in the photo) for some of the theatre staff. We all know they are the most comfy and safe as well. They are bulky and ugly. One of the nurses put her visor on and walked as if on a catwalk. She was showing off her new visor as if it was a designer handbag.
As she walked she tilted her head to show the large blue helmet with clear plastic screen and said “fabulous!”.
Now that is a superlative I did not expect to hear.