Overcoming COVID-19 through the perspective of recovered health workers
It is said over and over again, “our health workers are our heroes”. We always see them on the frontline – going into battle – but so often we forget how much they put on the line each day to ensure our communities and vulnerable groups receive quality medical care in the face of the current pandemic.
The safety of the health workforce is of utmost importance which is why the Department has put measures in place to safeguard staff members against the virus – prioritising health staff for the flu vaccine and ensuring sufficient personal protective equipment is on hand.
But even with these safety measures in place, many of our staff are still at risk of contracting coronavirus. As at 14 May, 239 health workers (in private and public sector) tested positive for the virus, which also claimed the lives of three (two nurses and an agency contracted porter).
Some 2 283 people who recovered from the coronavirus which include 157 health workers. Most people recover from Covid-19, and over 90% will not require hospitalisation.
Charm McDonald is a nurse who works at Tygerberg Hospital. She is one of our heroes who, after being infected with the virus, survived and recovered.
On 25 April her life, as she knew it, was turned upside down after she developed symptoms and tested positive for COVID-19. “I was in shock. It was very difficult but I realised that as frontline worker I was at risk at getting the virus.”
Charm was required to go into isolation at home and knew there was a risk of her infecting her household members. “I had to explain to my family and that we had to make adjustments for my isolation. We don’t have a big house and my husband had to sleep on the floor. We only have one bathroom which was particularly hard on the family as living with someone who is positive requires all areas which are shared to be disinfected after each use.”
Living with the virus is difficult and instead of outcasting those infected, communities need to support them and care for their wellbeing. It is normal to feel scared, anxious, confused and even panic because of the virus and what we don’t know. But these feelings should not make anyone discriminate against someone who is infected.
Charm has completed her 14-day isolation period and is virus-free. She is back at the hospital doing what she enjoys most – caring for the sick and healing them back to health.
Roger Morris, a porter at Groote Schuur Hospital tested positive on 30 March. He works on the Trauma deck at the hospital and was in daily contact with persons under investigation for COVID-19 but also made use of public transport.
When the hospital realised he had symptoms he was tested and he was sent home immediately. On confirmation of his results all staff in close contact with him were also tested as per standard protocol. Roger could not safely isolate at home and feared he might infect his vulnerable household members and arrangements were made for him to isolate at a temporary isolation facility.
Roger returned to work after recovering and is back assisting patients on the deck. “I am so thankful to my colleagues who all welcomed me back with open arms, no one was nasty, or scared. Going forward I will be making a concerted effort and sanitise my hands, social distance myself and ensure everyone I encounter wears a mask,” he said.
Margaret Fortuin works at the Cape Town Reproductive Clinic and is a former colleague of the late Sr Petronella Benjamin, who was the first nurse who passed away due to COVID-19 related complications. She is currently still in isolation at home.
“After being discharged from hospital, having to be in isolation is the hardest – not having physical contact with anyone. Initially I felt alone. My faith and the encouragement of family and friends is really helping me,” says Margaret.
While in hospital, through digital support of her colleagues, Margaret “wanted to pull through and I wanted to live”. Margaret and other infected colleagues started a dialogue network where they “encouraged each other and as frontline workers understood the risk of being exposed to the virus.”
It is these kind of selfless actions of someone who was gone through the worst and overcame it, that make us realise that health workers are our true heroes. They put their lives on the line so the general community can be safeguarded against disease and then when called upon they nurse the sick back to health.
One can only admirer the commitment and dedication of health workers who, without blinking, will put on their armour and go to war – even if it is against the unknown which is COVID-19.
“I encourage everyone to apply measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus. We need to make hand washing and social distancing part of our daily routine and wear our masks when we go out into the public or when at work. By doing this we will beat this virus,” said Roger.
We are proud of Charm, Roger, Margaret and all other health workers who overcame the coronavirus and wish everyone currently infected well on their road to recovery.
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