As South Africa enters an extended national lockdown, heroic women (and men) are risking exposure to the COVID-19 virus on a daily basis as they care for the sick. The most recent reports reveal that Mzansi has now reached a total of 1 934 confirmed cases and 18 deaths. The top two provinces with the highest number of confirmed cases are Gauteng and the Western Cape. President Ramaphosa has urged all South Africans to comply with lockdown rules and regulations to flatten the curve of infection.
As we all stay home and slowly adjust to a new normal of Zoom meetings, WFH workouts and dressing from the waist up, South Africa’s medical sector is working tirelessly to fight the virus pandemic from the frontlines. Nurses, doctors, paramedics, and cleaning and kitchen staff report for duty at all hours of the day to ensure that we are able to stay home and stay safe. Last Friday, we asked you to nominate fierce women in your lives who are working on the ground during the coronavirus lockdown.
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COSMO fam, we need your help! 🚨 Calling all doctors, nurses, cashiers, delivery workers, police officers, transport staff and anyone else putting themselves out there so everyone else can stay at home. We are looking for fierce women working on the ground during the coronavirus lockdown for a special COSMO article we are working on. If you know someone, please tag them with a short description of who they are and what they’re doing by noon, Monday 6 April 2020, or DM and tell us about your nominations. 🙌
We chose four women to share their stories, as they wake up each day to carry out the country’s most essential jobs. Here are their stories:
Dr Ashlyn Job
Dr Ashlyn Job, 27, works in Gauteng and has been serving on the frontline with her colleagues in the fight against COVID-19. However, because she has asthma, Ashlyn was at a higher risk of contracting the virus. She tested positive for the virus and has since been in self-isolation. She has used the time to share her experience on platforms like YouTube and Instagram.
Q: How did you react when you first heard you tested positive for COVID-19?
A: As soon as I got tested, I had to go into self-isolation. Fortunately, I live with my family so I stayed in my room and did not share a bathroom with anyone. We make sure to not share any towels or face cloths. I use my own dishes and they need to be washed separately. My family leaves my food on the floor in front of my door, and when I’m done I wash the dishes in a separate Tupperware container in my room. Of course, I wash my hands and we have hand sanitiser all over the house.
I felt a sense of calm because I finally knew what was wrong with me and how to treat it. I am anxious because I’m worried about the long-term side effects. But I’m a person who makes lists when I’m anxious, and I’ve already made a list of game plans to help me when I’m out of self-isolation.
Q: What has been the toughest moment for you since being diagnosed with COVID-19?
A: The anxiety. It took six days for them to give me my results and, during those six days, I went through so many emotions. I was reading up on what coronavirus is and what the long-term side effects are, and that’s what made me so anxious. What will happen going forward? Will my lungs be compromised forever? Or am I just going to come out of this with just an inspiring story to tell? During that time, I eventually switched off the TV, went off Instagram and Facebook, and didn’t want to hear anything about coronavirus. And I was sick as well, which made things worse. There were times when I couldn’t breathe, but my mother is also a healthcare worker and she monitored my health.
Q: Did you feel prepared/trained for this type of crisis when it hit?
A: Yes and no. In med school, you don’t get trained in epidemic or pandemic management. You read about it and you understand the definition of it, but in the back of your mind you think of it like the Black Plague. We did learn about crisis/disaster management, but when things like this happen, you can’t help but feel you don’t know enough. It’s really scary because you’re not only dealing with the fact that there is a virus going around, but that you’re also responsible for helping other people.
Q: What is the first thing you will do when this lockdown is over?
A: I just want to leave my room. For the past two weeks, I’ve been stuck in the four walls of my bedroom and I would love to spend time with my family. And I really, really want to be able to wash my hair. I think I will end up running down the street once this is all over!
Dr Anele Ntanjana
A: My everyday personal hygiene schedule (that I’ve also advised my team to adopt) is as follows:
Wear two hair covers. Both get washed every day. Take the first one off after work, the second one off at home and wash them immediately.
Bring clothes to change into after handover. Take scrubs off after work and change at work. Wash scrubs and second set of clothes immediately when you get home.
Shower immediately when you get home, even if you have showered at work. Change into new clothes. Wash the clothes you got changed into at work at the end of the shift.
Wear PPE throughout the shift, even when it’s hot and you don’t want to. Wash hands and disinfect frequently according to protocol.
Have a plan in case you get exposed. Have a place where you can stay while waiting for results. Even keep an extra bag with toiletries and clothes and extra scrubs. And keep the keys for that place in your car. So if you get exposed you can go straight there and don’t expose your family.
The car you use for work should be driven by you and you alone. Disinfect the car and your hands before going back into the house every day.
Take shoes off before entering your house. All shoes worn outside the house or at work must not touch the floors at home.
Do not touch any immediate family members until you’ve showered, and keys and cellphones should be disinfected.
Dr Lynn Booysen
Dr Lynn Booysen, 33, is a paediatric registrar at a hospital in Cape Town. ‘As doctors, we are trained to be ready for anything, but this is the stuff of movies, and we never thought it would happen in real life and that we would live through it ourselves. That being said, The Department of Health set in course a plan to make us feel prepared. In our department, we had multiple preparation and planning meetings even before South Africa was known to have any cases of COVID-19,’ she says. Lynne’s day-to-day duties remain the same for the most part. This includes ensuring every patient she sees is cared for and protected. As can be expected, the atmosphere is tense at times, but everyone is fully on board.
Q: Why did you choose to go into this line of work?
A: My brother was born with congenital eye disease. He was cared for within the government sector throughout the years at minimal cost to my parents. It is now my dream to have a paediatric clinic one day that will offer services to families who cannot afford to go to a pediatrician.
Q: How has the state of lockdown affected you?
Q: What has been the ‘realest’ moment for you during the COVID-19 pandemic thus far?
A: It was when my brother informed me that our mom had been coughing. Even though I know my parents have been so careful and have been self-isolating, even since before the lockdown was announced, just the realisation that this disease is so close to home is scary. And none of us or our loved ones are immune. This is why we, as South Africans, have to take this seriously or else it could be our very own loved ones who succumb to this. PS: my mom is okay now. It passed quickly and was not COVID-19-related. Phew!
A: A typical day at work consists of several consultations with clients in the infectious disease unit. It includes a lot of counselling and health education. All Department of Health facilities had to adjust all daily activities and prioritise the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s a daily exercise that we are all learning from as healthcare workers.
Q: Did you feel prepared for this type of crisis when it hit?
A: My experience of working in ICU came in handy in terms of training, as you get to manage patients with various kinds of infections, and infection prevention and control is a daily duty.
Q: What is the first thing you will do when this lockdown is over?
Lockdown being over won’t mean that we are free from COVID-19, so I will still take it easy and keep social distancing. Ideally, I would love to travel and attend my graduation ceremony. 😊
So many young doctors and nurses are doing incredible things to help fight this virus, but it’s not just the clinicians – the ward cleaners, the drivers, the scientists and the cooks are all working flat-out to try to keep everyone safe, day and night. The thought of staying home for another three weeks might seem like a massive inconvenience to you, but we all need to be patient right now.
We need to say home, respect social-distancing measures, stop the spread of the virus and minimise an influx of sick people into our hospitals. If you’re feeling hopeless right now, think about this: a typical workday for a nurse or doctor on the COVID-19 frontline.