It’s been months since the lockdown kicked in as a result of COVID-19. Mortality numbers are increasing daily and medical staff are feeling the strain both physically and emotionally.
The physical and emotional stress of health care professionals often goes unrecognised and is therefore not addressed.
A third of South African doctors surveyed by the Medical Practitioners Society and the International Medical Defense Organisation have experienced a decline in mental well-being as the COVID-19 pandemic progresses. Many will need specialist support to avoid huge bands of doctors either leaving the profession or suffering in silence.
In the video below, doctors say they are afraid of contracting COVID-19 from patients:
Three doctors working in COVID-19 wards at some of the busiest hospitals in Port Elizabeth, Eastern Cape, share their stories of exhaustion, fatigue, depression and anxiety during these trying times.
It has been a draining couple of months for Dr Tobisa Fodo, a specialist physician. Working in the ICU ward means she is at the forefront of the fight.
She has to decide who gets a ventilator and who doesn’t.
She has been a medical doctor for five years, but no amount of studying, research or on the job experience prepared her for this. Usually, when patients in the ICU have other illnesses, there are happy endings.
Fodo says with this virus – what affects her most is that she gets to know her patient well and then they lose the fight and die.
“I’m sure a lot of people who are aware of the studies that were done previously that showed used to affect the older population; it used to be the older persons in the community. But now in our care, in caring for these patients, we are actually seeing young people came in very ill with COVID-19 pneumonia and we have seen people die from COVID-19 pneumonia. So it’s very true for us, where in the past, when it started where we were like ‘no, it’s all the older people who are succumbing from the disease. Now you realise the amount of risk that you are at every single time you interact with a COVID-19 patient.
You wear the PPE and sometimes you wonder if you are wearing it; if the PPE is going to protect you from contracting the virus. I mean you went into medicine knowing that some of these things may happen, but now when it gets real, you see your colleagues getting the virus, you see people around you getting the virus then you realise that the threat is real. One day I may get a cough, the next day I may need a ventilator and it may not be available.”
Clinical Physician Kevin Passora calls his COVID-19 ward the dungeon. It is the place where only the fittest survive.
He says it pains him to see people suffer so much.
“I definitely feel it; it is not nice to see people suffering. Very short of breath and unable to get oxygen or you are struggling to get oxygen for them and also knowing that a lot of the patients that are coming in are older. The reality is that they are not going qualify for any escalation of care, and that is hard to accept.”
A doctor from Dora Nginza Hospital, which has been plagued by protests by doctors, nurses and staff over the difficult conditions at the hospital; says he has lost hope and is leaving to work in another province.
“The situation here is really bad and people are dying inside this hospital; it’s worse now with this pandemic. We are working long hours and we are always over-worked and tired. The X-ray box is not working, so people have to wait for a long time to use the one that is. There is a shortage of nurses and doctors. It’s a mess with dead bodies lying on the ground, causing the hospital to stink.”
There is also a call from doctors to government to improve working conditions in hospitals by employing more nurses and cleaning staff. In addition, there is a need for more resources such as ventilators, which doctors say will lessen the burden on them both physically and emotionally.
In the video below, PE doctors share some of the strains they are experiencing: