We had the opportunity to chat to one of our alumni, Mawande who graduated with his Nursing degree at the end of 2019 and is now working as a community service nurse at a hospital in Cape Town. We wanted to know what working on the front lines of the fight against COVID-19 for a newly qualified nurse looks like.
When you pictured your first year working, did you imagine it would be like this?
In nursing you get to know what is expected of you from second year studies already. Students get a lot of exposure in the clinical setting. You start working one day a week as a first year, then two days in second year and then more as you proceed, so you get used to being at a patient’s bedside. By fourth year you are expected to act as a registered nurse and so I knew what I was getting myself into. The only problem now is that Coronavirus makes things difficult. It has caused a shortage of staff so we are expected to work more overtime. It’s really stressing, especially to us the new staff, but day by day, we are remaining strong.
What’s the atmosphere like in the hospital?
Ahhh, the only positive thing about COVID-19 is that we are no longer admitting as many of the patients as we were. There are fewer stab wounds and gun shots because in the whole country it’s quieter. So in terms of population, it’s nicer, there are fewer patients in the hospital. But you see with COVID-19, the few people we do admit, we’re not sure if the patients are COVID-19 negative or positive. So we have to swab everyone coming into the hospital and at all times wear a mask and make sure we wash our hands regularly. Every time we admit a patient we are stressed because a lot of people don’t present with symptoms of this virus...hence we have to be worried at all times. So with each patient we admit, we get stressed.
Has the atmosphere changed as the numbers have grown in the Western Cape?
Ya, it has really changed. In the beginning everyone was happy. When I started at the beginning of the year, staff were willing to teach the new staff but now everyone is worried of getting the virus. Now everyone is a lot more tense. So everything is different now compared to previous months. With the increase in COVID 19 deaths in the hospital (currently 15 deaths), the atmosphere changes...ya its really hard, it’s really straining us.
I’m sorry, that sounds really hard.
Ya, we have to be strong.
Did the things you learnt in training prepare you for this crisis?
I would say, as a student at the School of Nursing at the University of the Western Cape (UWC) you are prepared for the worst. They make sure that they produce hard working students who are always careful of their surroundings. So being from UWC I can say I was well equipped and I am always cautious.
Do you feel like there is a difference between being prepared mentally and emotionally?
You will be amazed when I tell you that I’m not that scared of corona. Yes I know it’s dangerous and fatal, but I knew how to protect myself from the minute I was told how it’s transmitted. I knew that I must always wear a face mask to protect others and myself. It’s then a matter of not touching my face before I wash my hands. Knowing how to protect myself helps me not to worry too much.
There is a lot of talk about being on the frontlines of COVID-19. What does it feel like?
The positive thing is that some people are at home - and we are the ones that are rendering services while they are at home. I am proud of myself that I can help the nation while others are at home. It makes me feel like a hero
We’re very proud of you too!
The least that people can do for us is make sure that they don’t get sick and that they follow the rules. Because we are also at risk of being sick because of them contracting this virus. The more the numbers increase the more at risk we get. Even some nurses and doctors in my hospital have gotten it and it worries me and makes it more stressful. So we need everyone to abide by the rules to keep one another safe.
Do you feel supported by your colleagues and managers?
It feels like the only support we are getting from managers is from them giving us Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) such as gloves, masks and aprons otherwise I’m not feeling very encouraged or supported emotionally.
Where are you getting your support from to keep going?
It’s just amongst my colleagues in the unit. That's where we encourage each other to stay positive and protect ourselves and one another at all times.
How does your family feel about you working on the frontline?
They ask me how I am when I phone them, but I don’t think they are too worried, or at least they don’t express it. But I am worried about them. With this thing being everywhere, you can’t run from it. So I tell them they must make sure that they follow the rules and stay at home. But in our rural areas many people don’t think that this virus can get to them. They think it’s an urban thing. I realized that in the rural areas many people don’t take it seriously. For example many big funerals are still happening.
Can I ask you about funerals, because from chatting to some people here who are taking it seriously, they are scared to get the virus but they also feel very deeply that they have to attend funerals.
Yes, it’s true when I talk to my family they say, ok it’s happening, we can’t stay away from it. And they really can’t. If one family decides that they want to have a big funeral, other families can’t stay in their homes. It’s a community thing. So they have to go but I’m telling them to be careful. To be honest I would attend a funeral if I was at home, for the sake of my family but I would try to be extra careful.
What is keeping you going in this stressful time?
I always wanted to be where I am. I always saw myself as a nurse. Providing for my family makes me feel somehow very happy. I know this is a stressful time, a time where some people will give up. What keeps me going is that now I finally have a chance to provide for my family and my son. So those things keep me moving forward and working hard and making sure that I don’t give up even if it’s stressful. I am now doing what I was dreaming about back in high school. I always wanted to make my parents proud so now that I’m here I must try hard on a daily basis.
I saw your brother the other day and he says you’ve started building a house in Zithulele?
I must still save money for that but I’m happy now that the fence is up. It’s a beginning. But now I’m saving for more. My dream is to build my parents a house where everyone would have their own room.
Thank you Mawande for your time, your honesty and for the work you and your team are doing every day. We are sending a big shout out of encouragement to you from the Axium team and wider Axium family.