Up close and personal with death: my two weeks working in a ...

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Up close and personal with death: my two weeks working in a Covid ward

My practice allowed me to avoid a confrontation with mortality until the peak of the second wave

Estie Meyer

I am an ear, nose and throat surgeon at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, and since specialising in 2009 I have only worked with a certain part of the body, seen little blood and even less death. I work in a tertiary hospital and, when the second wave hit the province I live in, we were asked to help out in the medical wards. I was very scared, because I was not sure if I could remember anything about normal medicine and worried that I could be more of a risk to the patients than a help. Of course, I was also concerned about getting Covid-19 myself. 

During the two weeks I spent in a Covid ward assisting the junior and senior physicians on call, this is what struck me the most: Covid-19 is a very lonely disease. As hospitals are closed for visitors, patients never see any family or friends while they are in hospital. Many of the patients I treated did not have enough data or airtime to phone their family regularly, so they had to rely on the nurses and doctors through whom messages are sent. They are also dependent on us to feed them information about the outside world. They yearn for the short messages we receive from their families.

Imagine not having contact with anyone while you are not able to breathe and you are not sure if you are going to be able to fight this virus while you know people like you, that is, with comorbidities, often do not make it. Birthdays and celebrations are often forgotten while they lie there. As doctors we look at their oxygen saturation levels, not the date of birth...

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