My Fight With Life And Death
Drum English|16 July 2020
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My Fight With Life And Death
More Covid-19 patients, too few beds and staff, constant sanitising and personal fears – a Western Cape doctor shares her experience
Charlea Sieberhagen-Grey

As the Western Cape hurtles towards its peak in the number of Covid-19 cases, emergency workers are battling around the clock to treat the ill, the terrified and the desperate.

Dr Karienya Kasvalu (33) runs the emergency unit at a private hospital in Cape Town’s northern suburbs.

This is her story.

“The hours, days and weeks have all blurred into one. I often don’t recognise my colleagues dressed in their layers of protective clothing and masks as they rush from one patient to the next.

Then there’s the look in the eyes of patients battling for every breath.

It’s more than just fear. They’re too tired to cry. They’re not angry. They show no emotion – it’s a completely empty look. I think it’s because they have to focus so hard on breathing.

When I get home to my flat, I’m physically and emotionally drained but I can’t relax until I’ve gone through my ritual.

I take off my shoes at the front door. I immediately put my clothes in the wash, then I take a hot shower but nothing I do makes me feel completely safe from the virus.

Thankfully, I wear several layers of protective clothing at the hospital and my hair’s always covered too. But some days, even though it’s not on a day I’d usually wash my hair, I’ll wash it anyway because I feel I may have been exposed during the day.

After my shower, I spray the door handle and the washing machine lid with an alcohol sanitiser because I touched them when I came in.

Right now, I’ve just come offa 12-hour night shift. I had ‘lunch’ just after 3 am so I’m not really aware of time anymore.

We work under immense pressure. I can’t even describe it. And every single hospital is the same – state hospitals, private hospitals, all of us.

The infection rate is rising daily and we’re in the thick of it. Right now, there’s no sign of the pandemic abating.

WHEN the national lockdown started in late March, the emergency unit went dead quiet and we were all like, ‘Yes!’

The night shifts were going well, the days too.


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16 July 2020