Covid-19 is a lonely way to die

Tygerberg Hospital nurse Rachel Love is at the front line in the fight against Covid-19.

Watching someone die alone. That’s the worst part of Rachelin Love’s job.

For Rachelin, 49, nursing isn’t a job: it’s a calling. She has been in nursing for 31 years, 26 at Tygerberg Hospital, where she now finds herself working in the Covid-19 ICU.

She believes easing the lockdown to level 4 on Friday was a good move. “Our economy is taking a plunge, people are protesting everywhere over food parcels and many are jobless.” But she cautions about moving to level 3. “In level 5, the number of deaths was rising. People are not adhering to the country’s regulations. We’re not flattening the curve.”

The most difficult part of her job during the pandemic is seeing Covid-19 patients dying alone. “It’s heart-breaking,” she says. “The families may not visit. Nursing a patient for 21 days and then he or she dies suddenly as they seem to be getting better. It’s excruciatingly difficult to see these patients struggling. Seeing the fear, concern and uncertainty in their eyes all alone brings tears to our eyes.”

And the fear isn’t just in her patients’ eyes. She feels it all too keenly herself, worrying about the safety of her family and colleagues.

How does she stay sane during these trying times? “Belief and trust in God,” she says, “and the prayers of the nation and the love, understanding and support of our loved ones. The unity, dedication and support among our colleagues. We send each other encouraging uplifting messages daily. We verbalise our fears and concerns, and also, laughter is the best medicine.”

She used to catch a taxi to get to and from her Kraaifontein home and work. But now she uses her own transport, travelling alone and wearing a mask.

Rachelin’s son-in-law and her granddaughter live with her and her husband and the couple’s three children. She says everyone in her family is very well informed about Covid-19.

“I teach them on a daily basis. The same goes for family and friends. My family thinks of the front-line workers as Marvel agents (superheroes). They are a very good, strong support system.”

Rachelin works 12-hour shifts and weekends so she has little spare time, but during her downtime, the family will braai and watch TV together and she enjoys reading. When lockdown is over she wants to spend time with her good friends. She has new appreciation for them, she says. She’s also looking forward to going to the mall, eating at a fast-food restaurant with her family and going to church.

But there are also positives coming out of the pandemic, she says. For one thing, people are a lot more conscious of their health and hygiene. And while the crisis has seen millions shut in their homes, it also seems to be bringing people closer together.   

“We see people reaching out to each other across the nation. We all have one common goal – to combat this virus. And families are becoming closer because lockdown forced us to stay indoors, so family time has become a thing.” 

She urges the public to keep front-line workers in their thoughts and prayers and says it’s up to everyone to play their part in helping to stop the spread of the pandemic. “Keep to social distancing, wear a mask, buff or scarf  in public and stay indoors if you can. Try to flatten the curve. Winter is approaching, things could get more difficult. The hospital only has so many beds, so please stay healthy. We’re responsible for our own health, please.

“From all the Tygerberg Hospital colleagues working in the ICU, love each other and appreciate each other. Stay safe, people of South Africa.”