Still in love with nursing after three decades

During her 32-year career, nurse Wouna Laten has lent an empathetic ear to distraught wives who have lost their husbands and parents with sick children; helped her patients recover and seen countless babies born.

She works at the Netcare N1 City Hospital in Goodwood and says nursing is her life’s mission, her passion.

“One of my friends became a nurse and that inspired me,” said the Edgemead resident. “After a personal tragedy, I went through a crisis in my life. I then found God and became a born-again Christian.”

She planned on working on a missionary ship taking health-care to developing nations, but her father, Elias Basson, persuaded her to plough her energy into helping the local community.

“He changed my life with his wisdom,” she said.

Her first post was at Tygerberg Hospital, where she worked in the cardiac ward.

“I worked there for three months. A patient that I helped offered me a job at his steel company where I worked as an industrial nurse for two

After leaving the factory, she returned to her hometown of Sutherland, in the Northern Cape, and worked at the hospital there.

“I did district nursing, which was sort of like community nursing, where I drove a kombi from farm to farm,” she said.

“I was fatter back then because they would offer me something to eat at all the farms I went to,” she said with a hearty laugh.

Ms Laten gave farmworkers preventative medication, family planning advice and health education.

“The weather in Sutherland goes from one extreme to the next. In summer, it’s extremely hot and I suffered a heat stroke a couple of times, and in winter it is so cold I had so many items of clothes on that I couldn’t move. I was clocking up to 1 500km a month,” she

In October 1986, she took up a new challenge working in the labour ward at Christiaan Barnard Hospital. She spent seven “fantastic” years at the hospital.

“As a nurse, you become so involved with the mother during the birthing process that you become quite emotional when the baby is born. I have cried a few times. I would work 12-hour shifts. My work became my life,” she said.

She recalled a funny moment when a father, who was also a farmer, had been so overcome with emotion he wanted to push the doctor aside and deliver the baby himself “as he has delivered many cows on his farm”.

In 1994 she started working at Netcare N1 City Hospital. She was unmarried at the time and didn’t realise that her new career opportunity would lead to her finding love.

“A sister in the labour wards’ fiance played cricket with a man they thought would be perfect for me,” said.

It was love at first sight and she tied the knot with her husband, Gerrit, on April 23 in 1994, a few days before South Africa’s first democratic elections.

“It was a dawn of a new era for me and the country,” she said.

To be a nurse, Ms Laten said you have to like people, have patience and be selfless.

“You must also be fit because being on your feet for so long takes a lot of energy. You must also lead a very healthy lifestyle outside of work.”

In her spare time she enjoys painting, community work, travelling and just driving.

“The other day, I got home and nobody was there yet and I got into my car and started driving. Before I knew it, I was driving past Durbanville. I love being outdoors as I grew up on a farm.”

Thirty years in nursing has not dulled thirst for knowledge.

“I am currently completing e-learning training which covers various topics such as basic computer skills, interchangeable virtual instrumentation (IVI) skills and hospital protocols among others. I am still writing exams and completing practicals. I recently completed an internationally recognised advanced life support course.”

The most important lesson she had learnt during her career was to strike a balance between work and life “because we as nurses are so intricately involved in the lives of our patients”.

After she retires, she plans to write a book about her experiences.