Groote Schuur Staff Share the Heartbreak of Nursing Right Now

Two nurses at Groote Schuur Hospital in Cape Town, South Africa, yesterday shared the heartbreaking reality of their working lives right now, during these Covid-19 times… when a coronavirus cure is still but a dream, and being admitted to ICU is a nightmare for the patients, their family who can’t visit and the medical staff who are exhausted – physically and emotionally.

Verna Collins and Judith Parenzee – Nurses in C27 ICU Covid Ward – shared their message on the Heroes of Groote Schuur Hospital Facebook page, a page that was set up pre-Covid, in 2018. Within 24 hours, the post has not only been shared thousands of times, but over 1,500 people have left messages of gratitutde.

A message from the heart of the hospital

This is what Verna and Judith said:

heroes groote schuur hospital
Verna and Judith. Photo: Heroes of Groote Schuur Hospital.

“We used to have 6 beds in here, now we’re sitting with 18 beds in the unit that I’m currently working in, we’ve only had one patient that’s actually left.The turnover is so bad. We’ve been admitting constantly, it just goes on and on and on.


“The thing that I can’t handle the most is the families not being involved with the patients, especially if they are at their end. How do you communicate that?

“With the normal respiratory patients that we used to have you have a rapport with them because you meet their family, especially if they are long-stay. So now that part is totally taken away because you don’t have any connection with the family. It’s only a phone and then you don’t know who you’re talking to on the other side.

They don’t even recognise the person that’s lying there. This is the worst part for me.

“So now what they do, the families, is they video call. If the patient’s doing well then it’s okay then at least they can see progress. If they’re dying how do you video call the family? The family wants to see their relative. You can tell them the patient is ventilated, the patient is sedated but to physically get a picture and see all the tubes – they don’t even recognise the person that’s lying there. This is the worst part for me.

“And there’s no time for us to make that connection with patients because of the workload. It’s like a machine, you work from bed to bed to bed, then you go back to the beginning, so the norm that we knew as nurses and the contact we had with patients is no longer there because you won’t get through the day’s work, it’s crazy. None of the patients can communicate, because they’re all paralysed, they’re all sedated. We paralyse and sedate the patients with medication because we need to protect their lungs.

“We work 12 hours – we wake up at 5am, get here about 6.30am, leave here at about 7.30pm at night. Normally we’ll work a Monday, Tuesday, then have Wednesday and Thursday off, and then work the weekend. But now there’s no staff, there’s just no staff, so now they ask us to work one of our off days as well.

“We’re all parents, we all have families we need to take care of. And you still go home with whatever’s happening here. This place steals a lot away from you. We are emotionally drained. I’m emotionally drained from yesterday and now I have to face today. We are full full full. I don’t know where the all the new patients are going to go.

“This morning I asked the doctor, ‘Is there ever going to be a time when you guys decide what is the criteria for patients to come to ICU, and who’s going to make that decision’, and he said, ‘All we can do is try’.”

The burden on Groote Schuur’s staff

Hospital spokesperson Alaric Jacobs told GroundUp a few days ago that Groote Schuur now has 25 Covid-19 wards, and has seen about 2,000 patients since the start of the pandemic, with about 37 Covid-19 patients in ICU as of Sunday. GroundUp reported that the Groote Schuur Covid-19 wards were at 80% capacity.

GroundUp said: “Groote Schuur has about 300 doctors and 370 nurses as well as support staff working in rotation across the Covid wards. 296 staff have tested positive so far. Dealing with that, either by having to manage the complex logistics of a high number of staff not being able to work for two to three weeks or worrying about the health of yourself and your colleagues, must be a particularly hard burden.”

Gratitude from C27 ICU

After the outpouring of sympathy, empathy and gratitude following the message from the nurses in C27 ICU, their operational manager, Waybah Phillips, wrote on Facebook: “Thank you everyone for the words of encouragement, support and prayers. This is a unique group of people working in GSH ICU Pavillion and I’m proud to be working with them and facing this battle. There are no doctors teams or nurses teams or clerks or cleaners. They are one strong united team doing the best they can everyday.”

Waybah reiterated the advice and plea from all hospital workers: “Wear your mask. Social distance. And help us on the Frontline. Thank you.”

You could also help by donating if you can, thank you.