Since the beginning of lockdown, hospitals have been careful to limit the number of people through their doors in order to curb the spread of the Covid-19 pandemic…
This included putting a stop to elective surgeries, and banning family members from visiting patients in the wards.
Being alone during a critical operation can be very scary for both the patient and their loved ones. However, doctors have gone beyond the call of duty to help support their patients throughout the pandemic.
“With the event of COVID-19, people the world over have been plunged into dramatically different circumstances and we have had to adapt,” comments Jacques du Plessis, managing director of Netcare’s hospital division.
“For many it has been a difficult time, being unable to see loved ones while they were hospitalised – either for COVID-19 or for other conditions. For others, such as some elderly men and women whose frailty posed too great a risk to admit them during the first number of months of the pandemic for the surgery they required, it has meant having to postpone the medical care they needed.”
Operations postponed, patients forced to live in pain
According to Dr Anton Julyan, who practises at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital and heads the Gauteng Orthopaedic Society, he started seeing patients in mid-May as many people were in pain and needed help. “From the end of March, I had to postpone approximately 60 operations as we wanted to be particularly safe and careful where older persons and compromised patients were concerned.”
“Unfortunately, the patients whose surgeries were postponed lived in pain as most conditions such as arthritis do not resolve themselves without medical intervention.”
“Once we were able to accommodate elective procedures again, I tried to perform an additional two or three procedures on the weekends when I was on call. It is important to remember that postponing surgery for more than three months can exacerbate some of the pathologies, particularly when one considers that orthopaedics is about relieving pain and improving quality of life,” notes Dr Julyan.
Mom of two discovers 11cm tumour in her brain
One such case was that of Talita Hamers, a 35-year-old mother of two young children, who decided to consult Dr Schalk Burger. Burger is a neurosurgeon who practises at Netcare Pretoria East Hospital and is the head of the South African Spinal Society.
Hamers turned to Burger during lockdown after she started experiencing symptoms ranging from severe headaches and forgetfulness to lack of concentration and extreme anxiety. In July, Talita was diagnosed with Meningioma, a non-malignant tumour with an approximate growth of 3mm per year.
“I don’t exactly recall when I became ill as the nature of the tumour is one of slow growth. Initial MRIs in July confirmed a spherical shape 8cm in diameter, and Dr Burger recommended the tumour be removed as soon as possible as it was “literally killing me”. Talita underwent an emergency craniotomy and, once the tumour had been removed, surgeons measured it at 11cm at its widest,” she says.
“I let faith take over”
When asked if the decision to undergo such a procedure during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic in South Africa was a tough one, Talita simply answers: “I wanted that thing out of my head and that gave me the courage to walk down that passage alone. I let faith take over.”
“Nobody could come to see me in hospital but thankfully the staff became my people. Dr Burger is amazing, there are no words to describe him. He is a people’s person through and through. Everyone was so good to me that I bought no fewer than 50 Lindt chocolates to give to everyone at the end of my hospital stay,” Talita says.
Technology helped keep patients in touch with loved ones
Technology has also played a crucial part in maintaining connection between people, with mobile communication often replacing physical interaction. Dr Burger recalls: “During the height of the pandemic we as doctors were on call continuously, walking around with our cell phones in a little plastic bag so that we could keep in touch with our patients’ loved ones.
“Apart from being cared for, patients also need affirmation – like a brief touch. Touch is important to patients, as is contact with their families. Once patients are in hospital it is obviously difficult for them not to have free access to visitors. However, that is a relatively small price to pay to help keep both the patients and healthcare workers safe,” remarks Dr Burger.
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