Working as a dialysis nurse during the COVID-19 pandemic

We have interviewed you before. Now the world looks different since the COVID-19 pandemic started.

In this blog, we interview a South African dialysis nurse in order to find out how she and her colleagues are dealing with the current COVID-19 pandemic.


What is the current situation in South Africa like with COVID-19 and have this improved over the last months?

South Africa recently had its second wave in December/January.  The second wave was harder as the new variant spread faster. South Africa was prepared in the sense that social occasions were not encouraged and the country was moved to a stricter lockdown level with stricter rules to follow.

Currently, the active cases are lower than what it was with the second wave.  Phase 1 of the vaccinations is currently in the rollout process where health care workers are getting vaccinated (Stand 29.03.2021).

It has improved in terms of health care workers and health care facilities being more prepared, more skilled in how to handle COVID-19 and how to care for patients with COVID-19.  More information/research is also available about COVID-19 that assist health care workers in patient care decision making.


How does the pandemic influence your job as a dialysis nurse?

Being a frontline worker is a privilege as this is a passion and a calling to assist people however working in this environment can be tough as one experience tough and sad days.  It breaks a health care worker’s heart when a patient in their care does not make it.  One can only get through this by collaborating with all divisions of a health care team.  Choosing to be positive and making a difference every day.  One must always put yourself in your patient’s shoes by asking if I was in this position how do I want to be treated by my health care team, how would I have felt in this position etc.

Patients with chronic kidney disease are sometimes immune-compromised making them very scared to contract COVID-19.  My job as a dialysis nurse was influenced as one suddenly had to change the way of health care, no human touch, wearing more PPE and having to ensure social distance where everyone’s human nature is to social and to touch.

Are the restrictions the same all over the country and in all dialysis clinics?

Yes, the restrictions are the same all-over South Africa as the country is on the same lockdown level, same rules apply all over the country, for example, mask-wearing, etc.

There are many boards in the health care sector advertising best work practices to ensure best care and restrictions are adhered to that co-current with the local law like wearing a mask, practising good hygiene etc.


Are other methods used to improve treatment if physical travelling is not possible for patients due to restrictions?

Currently South African’s can travel within South Africa making it easier for patients.  There are many dialysis clinics all over South Africa accommodating visitors according to their hygiene protocol.  Most are requesting a COVID-19 test to determine placement in the clinic. Patients with COVID-19 are isolated in their own cubicle or shift but not refused treatment. Patients with COVID-19 have to abide by the local law in terms of travel restrictions etc.

When there was a lockdown with travel restrictions patients could travel with a permit.  Patient with medical emergencies was allowed to travel.  Some clinics protocol is to treat patients at their home/hotel but the protocol can vary from clinic to clinic.


Did the clinic release official information to the press about health and safety measures?

Yes, clinics are following health and safety measures that are mostly available on the clinic’s website or also available at the clinic itself.  Local law has good health and safety measures in place like screening before entering a premise, all that are applied in the health care sector.

How do you and your colleagues protect yourself in order not to get the virus and to keep working under such circumstances?

I have protected myself by wearing appropriate PPE, correctly donning and duffing of PPE, practising good hygiene practices and following local law requirements.  Keeping hydrated, eating well-balanced meals but also allowing a chocolate every now and then to debrief.

I realised to upkeep your mental health is one of the most important aspects of this pandemic to be able to give proper care.  Firstly, to realise that I’m a human and that I have needs, I have fears, I have feelings.  Secondly, the people that I care for are going through the same emotions as I’m going through.  I have been looking after my mental health from the beginning as I realised that it is a very important factor in this process.  Having regular debriefing sessions with co-workers, regularly dealing with the good days as well as the less good days from work.

Practically I have been appreciating the small things in life by writing things down every night I’m thankful for and that has been a real eye-opener to me as my list is changing every week.  To appreciate life for what it is!


If you had employees who had COVID-19, and are immune after they recover, are they working under the same restrictions as the rest?

Most people that had COVID-19 has some immunity after their sickness but scientifically there is no specific time or proof that they are completely immune or have sufficient antibodies to protect them against exposure in the future. Many types of research are still conveyed about COVID-19 and its impact.

People are recovering differently from COVID-19, therefore one will have different restrictions for some and for others not.  Some take longer to recover, and one must support that.


What were the ultimate battles to deal with at work due to the pandemic?

Not having that direct patient touch by supporting a patient emotionally with a hug as all touch is through PPE and only when necessary.  Taking the human part out of it.  Patients are not allowed to have visitors physically in the hospital to support them emotionally when going through this pandemic which is very hard to see.


What do you think the future looks like for dialysis and COVID-19?

Hygiene practises will have to be followed for a while, COVID-19 has changed the world, in terms of how we do our day today.  It will feel strange to be free again, to walk outside without a mask, to live a day without the constant reminder that the world is in a pandemic.  Our future in the health care sector and in this country will have to have continuous hygiene practices till the population has immunity.

The future will be bright, as one must always look forward and have positive thinking. There will be more information available about COVID-19 for future health care patient care decision making. One will have a closer bond with your patients and co-workers as we work together through this pandemic.  Together we conquer…


What changes would you like to see within the next 3 years?

To appreciate walking in a park without a mask, to have physical touch with people and to appreciate those moments as they can change so quickly.

A pandemic makes a person humble; it makes an individual realise life is short and should be lived to the fullest capacity.


Picture links:

PPE picture 1:

Picture 2 & 3: Unsplash Stock Photos

Picture 4: Adobe Stock

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