South Africa

'This pandemic has made us more than nurses': On the front line with Thembisa Lote

'This pandemic has made us more than nurses': On the front line with Thembisa Lote

The coronavirus pandemic has proven to be a roller coaster few months for Thembisa Lote, operational manager of the Princess Clinic in Roodepoort, Gauteng.

Lote, 53, with a nursing career spanning more than three decades, is among the many women on the front line fighting Covid-19 in SA.

Since the outbreak of the virus in the country and the subsequent lockdown, she had to think on her feet about how to turn around the way things are done at the clinic.

With infrastructure constraints in mind, their waiting area could no longer serve that purpose as social distancing would not be possible.

“We had to make sure that we set up our waiting area outside to make sure that we adhere to all guidelines.” Not all patients were happy about the change.

But using her persuasive communication skills, Lote helped them understand why it was so important. Since then, it’s been a journey of extinguishing fires as they implement interventions to deal with the pandemic.

“We try to serve the elderly first, just to make sure they don’t spend a lot of time here to minimise their chance of being exposed to the virus. That upsets other patients but I always try to make them understand,” she said.

“Some of the patients sometimes feel things are unnecessary, like the screening we do at the gate. They feel we are just extending their waiting period but we make sure they understand that this is our new normal. The screening helps with ensuring that those with symptoms or suspected cases of Covid-19 are isolated to minimise the chance of spreading the virus,” she said.

With the help of their district, they obtained tents from provincial disaster management officials which now serve as isolation points.

Knowing the strengths and skills of her 47 colleagues, she set up teams ensuring they would have the necessary skills needed.

“This pandemic has made us more than nurses because sometimes you have to be a psychologist, social worker and a mother at times. More and more patients come in with so many different problems, over and above being sick,” she said.

“Some would tell you that they just lost their job or were retrenched. Some will come to say they lost their loved ones and, in-between referring them to the relevant person or department, you must serve that role,” she said.

A turning moment for her was when the first staff member tested positive on June 26.

“At that moment it hit me that the virus is here. It was 11pm when she sent the message and I couldn’t sleep at all but at the same time had to remain calm for her. I tried to remember who were her contacts because they had to go into quarantine immediately. The staff member was so phenomenal because she told me who were her closest contacts here at work,” she said.

She then had to put into practice everything she had learnt at workshops about confirmed cases in the workplace.

“ I had to make sure that deep cleaning is arranged and the contacts were informed. They also went for their tests. I also had to assure those who were here at work that everything will be OK. We all had our fears of contracting the virus and taking it home to our families but, as a leader, I had to hide my fears and assure the workers that everything will be OK,” she said.

Lote refuses to take all the credit, emphasising that everything at the clinic is made possible by dedicated and hardworking staff who go the extra mile.

She also said the support from the regional managers and the City of Johannesburg makes it possible for them to continue serving the people in that part of Roodepoort.

“We see people crying about lack of PPEs but we have never experienced that here. It's small things like that, that make people look forward to coming to work,” she said.

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