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Covid-19: infected nurses’ horror stories in quarantine

Limpho Sello

ABANDONED, neglected, alone.

This is how some nurses feel about their treatment by the government after they tested positive for the deadly Coronavirus (Covid-19).

At least 40 health professionals from different parts of the country have tested positive for the virus which has so far infected 359 people and caused six deaths. One of the six who died is said to be a health worker. The government has not said whether or not the victim is a nurse.

Some of the infected nurses this week told the Sunday Express that after exposing them to the virus by failing to provide them with personal protective equipment (PPEs), the government had abandoned them to a lonely and desperate fight for survival in poorly equipped quarantine facilities.

To avoid crumbling under the sheer weight of loneliness and the accompanying mental health strain away from their families in the quarantine facilities, the nurses say they have established social media platforms to assist each other to share experiences and tips to beat the virus.

One of the nurses, currently admitted at Berea Hospital, said being at the isolation hospital was probably the same as being detained at Robben Island or any other apartheid prison cell.

“Being here is like a nightmare except this is one you never wake up,” said the nurse on condition of anonymity for professional reasons.

“I got sick a few weeks ago and I was in and out of hospitals in Maseru until I tested for Covid-19. A week later my results came back positive.

“My husband is also positive. We have both been admitted here (Berea Hospital). I am still waiting for my children’s results who are all currently in quarantine.”

The nurse said among other things, the hospital lacked a heating system forcing them to bath with icy water in the freezing temperatures which hovered close to zero degrees Celsius at times.

“The water is often cold and I suspect it has worsened my cough.

“You have to ask for hot water and if at all you get it, it will be just one small kettle. That is not enough for bathing.

“The food is just left outside one’s room as though it is meant for some animal. They never alert you that it’s ready. They just leave it by the door and in most instances, it will be cold when one finally eats.

“I now understand why there are stories of people escaping from quarantine facilities in different countries. My home would be way better for self-isolation because there I can take a warm bath and explore other remedies to speed my recovery.

“Now I’m coughing more because of the cold and it will slow down my recovery. I just want to see us out of here. This place is very unbearable for Covid-19 patients. I wouldn’t want my children to come here if they test positive.”

A male nurse exposed the shocking red tape which has delayed some of the suspects’ test results.

He said he got tested after his wife had developed flu-like symptoms which just wouldn’t go away more than a month ago.

He said his wife’s results came back positive and up to now the authorities still had not released his results. He said a Health ministry official clandestinely and unofficially informed him that he had tested positive.

He added that he checked himself into the Berea facility the “moment he felt sick”.

“We got tested but waited for results for a long time. My wife eventually got her results but mine still haven’t come. I had to use my connections to find out that I tested positive.

“To date, no one has officially given me my results. I also got myself admitted at Berea hospital when I felt very sick and I am currently admitted there. Although the health professionals are trying their best, the hospital environment is not very friendly. The rooms are very cold and the water is cold,” the nurse said.

Another positive nurse also bemoaned the red tape which delayed the release of test results. She said she waited for her results for two weeks and during that period she was allowed to work.

“I could have infected patients and my family during the waiting period and this is what frustrates me most.

“I tested at a time when I was supposed to visit my home. I had resolved to postpone my trip until after I received my results and I knew my status.

“Two weeks later there were still no results and I decided to go home. You can imagine my pain and frustration when I returned to work to find that I had tested positive.

“I am forced to continue with life as if nothing happened and no follow-up test has been recommended just to see if I am healed since I’m not experiencing any symptoms after the 14-day waiting period.”

Another nurse who is negative said the government had dismally failed to provide PPEs and it was therefore not surprising that some of her colleagues had been infected.

“Nurses are being thrown into the lion’s den without any amour on to protect them.

“I started work three months ago in an isolation ward where I need to be properly geared up to protect myself from the virus.

“I have only received one apron and a disposable mask. I have been forced to re-use the two for several weeks without changing them. This happens while some senior doctors at the same hospital are moving around with whole boxes of masks in their vehicles. What they should know is that they are also at risk once we contract the virus,” she said.

Meanwhile, the Lesotho Nurses Association (LNA) public relations officer, Busa Qhala, says they are receiving heart wrenching reports on a daily basis from their infected members about their fight against the virus.

“More than 40 health workers have tested positive and the numbers could be more as they are frontline workers in the fight against the disease and not always tested on time,” Mr Qhala said.

“The front-liners who are supposed to save lives are left to bear such painful experiences,” Mr Qhala said of the nurses’ tales of neglect by the government.

“The government has neglected health professionals and does not care about their wellbeing.

“We have been complaining about the lack of PPEs and have always asked the government to have a concrete Covid-19 response plan to handle situations such as these when health professionals contract the virus.

“To the authorities, our grievances are just a big joke. They even accuse us of being greedy when we make our demands.”

Nurses and other health professionals have been on strike since Monday to press the government to award them risk allowances and PPEs.

The strike has crippled the health sector. Mr Qhala hopes tomorrow’s meeting between the health workers’ representatives and the government will finally break the impasse and allow them to go back to work.

Health Minister Motlatsi Maqelepo and his principal secretary Khothatso Tšooana were not available for comment as their mobile phones rang unanswered yesterday.

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