“I have been working in the Covid-19 ward for over a year now and what we are experiencing is different from the first and second waves. Things are hectic this time around.”
These are the words of Dr Trevor Chivandire, a medical doctor who has been working in the Covid-19 ward at Parirenyatwa Group of Hospitals for the past 13 months.
The facility, which is the country’s largest Covid-19 hospital, has taken in a deluge of admissions since the last week of June, which was around the time the third wave exploded.
Since then, Dr Chivandire and his colleagues have had to deal with a monumental workload as the Delta variant continues to tear across the country.
He said since the pandemic started, he has been unable to rest well.
Parirenyatwa has maintained around 200 Covid-19 admissions in its red-zone during the third wave.
“In the morning, we see all patients admitted in the ward.
“We discharge some patients in order to create free beds that are needed to take in new ones.
“During this peak, we are getting many new admissions,” he explained.
Like many of his colleagues, he has had to suspend his social life, having taken this decision out of the need to protect his loved ones. In any case, he simply does not have time to do so.
Under normal circumstances, his shift ends around 4pm daily, but of late, he has had to extend his time at work into the evening, owing to the sheer number of patients who are coming for help.
“I was last on call this past week, it was really bad. I went to sleep around 3am. We had many people who were admitted, and those who needed assessment.
“We may not be able to admit everyone, but every patient who arrives at the hospital has to be attended to in the admissions ward,” said Dr Chivandire.
Despite having to deal with the sheer pressure of attending to a ward that is at full capacity daily, he acknowledges that he swore an oath to save lives. So, he soldiers on, even as his tank is running close to empty.
“It just gets to us, we have to keep going, this is war and we are the soldiers who are equipped to fight it. It has been the most stressful wave. It can be too much, but we do what we can,” he added.
In some instances, doctors in the ward have found themselves seeking professional help in order to deal with the psychological trauma that comes with witnessing such carnage.
“There is no death that is easy on a medical practitioner. What makes Covid-19 peculiar is that there are people who would have been doing well and when you return the next morning, their bed is empty. It breaks your heart.
“We are speaking to experts, psychologists, to debrief.”
Daily, the doctors interact with families of patients battling for their lives, to assure them that they will do everything in their power to help.
But when deaths come in such huge numbers, this takes a toll on even the strongest.
“It is really straining mentally,” said Dr Chivandire.
As frontline workers, the doctors themselves have not been spared.
Dr Chivandire has lost colleagues to the coronavirus.
He said frontline workers in the “Red Zone” are slowly developing numbness to bad news, especially when it comes to losing a colleague to the virus.
They are living with the possibility of becoming casualties themselves.
“Initially we were scared. You would see colleagues affected by Covid-19 and we would lose some of them. It is unfortunate, but at the end of the day, we know that is the risk we are facing and we have to save the patients. If we do not save them, who is going to?
“We sometimes feel scared, but even if you are afraid we are trained to help people. We are now soldiers who are there, aiming to save lives. We do what we can,” he said.
Since he started working in the Covid-19 ward in June last year, he has never tested positive for the disease.
“We can never underplay the grace of God too in these circumstances.”
He said when the pressure is at its peak, he and his colleagues take turns to take one-hour-long naps.
This, he said, helps with maintaining focus and is a coping mechanism they devised to ensure they remain mentally sharp, even in the face of crisis.
He called on Zimbabweans to meet medical practitioners halfway by observing laid down guidelines and trusting the science.
“We understand people have remedies which they try because they think it is a flu. My advice to Zimbabweans is that health practitioners use evidence-based treatment, which means that all methods and medication we use will be science-based,” said Dr Chivandire.
Last week, Zimbabwe reached the grim milestone of 100 000 positive cases, since the onset of the pandemic.
Frontline workers like Dr Chivandire, are pinning their hope on the ongoing vaccination programme which will help reduce hospitalisations and allow them to return to their normal lives.