Family, colleagues and a good cup of coffee

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COVID-19 FRONTLINE HEROES

By USISIPHO BATYI
Despite the hardships and health risks, millions of essential frontline workers have continued to do their jobs throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. These hard-working heroes are caring for those who are most vulnerable and keeping the community safe. Here, we introduce Captain Milanda Coetzer. In her own words, she shares the risks and challenges she faces, the concerns she has, and how she is coping.

1. How has the pandemic changed your approach towards your work?
I have had to be more alert and adopt a fatalistic attitude because one must apply a greater caution to their work due to the pandemic.

For example, I am a very touchy-feely person and that has changed. Normally I when I spoke to a victim it involved touch because I am an empathetic person. It is a difficult mind shift because you want to do more by comforting someone – but now communication is limited to talking.

For example, during level four we had to pick up a mentally unstable man on the street to take him to hospital. That was bad: he had registered a temperature of 38 and in our attempt to help him we had to be very cautious.

2. What are your coping mechanisms when you experience panic or strain with the new
workload and overall stress?
I have found that I have become very mentally tired. Now we are dealing with a lot of people with different perceptions/information about Covid-19 derived from various online sources and social media.

With Covid, there is so much panic. Safety has always been in relation to an overt physical threat – but in responding to the unseen threat of a virus, people don’t know who and where to turn to.

This has created mistrust – and that kills you mentally because you have to work so much harder to make people understand you. I have found this to be very burdening on frontline workers.

My coping mechanisms are reading, and watching Netflix. However, I feel like I am not truly resting and authentically recharging.

3. What would you say has been your source of strength to get up during this time?
My family and my very good colleagues whom I can always lean on. That and a very good cup of coffee go a long way. Also, the like-minded people that I have met here in Grahamstown. I have come to know people in our community on a deeper level and that has been a source of strength. People now ask how you are – and they mean it. Our community has been of great support. A different world has opened and that helps, because you get to debrief and see things from a new perspective.

4. How do you support your family because they might be also facing strain?
We always prepare for quality family time. Each one has developed a routine; my mum makes it a point to go to the garden every day and my son also has his own schedule to release stress. We have started considering each other in a different light and we have been talking about things more. We did away with strenuous routines and chose to live in spontaneity. Spending quality time is what matters.

5. How important has your family’s support been during this time?
My family support is very important to me. One thing I have found and learnt is that my work has always come first, not my family, and that has changed. It is about making a conscious effort with my family to ensure that work must stop when I get home. I don’t take work calls after 11pm.

It is very important to have their support and to understand that they also need support. As frontline workers, we make the common mistake of not leaving our work at work. Sometimes we remember something that happens, and it is eating away at you, and you pour that frustration at your dog or family.

In fact, you are not angry at someone at home, but your emotions are still spilling over from work. Hence it is crucial that I share my daily experiences and encounters with my family.

6. What would you like to tell the public that will ensure your job is easier?
Stop saying what we must do: we are not always equipped to do everything people think we should be doing. Almost 100 percent of our staff are doing their best.

We as a community tend to generalise when we go to public facilities such as hospitals and police stations. We should be more understanding of frontline workers.

Let us not be quick to take offence. May you first put yourself in their shoes and you will understand how challenging their work is.

However, it is of importance that ultimately you tell us where or when we go wrong. When we get to a scene, we might end up spending five hours on that scene: we are not allowed to leave a scene until everything is done.

It’s not fair to compare apples to pears: we can’t operate on the same level as Hi-Tec because we have many responsibilities on our hands.

May we do everything with understanding. And please ask us before you complain: we will explain. Public service is a thankless job and the public has a very high standard. We are all in different boats; however, we are all the same. We are a part of this community: we go to the same shops and we have the same worries as everybody else, and that’s another thing people forget.

My job is to protect and to serve and I will do it to my utmost ability.

FRONTLINE HEROES

During a time of anxiety and panic, South Africa saw a rise of heroes, who heed the call to being at the frontline of the Covid-19 war when many were sheltered and safe in their homes. Rhodes University Community Engagement and Grocott’s Mail would like to honour those at the front line amid the Covid-19 pandemic.

TELL US ABOUT A HERO IN YOUR COMMUNITY
Would you like to acknowledge someone who has been working in the front line amid the pandemic? Please tell us about them and their contact details. Send it to
community@grocotts.co.za or l.lukwe@ru.ac.za or whatsapp to 066 156 2956.

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