Vredehoek nurse recounts silent stress of the front line

Sister Mizan Malan

Being an essential worker during the global Covid-19 pandemic, says nurse Mizan Malan, is like going through the five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance.

“We are not smiling and singing at work,” she said. “I always ask myself, ‘did I change my scrubs, did I wash my hands enough, did I keep my mask on the whole time?’ When I climb in the car to go home, (I wonder) ‘did I change my scrub clothes properly?’ So you don’t go home smiling, you go home stressed.”

Ms Malan, 28, from Vredehoek, has worked at Groote Schuur Hospital for five years and is one of thousands of nurses on the front lines who were honoured on International Nurses Day last Tuesday, May 12.

Explaining her role as a specialised scrub sister, she said: “I help the surgeon with surgical procedures” – and to do her job effectively, she needs to know the surgical procedure as well as the surgeon does and is responsible for preparing the surgical instruments.

“There is no time to look for where the instruments are and in surgery I need to know exactly where the incision will be, what kind of incision (will be made) and what to look for as soon as we open the skin,” she explained.

Even though she hadn’t always planned to go into nursing, she finds great fulfilment in her work, she said, particularly when she is able to help change people’s lives through surgical intervention.

“I knew that I needed to do something that is interesting, different, challenging and would make a difference in many people’s lives,” she said. “It was difficult in the beginning, though I felt that the profession chose me and just became a part of me.”

And, she said, in a way she feels like she is honouring the dream of her grandmother Sandra Luus who had wanted to be a nurse, but wasn’t able to pursue her dream.

Reflecting on the “new normal”, Ms Malan said the pandemic had caused staff at the hospital, from doctors to cleaning staff, to work as a cohesive unit.

“We are one team. We can’t function without the other.”

Ms Malan currently stays with her boyfriend and his 4-year-old son and she takes extra precautions when she gets home. She takes her shoes off, she leaves her bag outside and goes straight to the shower. Her clothing goes into a separate washing basket and, as a precaution, she maintains a physical distance when interacting with her boyfriend and his son.

Under normal circumstances, when she is not working, Ms Malan spends time with her close circle of five friends. Now she stays in touch with them, and her mother in Rondebosch, via social media.

Groote Schuur Hospital chief executive officer, Dr Bhavna Patel, says this year’s International Nurses Day is even more special as it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, who is regarded as the founder of modern nursing.

“We thank all our nurses on this auspicious day. We admire you for your dedication to the noble profession. We acknowledge all your hard work. We value you and we appreciate everything that you do in our services at Groote Schuur Hospital,” she said.