It is 6.30 in the morning and the day is Thursday. The scene is Katutura hospital, one of two referral hospitals in Windhoek. It is arguably one of the busiest state health facilities in the city.
Like any other day, patients are gradually making their way to the hospital, hoping to be attended to as soon as possible.
Unfortunately, the queues are already hopelessly long. There is not much drama going on as patients are fairly well behaved, and there are no bloody scenes as yet. This could perhaps be attributed to the fact that it is a weekday. Or, maybe it is too early to tell what is to unfold.
Time waits for no one and at this stage it is almost time for nurses who spend the night at the hospital to hand on the work to their colleagues, who will officially commence duty at 07:00.
The nurses whose work shift starts in the morning are also gradually arriving, one at a time.
Although for the patients it may be just another day, for the nurses it is a ‘special’ day as it has been set aside just to celebrate their work. However, the facial expressions of the nurses here do not hint at a celebratory mood. It is business as usual for the nurses even though it is International Nurses Day.
Meanwhile, at exactly seven o’clock the nurses on morning duty shift take over at the outpatients department where New Era spoke to a few of these ‘noble’ health professionals, and patients alike.
“In order to be assisted people queue up in banks and other places, and it should be the same here,” an energetic Makoanyame Rafael Makupu who is a registered nurse at the hospital tells patients who unquestionably comply.
“No cheating,” he adds, clearly referring to the latecomers who have intentions of sneakily taking the places of the early birds. Makupu then tells the patients that it is International Nurses Day and a New Era reporter wants to take a few photographs of both patients and nurses for a news report.
The patients have no problem and Makupu continues with his daily work. At this stage he starts checking the patients’ health passports, just to make sure that everyone is at the right place. “Which clinic were you at yesterday, sir?” he asks a patient who does not seem to comprehend what Makupu is saying. The nurse then repeats the question in Afrikaans.
Still, there is no response from the male patient. Makupu then explains in simple terms that he (the patient) was referred to the Katutura health centre and not Katutura (intermediate) hospital.
“Oh,” the male patient remarks before quietly leaving.
“Sugar baby,” shouts Makupu to a diabetic female patient who appears to be in her forties, upon displaying her card.
As he goes through the long queue of people to ascertain that everyone is in the right place, he skips an elderly woman who did not take the move lightly.
“Baby girl,” he tells the old woman, “don’t worry I will not pass you by.” The old woman tries to explain in Otjiherero that she is sick but he politely tells her to save that for when she will be attended to. The environment at the outpatient department seems peaceful but some patients argue this is not always the case.
“There are some rude nurses who do not attend to patients with compassion,” says 36-year-old Lineekela Shipo. But she admits that there are good nurses too. “Some nurses are patient with us,” adds Shipo.
“I have not had a bad experience with nurses,” said 56-year-old Johannes Iita who was at the hospital to collect his X-ray results.
Talking to New Era, 26-year-old student nurse Adam Kaali says nursing has always been a noble career with its core function being to care for the helpless.
“Nursing started way back when people used to care for each other, not only during sick times but also during healthy times. This basically also heals the person’s emotional and psychological status,” Kaali says, motivating why he chose nursing as a career. Seeing the love and compassion with which his mother raised him and his seven siblings also contributed to his career choice, adds Kaali who is studying at the National Health Training Centre.
“My mother has a warm personality and I decided that I wanted to be like her, but to take care of as many people as I can – that’s what motivated me to be a nurse.”
Kaali believes nursing is a calling. Therefore, a nurse should be compassionate and caring. “You should have a desire to listen to people’s problems without judging,” says Kaali.
He adds: “People should not go for nursing because of money, it has to be a calling. You should have that passion and desire to help other people.”
According to him, many nurses are passionate about their careers despite the difficult circumstances.
“A lot of them still take care of patients even though they experience some challenges that hinder them not to be hundred percent at their work. But then, even though there are challenges they still do their best to help patients,” added Kaali.
But, the Associate Dean at the School of Nursing and Public Health at the University of Namibia, Dr Louise Pretorius, argued that not every nurse joins the profession to care for patients. “Reality shows that not everybody that comes here takes it as a calling,” said Pretorius.
Another student at the National Health Training Centre, Sesilia Sheehama, said there are a number of challenges that impact on the effectiveness of nurses.
“In the health facilities that I have worked in so far there is a shortage of staff. Nurses are never enough. Besides that, some of them are retiring, some of them are going for studies and some have gone somewhere else,” Sheehama said. She also found herself in a situation where there are just two nurses at one clinic.
“And at that clinic there are many departments such as the tuberculosis department, pharmacy, and dressing,” she said. If one of the nurses is absent for one or other reason it negatively impacts the service, added Sheehama.
“Quality nursing care won’t be provided if one person has to run an entire clinic alone,” she added.
In addition, working with people with disabilities is a challenge, says Sheehama. “It is difficult for a nurse that does not have any background of sign language to deal with deaf patients. This can easily lead to misdiagnosing the patient,” she said, suggesting that sign language be taught at nursing schools to address this problem in future.
In addition, she said: “You find that a clinic only has one machine that is used to check the blood pressure of patients and it takes time for it to be replaced.”
As a result, their blood pressure cannot be checked, she adds. “That in itself is a challenge because you have to check the blood pressure for you to treat or refer the patient,” Sheehama said.
Furthermore, some patients are unaware of some of the services offered at health facilities, said Sheehama. “That’s why they don’t go to hospital when they are sick and some are still using the traditional way of treating illnesses,” she added.
International Nurses Day
Yesterday marked International Nurses Day. The day was proclaimed by the International Council of Nurses in 1947. It is observed on May 12, which is the birthday of Florence Nightingale who is considered the founder of modern nursing.
Nightingale is also sometimes referred to as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. This year’s theme to commemorate the day was ‘Nurses: a force for change: improving health systems’ resilience to ensure healthy lives and promote well-being for all ages.’
Pretorius observed that nurses can make an enormous impact on the resilience of the health system. However, for this to happen challenges impeding the health system need to be addressed.