We asked two healthcare professionals, René Botha and Kyara Bergstrom, to share their thoughts on how COVID-19 has taught us to face the unpredictable.
Every new year brings a certain amount of anticipation and renewal, plans and resolutions and the will to tackle new challenges. As 2020 rolled around, there was the same anticipation and planning, and many of us started the year with grand ideas and goals to accomplish. We felt ready.
As we moved through January, confidently putting our plans into action, we started hearing stories of a new illness in China. At first it seemed a little bit unbelievable, but by the end of January there were more cases in more countries and we heard news of a global health pandemic. Even so, it was still a distant problem, not really a South African problem. However, on 5 March 2020, South Africa confirmed the first case of COVID-19 and before we knew it we were facing a national state of emergency and the start the level 5 lockdown.
Suddenly all the plans we had so carefully laid out couldn’t be carried out. Rules we never could have imagined were put in place and we had to quickly adapt and find new ways to go about our daily lives. It seemed an impossible task at the time. How would we work, educate our children or care for our families?
At the same time, we had this very real threat that could cause absolute devastation; we were fearful. We quickly learned that this one global pandemic presented different problems to all who face it and that the impact would be different for everyone.
Humans are truly adaptable
In facing these unpredictable and uncertain circumstances, we learned that human beings truly are adaptable.
With every challenge presented, we have found new ways of doing things. We rediscovered that a business is not a place, but its people. And, that staff can be as productive at home as they are in an office. People have been forced to embrace technological changes, they otherwise may have resisted. We have learned new terminology and new etiquettes to remain in the game. We have seen that education does not need to happen in a classroom. Our teachers are far more resourceful than they are given credit for and our children are resilient in adapting to change.
Many have learnt that all we have is the present, allowing us to focus on what is truly important. By taking away the external activity that we spent so much time on, many families came together to rediscover the value of quality time and simpler entertainment.
As the economic differences became more evident so too did the importance of community. Companies sought ways to reduce redundancies and stretch resources. Individuals found ways to contribute charitably, be it in money, food or time; and many continue these endeavours, finding value in giving.
We learned that without one another there will be no lasting recovery from this pandemic and the impact will be felt for generations. To build true resilience in our community we will need to work together.
Social distance shouldn’t mean social disconnection
The most difficult restriction for me to abide by has been the disconnection of people. People had to experience and endure long periods of isolation from loved ones and social networks. This exposed some of the more vulnerable people in our society, with elderly people amongst the worst. Others feared social contact with strangers, where anyone could be a carrier of the ‘invisible’ virus. We had to learn that social distance shouldn’t mean social disconnection. COVID-19 has shown us the fragility of life. We have had to face the fears of our mortality to overcome the challenges. What seemed impossible in March is now part of our ‘new normal’. As we entered yet another new year (2021), it may have been a little wearier, but we did it knowing that nothing is really impossible.
MEET THE EXPERT – René Botha
René Botha is a radiotherapist with a special interest in treatment planning. She works in private practice and is based at the Wits University Donald Gordon Medical Centre.
What a year 2020 was. I think most can agree there was nothing normal last year and the very sense of the word normal has changed.
Last year March COVID-19 arrived in our country, this unknown virus which we knew so little about. There was a lot of speculation on what now and what’s next? I remember sitting and waiting for the President’s first speech, holding my breath.
COVID-19 affected me and my family quite significantly. My eldest daughter having an autoimmune condition, my middle daughter having been born without an immune system and receiving monthly IVIG and then myself having Type 2 diabetes and an autoimmune condition. COVID-19 became very real in our house and the implications of getting ill with it.
Life became unpredictable from working out our new normal, figuring out how to homeschool and work from home.
I had to learn how to counsel patients remotely and missed the one-on-one interaction and the people I work with. Most of my patients developed high levels of anxiety. They had extra worries: worries about is it safe to have their surgery, go for treatments, and will they get sick by going to the hospital.
A lot of patients wanted to introduce supplements to keep their immune system strong, so there was a lot of research I needed to do to ensure which ones were safe. There were extra stressors regarding their jobs or their partners’ jobs, financial difficulties on top of the medical bills and worries about kid’s schooling. When speaking to patients, it showed me how exceptionally hard 2020 was for some cancer patients.
Live day by day
I learnt to live day by day and be patient with others. I had to learn to help those with little understanding of COVID-19 and to not get too worked up with the fake information being shared.
But through all of this, I learnt to appreciate the time I had with my little family. Better bonds and understanding were developed and appreciation for the little things that I missed.
Life can be very unpredictable, like the saying goes “Life happens while we trying to make other plans.” COVID-19 showed us just how unpredictable. So many plans for 2020 were cancelled or postponed from birthday parties, weddings and even holiday travel. But many of us made other plans digitally: Zoom weddings and family gatherings. We learnt to celebrate and mourn even though we couldn’t be together physically.
As we are battling the second wave, I think back to all the lessons 2020 has taught me. Some hard and some easy, but all the lessons were valued and needed.
So, what do we face in this year of 2021 when we are still battling with this virus? Hopefully, we’ve all learnt a little more understanding, appreciation and patience. We can’t predict where we are going with this virus. Though, we have an idea and hopefully the vaccine roll-out will be fast, efficient and effective. We don’t know the exact path this virus will take us but we know we can survive, we can love more and help each other more.
MEET THE EXPERT – Kyara Bergstrom
Kyara Bergstrom is the head of research at Netcare Breast Care Centre. She is also the COO of the Pink Parasol Project (www.pinkparasol.co.za), a website-based directory listing conventional and complementary therapists and practitioners.