Wednesday | 08 April | 2020
By Reon Janse van Rensburg
The list of occupations that are currently essential consists of many industries. Every occupation has its own unique challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. Some of us who chose certain occupations must face these challenges daily on the frontline.
These are occupations such as doctors, pharmacists, artisans, food producers, police officers and army personnel who are rarely considered prestigious occupations and are not really seen for the superheroes they truly are. There are too many of these occupations to list all of them, but we are grateful for each and everyone’s contribution!
In times like these, we also realise that without people such as pharmacists and healthcare workers a massive need will exist since their expertise are of great value.
I interviewed a pharmacist to find out more about their occupation, the challenges they face and how the Covid-19 virus influences their work. Little of us are aware of the challenges and fear medical personnel currently experience and how the virus impacts them as employees, but also as humans.
When you visit your local pharmacy again to get your medication or to ask advice for ailments, thank the pharmacist for their service and knowledge. They are, just like you, also worried about their loved ones at home.
The pharmacist I interviewed chose to withhold her identity out of fear for victimisation. However, she is a professional, spontaneous person with years’ experience. She loves sharing her expertise with her patients and the public to ensure that they receive the best possible treatment and make informed decisions when seeking medical help. The following interview was held with the help of modern technology during the national lockdown.
- What knowledge do pharmacists have that people do not necessarily know about?
To be able to count pills correctly is very important, because who wants to return to the pharmacy if they received too little pills? But as a pharmacist and usually the first person whom a sick person goes to for help, we need a lot of knowledge about the pathology of a disease and analytical skills to make a differential diagnosis (by eliminating possible diseases until you can make a definitive diagnosis), but as a pharmacist the Law does not allow you to make a diagnosis even if we know what the disease is. We need to be aware of interaction between both medication and diseases. The knowledge about diseases is probably the most important, because once you understand it, you can use your pharmacological knowledge to make the right decisions regarding the use of medication.
- Doctors are very dependent on pharmacists because they do not necessarily work with a variety of medication daily. How can your role as pharmacist ease that of the doctor’s, especially in the fight against Covid-19?
In the fight against Covid-19, pharmacists can ease the work of a doctor by bringing together the working of the virus and the treatment’s working to both delay the virus and treat the symptoms. In the hospital, the pharmacy is the central storage facility for vaccinations, medications and the personal protective equipment. We are responsible for the control of these products so that it can be used effectively. We work out how many of something will be needed per patient that is admitted to the hospital. This includes the medical team per patient. Thus, orders are worked out carefully to ensure that everyone is protected during this time.
- During the national lockdown, pharmacists still work and in some cases there are not enough provision made for the safety of medical personnel. Are you afraid to work during this time? What do you feel about the circumstances?
Working during this time leaves one with two choices; you can either be filled with fear and stand a chance to make a mistake due to it, or you can stand firm knowing that you chose to fill this role and that you have a responsibility towards society. No one can lie and say that they are not afraid, but you must stand up and try not to focus on the negative. You just wash your hands every time fear creeps into your mind. Our team have cried together a few times, but then we feel how God comes and make us calm because we do not have control over these things.
- Currently, there is no cure or specific medication to prevent or treat Covid-19. How are people with the virus treated and does it differ from patient to patient?
By default, every patient is treated with a regimen until certain symptoms are added, then treatment changes. Underlying conditions, in other words, chronic illnesses contribute to the chosen treatment as well as how urgently the condition is handled. SAPHRA (the SA Medicine Control Board in connection with the FDA) often gives medici information about new and improved treatment regimens and then it is adjusted.
- Do you think people are considering the virus seriously enough?
This virus is typically one of those where you think it will never happen to you until it happens to you. First you hear of one case in SA, but it is far from your home so you do not even worry, then your family’s flights are cancelled and it starts bothering you a bit, then you hear of someone in your child’s school who tested positive and now it seriously bothers you because you or your child could be sick. Suddenly your dad passes away after being admitted to hospital two days ago after being the equivalent of health a week ago. No, I do not think people are taking this seriously enough. The roads are busy, the shops overflow and pharmacies become a playground for unnecessary chat sessions.
- What is your biggest challenge and your biggest fear with the current situation in our country?
The biggest challenge is to ensure that there are enough stock for when the virus truly hits and to explain to people that staying at home is the best option. My biggest fear is that the curve will flatten too soon and that they lift the lockdown and then a bigger crisis will exist.
- Sometimes it is difficult to remain positive in these circumstances. How do you remain positive in these circumstances and how do you and your colleagues encourage each other?
I answer the question with a lump in my throat since the unknown is the worst. We as a team stand far apart and sometimes the pharmacy is so quiet because everyone is thinking. We think about what we are taking home to our families tonight because people do not listen and come in for simply anything. Then we realise we are still human and still doing okay. Then we’ll laugh a bit again. We tease each other and trust that the Lord will keep us safe and protect us.
- What is your advice for people at home?
Our advice to people at home is to find things that will keep you busy. Exercise for at least 20 minutes a day, laugh and enjoy the time with your family if you have the privilege, but stay at home. We will chat in the pharmacy again, we will walk past each other in the busy supermarket at the end of the month, we will braai and we will go to the movies again. Protect yourself, protect your family and protect us as medici by staying at home.
- What do you think the future holds for your occupation? What do you think must improve and what do you think will play a big role in the future?
Pharmacists are not regarded as a typical medical occupation; usually people only refer to doctors and nurses in general. Without pharmacists there will be no breakthroughs in the pharmaceutical world which promotes treatments. Take us away and one leg of this structure falls away. Maybe after this crisis people will see that we are indispensable. Preparation for these situations would have to change, because it is clear that no medici was prepared on a virus such as this.
- South Africans often watch sport and admire sport stars. Who do you think are the true heroes in our society? What can we learn from them?
People say that we must forget about sport stars, actors and actresses and other artists. But we need those people because it is their art that we turn to during lockdown to pass the time. However, if one think about it thoroughly it is the teachers, medical personnel, cleaners, delivery personnel, supermarket staff, petrol attendants, rubble removers, security companies, police, army, radio broadcasters and newsreaders that are the true heroes. And if you stay at home during this time, then you are my hero!
* All information was correct at the time of publication.