Meet the Dietitian: Community service series

By Chené Vorster

“Stay positive by staying negative.” – The main joke of 2020

I stumbled upon dietetics by accident and I have never looked back. A friend of mine stated that she wanted to become a dietitian and she was going to shadow them in the upcoming holidays. Curious about this unknown career and unsure about what I wanted to study, I decided to do the same. The moment I entered the ICU, I fell in love with dietetics. As the university years progressed along, I realised how big this field was and I was amazed by all the areas we work in. I studied at the University of Pretoria, the “Jakarandastad” gave me fond memories and the opportunity to work from Stanza Bopape CHC to Chris Hani Baragwanath Academic Hospital.

During the year 2020, I was busy completing my community service year at Thelle Mogoerane Regional Hospital – a 760-bed hospital in Vosloorus, Gauteng. The first three months of the year went well, I was fortunate enough to have another comserve walk this daunting road with me. I ran the medical and surgical wards and occasionally a paediatric ward – everything was going well. I will never forget when a colleague sent me the post with the caption “It’s here”. We had been following this covid-19 but was told it’s too hot in SA. On the 23rd of March, everything started to change. We tried not to panic but the lack of knowledge on this virus and protocols on its treatment, the implication of the lockdown and all the new rules were overwhelming. We can no longer eat together, we had to rotate offices to prevent overcrowding, insufficient PPE and the emotions were running high. We had to close down the OPD and ‘sneak’ out some packages to patients that were being turned away. The importance of a dietitian became very clear during the pandemic and our services were needed all around.

My wards shifted and I was now in charge of the covid PUI ward, medical wards and occasionally the covid wards. I was terrified to go in there, terrified to walk out – “What if I contracted it?”. The kangaroo pumps ran out and I was feeding patients myself from time to time. The pandemic wasn’t all bad though, I built fond relationships, learned how to dance to Jerusalema, gained so much knowledge and love what I do. I am forever grateful that I could fight on the frontlines.

My advice to those who are still fighting on the frontlines:
MDTs are very important. Befriend everyone – they are an excellent support structure!
Don’t be intimidated – you have a lot more knowledge than you think. If the opportunity arises, write a protocol or volunteer to assist in a difficult case. Your hard work will not go unnoticed.
Be kind, but don’t allow anyone to walk over you – if there’s a problem, sort it out immediately.
Stay positive by staying negative – wear your PPE, wash your hands and sanitize everything. Practice social distancing and be a role model in your community.