“Essential Living”​: A perspective on what it’s actually​ been like on the essential side of lockdown

Written in 2020-DC( During Corona)  🙂

“Let’s do this!”                     “I’m grateful”            “This is a movie!”

                                 “How are we going to cope?”

                  “What a privilege to be employed and have a salary during this time.” 

                                                                      ” Frustrated”             

                              “I’m over this” 

 “Low-key depressed?”                                              “Worried”

                                      “Frustrated”                                        

                                                             “Are we in denial?”           

                                            “Even me I just want to be at home like everyone else!”

Yup, you guessed right. That’s the rollercoaster of emotions I’ve been going through since the beginning and through the lockdown. Messy right? 

Why do I call this blog post “Essential Living”, you may ask. Well, it’s inspired by the title of an email I get on a daily basis without fail since the beginning of lockdown from NEWS 24- titled- “LOCKDOWN LIVING.”

These emails are centered around giving tips on basically how to “survive the lockdown” through activities to do, mental, physical and emotional health tips and advice, the latest news etc.

There really is so much around “lockdown living” and how to survive to stay home, but there isn’t much about how to pretty much “stay sane” if I can call it while working as an essential worker. There is so much “praise” and thanksgiving going around every day for the frontliners, which has been amazing. However, are there real structures in place to ensure that our frontliners, in all areas, are well looked after, mentally, and emotionally as we endure this pandemic and some of their concerns taken care to?

I write this post mostly as a reflective post, and upon getting a request from a friend to hear the perspective of doctors, I thought well maybe there is a place for this kind of post. Controversial though it may be, I still see it fit a post to make. 

Please note that I by no means write from a place of disregard for the differing experiences, circumstances, views, feelings, and perspectives of everyone else, be they essential or not. These are personal reflections from my personal capacity.

So…how it’s been. Where to start….? 

It’s always best to start with the good right? 

  • THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

Really, to everyone who’s thoughts we crossed, who cared to send a message of gratitude or prayers, or just a simple “stay safe” …argh, it just made and still makes every moment worthwhile and much more bearable. We are nothing without your support 🙂 

  • A PRIVILEGE AND AND HONOUR, YET A GREAT CALL/RESPONSIBILITY

In my next post following this one. one of the things I talk about in the tips to thrive is finding the blessing in everything. I think I speak for many essential workers when I say that during all of this, I realised how privileged I was to at least say that I could be sure not to worry about losing a job and earning a salary at the end of the month (barring any other unforeseen glitches.) This, for many right now, is a cause of great concern.

it is also such an honour to be a part of such a time as this- as an “essential worker”. It comes with much responsibility and risk to our very own lives, but it’s been such a time to embrace the calling to serve!

  • And now for the NOT SO GREAT ….

Well for starters, I’m currently based in a small rural town, in a district hospital, And really above and beyond the personal anxiety and other personal feelings surrounding the pandemic and work, there were many work-related things that added to the anxiety of the “essential living.” 

Ignorance, misinformation(non-information) and misunderstanding of the 3rd world (namely, rural sectors)

From about day 3 of the lockdown, honestly, the town I live in currently, was functioning as NORMAL – street vendors were back on the streets, people roaming around needlessly. Our small town actually appeared on the news with a news report titled “Business as usual in…”. It wasn’t until police were instructed to physically restrict people on the roads from needlessly walking around basically chasing street vendors away that people began to somewhat comprehend the meaning of the lockdown and the magnitude of what was at stake. 

You can imagine the concern and worry as a health worker of the hospital serving this town as people reluctantly or ignorantly, one couldn’t be certain, continued doing life “as usual” in the midst of this pandemic. 

It was frustrating yet so humbling to see that that is the reality of most of our rural areas, and really, not much could and can be done about it. Whereas people in the cities were evidently (on the news) adherent of the rules and regulations, people here were either ignorant, had no true concept of what was going on or the circumstances just were to dire for them to be staying indoors without business. We just had to hope and pray, and still are,  that the virus does not reach this town, and if it does, comes in a mild form. Otherwise- calamity is inevitable. 

Things are however better, people now do wear masks, as busy as it is and with minimal social distancing, I guess it counts for something that they at least now wear masks, willingly. 

Improper/Inadequate preparation 

Day 43 and counting of the lockdown… and I can say that we are not ENTIRELY ready as a hospital. Just 3 days ago we had a suspect pregnant woman for whom it was a mess just trying to isolate and get tested without chaos and confusion. We only had a formal practical session of how to swab throats a few days back, after initially watching videos found by our clinical manager himself for us to watch off the internet.  From shortages of N95 masks, where some clinicians are given 1 protective mask to sustain them for a whole week in some hospitals, to no formal training sessions for the clinicians and other staff, to inadequate PPE (personal protective equipment) and even testing kits, to the difficulty in how wards would be run with the already understaffed hospital and how allocations to the isolation ward should be done. And now as well, a delay in processing tests and getting results.

Things keep showing up that reveal that we really were never ready! Granted, these are unforeseen circumstances, crisis mode, It’s just been crazy to see the contrast between what’s going on on the news and what the government is reporting with regards to the health care system being ready, which is possibly the case in bigger cities and hospitals, but in the smaller hospitals, things are still really challenging. To the point where the basic needs for us as essential workers to protect ourselves are not being adequately met.

If I’m being honest- most of our morning meetings are simply debriefing sessions on our frustrations, worries and concerns regarding our safety, screening of patients, protection of ourselves and others. But it’s never-ending.

Underlying politics in the background

From the nurses, &DENOSA (Democratic nursing association of SA) anger and wanting to boycott because of a failure in an increase of 1% to their salaries this year- more so after the president announced the R350 increase to the child support grant,  to doctors sending out a petition to get remuneration for being on the frontlines and risking their lives.

It was such a tough, tense time when engaging with the nurses – being torn between thoughts of ” as healthcare workers, are we here really to serve the people wholeheartedly, are we here to serve our own needs?” and thoughts of “some of these people are also breadwinners and really one cannot truly understand how the non-increase impacts them and maybe their foreplanned events.” But was this truly the time to complain, moan, and lay demands while other people were struggling to even put food on the table daily, nevermind get an income at the end of the month?

These are some of the things that the pandemic brought about that really had emotions raging as well in the workplace.


And finally- the human experience of the abnormality of things.

Initially, things were exciting, engaging, and learning. about the virus was great. But at some point, it honestly began to feel so abnormal even just going to work “as usual”, whilst family members and other friends were stuck at home, people and even doctors were dying out there. Work became a drag on some days, for everyone. The mood would be low. Anxiety began to settle in as we had more suspect cases come in. It would feel weird to be “in lockdown” when not at work or on off weekends, and then to have to go to work as usual during the week. 

I even began to feel myself go into a transient mild depression there for a few days a a week or two back ; hopeless, low mood, more tired than usual…but reflecting, talking and grappling with my thoughts and getting them out there, with adequate support from friends and loved ones-thankfully snapped me back into this awesome feeling of positivity, light, and hope! 

Yes, it is a much-privileged position to be in during these times, but it does indeed take its toll and have its negative effects. And yes, although we may be in a far off better position maybe financially and job-security wise, and even less prone to depression and other sequelae of “staying at home”, we too experience feelings of being depressed, anxious, frustrated, worried, concerned. It may be with everything we face at work or even when we get home. All while going to be the essential frontline soldiers. After all, behind those masks, we are still human too.

Nonetheless, there’s always a way to THRIVE beyond the circumstances…..!! 🙂

So let’s make sure we look after ourselves, our mental and physical health so that we can, by Grace, keep thriving on those frontlines, and if you’re at home- in the comfort of your home. In the next follow-up post- I share 5 tips on how to keep thriving through the lockdown, essential or not, but especially if you’re an essential worker.

Keep watch for that post!

Are you an essential worker? How has your experience been as an essential worker? I’d love to know which frontline you’re on and what your experiences have been! 🙂 Leave a comment below!

My love and light to all of you during this time. To the front liners, THANK YOU!

Dr Dee.

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