Nomthandazo shares her unconditional love

Nomthandazo Ngcobo in the Respite Unit with one of the patients.

NOMTHANDAZO Ngcobo is one of the Hillcrest AIDS Centre Trust’s longest serving carers, having worked in the centre’s Respite Unit since it opened 11 years ago in 2006.

Despite the long hours and the often emotionally draining work, the 42-year-old, single mother of two is completely dedicated to her work and sees her position as a calling rather than a job.

She lives in the Valley of 1000 Hills and first learnt about HIV/AIDS while attending one of the centre’s home-based care training courses.

Soon after Nomthandazo completed her course in 2005, she was selected to work in the newly opened unit and hasn’t looked back since. “I was doing nothing before I came to work in the unit. Caring for the patients is my life now and I can’t imagine ever doing anything else!”

She faces a long and tiring journey to work and back everyday, often travelling in the dark, while the rest of us are still fast asleep. “If I’m working a day shift, I have to get up at 4:15am to catch a taxi by 5am,” said Nomthandazo.

“It takes just over an hour to get to the centre for the handover which happens every morning at 6:45am. The handover is very important so we cannot be late even if it means running all the way from the taxi rank in Hillcrest to the centre.”

A day in her shoes

At the morning handover, the team walks from bed to bed, enabling the night shift nurses and carers to update the day shift staff on each patient’s progress including when they last had their medication, how they slept that night and anything else that is important regarding their care and treatment.

Afterwards all staff join hands and form a circle in the middle of the unit in order to give praise and say prayers. “It is always a beautiful start to the day and often our patients can be heard singing along from their beds” explained HACT’s nursing services manager, Julie Hornby.

“If a patient has passed away during the course of the night a candle is always lit the next morning in the centre of the circle to honour their memory.”

Each carer in the unit is personally responsible for up to six patients on any given shift. There is also always another carer who is available to sit with any patient who is in the dying process, ensuring no dying patient is ever left alone.

Most new admissions to the unit tend to arrive in the afternoon, but can of course arrive at any time of the day or night.

Processing and admitting a new patient often takes up to an hour as it’s crucial our team gets a detailed and accurate history from the patient and or his/her family members. Some days there are up to three admissions per day.

Going the extra mile

Nomthandazo usually departs the centre a little after 5pm and begins her hour and half journey back home by bus or taxi.

After a long day at work, Nomthandazo said her trip home is often her time to reflect on what’s happened in the unit that day.

Her favourite duty is usually helping to bath the patients and apply dressings as it’s during this time that she gets to really talk to the patients and learn more about their personal stories and journeys.

“Each patient is different and has this/her own story. Some like to talk to you while others don’t. But it’s important to let them know we are here for them and are interested in who they are and where they’ve come from,” said Nomthandazo.

Nomthandazo said she is most grateful that her job as a carer at HACT has enabled her to provide for her two sons. The eldest is busy completing his third year as a law student at UKZN and the youngest is in his first year at high school.

“I am proud to have been a good example to my sons. They’ve watched me work hard and they see how happy my job makes me. I hope they do something that also makes them happy and where they can make a difference in the lives of others,” said Nomthandazo.



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Lloyd Mackenzie

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