“I will be back when the coronavirus ends.”
This is what home-based carer Athenkosi Piet has to tell her son, who is missing her terribly as she stays in lockdown with a 95-year-old man.
For Piet, the coronavirus pandemic has drawn on all of her skills as a nurse – from bathing to feeding to giving medication, and making sure exercises are done. But this time, it is different – it also requires the extra stamina of living in quarantine with a patient for weeks on end.
It means she does not get to hug her son every day or make a cup of tea for her own mother.
Instead, she is making sure her aged client gets the best care during the lockdown, so that he does not have to go out and risk contracting the virus.
With the elderly at a higher risk of not recovering from Covid-19, staying home and minimising outside contact are even more important for the man Piet is looking after.
Not much has been said about the vital work home-based carers are doing to keep the sick, the frail and the elderly healthy, and also not alone.
“It is part of my job. It is part of my sacrifice,” Piet tells News24 when asked whether she misses her own family.
Her client has a heart problem but is not frail, so at least they can take a walk down the corridor of his block of flats when nobody else is around.
He also likes to keep his legs strong on an indoor bicycle he purchased.
When they have moved through their day’s routine, they watch television together, and discuss the developing news on the coronavirus.
She video calls her seven-year-old son, who is being looked after by her mum until she gets home again.
“He keeps asking when am I coming back,” says Piet. “I told him I am going to buy him the biggest car when I get home.”
To keep the groceries topped up, she has an arrangement with the local Spar.
She calls her order through and, when it is ready, they call her back. To reduce the risk of her taking the virus back to the elderly man, she does not have to queue – the parcels are waiting on the counter for her to quickly pop in and take it home.
“The coronavirus epidemic is shining a light on caregivers. Now more than ever, we’re seeing how critical their service is,” said home-based carer agency CareChamp.
Although agencies still offer hourly rates for home-based care, they are advising that clients consider the full quarantine with a home-based carer, so that there is less chance of contracting the virus on a daily commute.