Sadiyya Sheik
Sadiyya Sheik

Occupational hazard

Employment is a risky thing. I don’t mean the possibility of being pink-slipped or the company liquidating or poisonous cafeteria-unknowns. In my line of work, showing up is a bloody hazard.

I spent the better part of the last three weeks praying desperately for an HIV-negative result. Some light: I’m a medical intern. Most of my days are spent seeing patients and drawing their blood or putting up intravenous lines. Most of these patients are HIV positive — either proven by a blood test or suggested by a gaunt almost skeletal frame.

A few weeks ago, I pricked myself with a needle while putting up an IV line. It was my third needlestick injury in 18 months. What’s that you say? I should be more careful? Yeah, I really should. What was I thinking trying to put up an IV line when I’d been awake for a 28-hour stretch? And I really should have worn correctly-sized gloves to improve my dexterity. And I should have requested assistance in holding down that restless patient.

This is medicine in the public-health sector. A serious lack of doctors means that you work long hours without rest. A lack of resources means that sometimes the only gloves available really are two sizes too big. A lack of nursing staff means that there is often no assistance in managing restless patients.

Healthcare professionals risk HIV and TB on a daily basis and while there are means of decreasing exposure, the Department of Health can do little to protect its servants. The N95 mask (the forerunner in protection from TB bacilli), is frequently out of stock as are gloves that fit. As a result, many doctors have taken to not wearing gloves at all because a glove one size too big is often more hazardous than no glove at all

It took three weeks of waiting for my result because the National Health Laboratory Service (NHLS) had a dysfunctional lab machine. I did the test twice before the specimen was lost between labs. This is not a freak incident by the way, anyone familiar with the NHLS would expect nothing less, or more rather.

My HIV test was negative (thank you private laboratory) but each day presents a new opportunity for infection.

My beef with the Department of Health is this: it is evident that HIV and TB are eating away at our population, why not try a little harder to protect the health-care workers that are trying to stop this decay?