Wednesday, 17 April, 2024
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Palliative patients struggle for life through load shedding

For patients in palliative care, the battle to stay alive has become even harder because of load shedding, and experts warn that the energy crisis could send more people to an early grave, particularly those relying on power-driven medical devices, especially oxygen.

Warren Oxford-huggett, chief executive officer of Msunduzi Hospice in Pietermaritzburg, said about 80% of their patients did not have access to inverters, batteries and generators, making load shedding an emotional and physical challenge, and complicating an already life-threatening disease.

He said it was also incredibly frustrating for the nursing staff who encountered problems even before they could take care of their patients, reports the Saturday Star.

When the power went out, their telephones did not work and the computers were offline; when they visited patients, their gates could not be opened or the traffic lights were out and they ended up gridlocked in traffic.

Hospice doctor Margie Venter said having a continuous supply of oxygen was critical for many patients who can’t breathe on their own. Oxygen concentrators must be plugged into a power socket to work, and long periods of load shedding or extended outages could have dire consequences.

“It’s a machine that extracts the oxygen from the room air, so when the patient has the mask on, what they’re getting is oxygen and not just air.”

She said those machines were generally not battery operated.

“You can have oxygen cylinders that contain concentrated oxygen, but it’s an additional cost and they run out quite quickly so it’s not a sustainable solution for someone on long-term oxygen use.”

Venter, based at Stellenbosch Hospice, said fortunately they were linked to the Stellenbosch Hospital and had access to a generator, but for home-based patients, the situation was dire.

“Even having an inverter does not help because they don’t last for four hours and then oxygen machines can’t work. It’s not a problem for every patient but those who need a constant supply of oxygen really struggle.”

It was critical, she said, to ensure that patients who depended on oxygen remained absolutely still when their machines went off.

“For people in palliative care who are short of breath, we give a low dose of morphine which helps relieve that sensation of shortness of breath and it’s often more effective than giving them oxygen.

“However, there are cases where oxygen is also required, and for those people, having long periods of no electricity would make them extremely short of breath, so the suffering is increased and they may even die sooner than expected.”

Social worker Tarryn Bell and her husband Dr Christoff Bell witnessed the deadly effects of load shedding first hand last year when a two-year-old girl at their Butterfly Palliative Home in Ngwavuma, KwaZulu-Natal, died as a result of load shedding.

“In a sense I feel that we failed her even though it was out of our control,” she said.

At the time they were in the middle of a week-long power outage, Eskom workers were on strike and they had burnt out two generators to keep all their medical machines running.

She said they were repeatedly running between their hospice and the hospital with little Lulu, who was at the end of life stage. The child died on the day their new 12-bed hospice opened, making it a bitter-sweet occasion.

“She was suffering from heart failure so she was going to die eventually, but the added stress of not being able to provide the oxygen definitely made the situation worse and caused unnecessary stress.”

Lynette Croote, a paramedic who started the Lambano Sanctuary in Germiston on the East Rand, said two children in their home-based care system died as a direct result of the ongoing power cuts.

“Their machines had gone off, they didn’t have oxygen and they couldn’t get to hospital in time.”

She said there were many stories like this because the communities they assisted were poor and had no access to generators.

“When load shedding comes, who has money for a taxi or to call an ambulance, and when is the ambulance going to come? It’s much bigger than just switching off the electricity, it’s a real crisis.”

She said their area had been without electricity for the past seven days and last weekend they used up eight large gas cylinders just to keep the facility running.

 

Saturday Star PressReader article – Load shedding turns deadly (Open access)

 

See more from MedicalBrief archives:

 

Culpable homicide charge after toddler’s death during load shedding

 

Court orders state to end hospital, school, load shedding within 60 days

 

SA failing to meet palliative care needs, conference hears

 

 

 

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