TENDING to young children who have been burnt beyond recognition is not for the faint-hearted, and Sister Phindiwe Booi, who has been with Nelson Mandela Bay’s paediatric burns unit for 30 years, admits she has shed her fair share of tears.
Described by Dora Nginza burns unit head Dr Linda Jones as a “pillar of strength”, Booi is the operations manager of the unit and constantly goes beyond the call of duty.
“I start my shift at 7am and usually end up working until 7pm,” said Booi. “I like to start by planning my day and seeing how the children are doing.”
A few cases have particularly touched her heart.
Newborn Lizo Hlambe, of Alexandria, was admitted to Dora Nginza in 2005 with 50% of his body burnt following a shack fire.
“He caught alight and was only with a granny. The ambulance was speedy enough to get him to us in time. We stabilised him and prepared him for skin grafts before sending him to Cape Town for the specialised procedure.
“We were able to save him and guarantee a bright future for that boy.”
Hlumelo Dondashe was another special case.
“He was 14 months old and had to be stabilised in ICU before coming to us,” recalled Booi.
“He ended up losing both his arms, and we had to do a lot of skin grafts to repair his face. But what we liked about it was that the child came out of the ordeal walking … and he loved all of us. Even now his family brings him back to visit.
Staff grow very attached to the children and with up to 9% succumbing to their critical wounds, it is painful to lose them. “When they come in, we take them as part of our family. But when we lose a patient we become emotional.
“I have a strong support system at home. My husband knows all about my job and I can talk about my day with him. I do cry. It’s hard, but I think about it as God’s creation, and when it’s His time for a patient to die, then one has to accept that.”
Jones said it was thanks to calls from Booi that she had returned to the unit from Cape Town in 2007.
“She was on the phone, saying ‘come back’. And so I did,” said Jones, who explained that the unit attended to up to 550 children a year, most of whom were admitted during the peak winter period.
“There’s a time of day we call ‘hell hour’, when parents are home cooking and the children are tired and needing attention. That’s when the majority of accidents happen,” Jones said.
Of the total admissions to the paediatric unit, 90% were kitchen burns resulting from hot water, she said.
Booi, who is set to retire next year after 30 years at the burns unit, said the adjustment would be difficult.
“I’ll certainly be popping in to see how the children are doing,” she said.