Cape Town – Dr Kirstin Riley can’t be counted among the many South Africans complaining endlessly about the challenges they have to confront amid a pandemic, regardless of the trying circumstances she has found herself in.
She has had to deal with being diagnosed with cancer, undergoing surgery and chemotherapy, and raising a 1-year-old during a highly disruptive Covid-19 pandemic.
Despite soldiering on with a decreased immune system, the 29-year-old medical officer in the Burns Unit at the Red Cross War Memorial Children’s Hospital in Cape Town doesn’t consider herself a hero.
What has saddened her, however, is that due to physical distancing and other constraints during the Covid-19 lockdown, the hospital hasn’t quite been the ’’place of laughter and hugs’’ it usually is.
In January, Riley was diagnosed with stage 3 colon cancer. There was no respite; soon after, she didn’t shy away from the front line of the Covid-19 battle.
She is one of the many hard-working women in the public health system who continue to inspire others despite facing difficulties in their personal lives.
Commenting on the current work environment amid a pandemic, she said: “We’ve gone from a place of laughter and hugs to avoiding each other through social distancing.
’’We can’t see each other’s faces any more and it seems as if everyone is cold and unapproachable.
“Even though we somehow still made our ward a happy and joyful place (for the kids and the staff), we can see the changes in our kids. It’s not the same.
“I’m looking forward to the day when we can all see laughter and joy on each other’s faces again.”
Nevertheless, she knows all too well Covid-19 is no laughing matter. Like all front-line workers, Riley’s greatest fear is bringing home an illness and infecting her family, especially her daughter.
“I get home now and immediately change and shower. She knows there are no hugs from Mommy until I’ve changed,” she says.
“I have had to go through chemotherapy alone, multiple doctors’ visits and hospital admissions alone. It’s a scary time, even though I ’know’ the system.
’’To have cancer, be on active treatment and know that I have a decreased immune system is a scary thought at the best of times. Throw in a pandemic, and it can all seem a bit too much.
’’Thankfully, I have the most supportive family both at home and at work, who have gone above and beyond to make sure that I am safe during this pandemic,” says Riley.
She even jokes about a positive during the pandemic being “there’s less of the infamous Cape Town traffic”.
“Seriously, it’s wonderful to see how close a relationship you develop with your colleagues when you are in these trying times together.
’’The knowledge that this will end, it might not be soon, but it will end. We are stronger together, none of us are in this alone,” Riley says.
A last piece of advice to the public?
“Masks go over your nose! Be kind to each other and we will get through this, together.”