From Wed 7th June 2017, Knysna was hit by unpredictable wild fires that affected us all, from the location areas to the suburbs, leaving no one untouched by the fires and their consequences. 4 of our patients lost their homes and some of our volunteers too. Many of us here at Knysna Sedgefield Hospice personally know of someone who lost their home and all their possessions.
However, despite the chaos and fear that the fires created in our beautiful town, it was ‘business as usual’ for Knysna Sedgefield Hospice. Thanks to the 5 star accredited training of our clinical staff, our patient care was able to continue and all our staff went above and beyond the call of duty during this time of crisis.
Our step down facility, Lilita House at the Knysna Provincial Hospital cares for up to 6 of our patients at a time. This facility is offered when our patients are well enough to be discharged from the hospital but not well enough to go home.
At Lilita House they are given the opportunity to recover and become well enough to go home to their families, under the medical care of our professionally trained staff. Sadly, with the fire rapidly approaching the provincial hospital all hospital patients had to be evacuated, including 5 of our patients from Lilita House.
Thanks to the professionalism of the staff and the training they have received on the procedure for evacuation, our patients were safely evacuated to a place of safety. Despite them having to lie on mattresses on the floor of the Vineyard Church who so kindly opened their doors to evacuees and then into a makeshift hospital ward at the Loerie Park sports grounds, one patient was quoted as saying that she felt safe and cared for at all times because she knew that our Hospice staff were in control at all times.
Despite the risk to the staff’s own lives, they remained calm and professional during the evacuation process. Medicines and bedding and mattresses were packed and transported for the patients to ensure that they were able to continue offering the professional care that our patients deserve.
Despite the difficulties faced by treating our patients in a makeshift ward, our patients were offered dignity by our thoughtful staff who made make shift ‘dignity tents’ from blankets while changing them. All of our patients except for one were sent home to family members after having their care needs and medication requirements explained to them.
Our remaining patient was transported by ambulance to Bethesda Hospice in George where she stayed for two weeks. We thank Bethesda Hospice for this very kind offer and for the excellent care that our patient received while there.
Recognition cannot only go to our Lilita House staff, many of our other clinical staff served our local community with compassion and dedication during this trying time. Sr. Dina Arends and Sr. Kathy Williams worked the whole weekend after the fire, helping out by taking patients back to their families from Loerie Park, doing investigative work that they do not normally do to track down the families of patients who had been evacuated from their homes, taking an enormous amount of nappies that we donated to local Old Age Homes and private individuals who had not been able to pack thoroughly during their evacuation.
During the aftermath our clinical staff continued to help in any way that they could, including delivering medications to patients on behalf of the clinics. Sr. Gerda Nel assisted at the pop up clinic at the Knysna waterfront on that Wednesday night and unfortunately suffered badly from smoke inhalation and ended up being booked off sick for 2 weeks.
We even had one of our relief nurses who lives in Joburg come down to volunteer her services for 3 weeks, this act of kindness is so greatly appreciated as she has assisted with patients that Sr. Gerda Nel could not get to while unwell. Sadly, one of our patients who was evacuated and transported to a hospital in George lost his home during the fires and shorty after being taken to hospital, died, leaving his wife to grieve the loss of her husband, and her home.
Our social workers are monitoring the emotional well being of our pateints and their familis and will provide councelling when needed.
Our administration staff cannot be forgotten either. Many of them helped with relief efforts in their own capacity, going where they were needed, while being guided by whatsapp groups created for fire relief. Administrative staff helped at relief centers by sorting donations out and distributing them to people who couldn’t get to the relief centres, helping to evacuate horses from farms under threat, handing out food and care parcels on the front lines to the firemen battling the blaze, helping people to find accommodation as they were evacuated, checking on people who may not have evacuated their homes etc.
The administrative staff will still continue in their personal capacities to offer help and relief during this time of rebuilding and healing that our precious town is going through.
Knysna Sedgefield Hospice is incredibly proud of our staff. We really saw how our slogan ‘Locals caring for Locals’ was truly embodied during this time as we all stood together as a community to help those in need.
The compassion and pro activeness shown during this tough time has reminded us all that our staff are true philanthropists at heart and we will continue to serve our community in any way that we can. We wish all those affected by the fires well as they begin to rebuild their homes, businesses and lives here in Knysna.