'There is no end to caring'

Caring for terminally-ill patients is not an easy job - and certainly not a job for any Tom, Mary or Jane.

Caring for terminally-ill patients is not an easy job - and certainly not a job for any Tom, Mary or Jane.

Priscilla Modibedi, 66, a home-care sister at Soweto Hospice in Diepkloof, says it takes a lot of compassion, dedication and humanity to meet patients' physical, social and spiritual needs.

Modibedi had retired from nursing when the hospice offered her the job in 2002. She cares for more than 60 patients.

She visits on average five patients a day in the Klipspruit, Dlamini, Orlando West, Dube and Meadowlands areas. As the HIV pandemic grows, so does her list of patients.

The Sowetan team recently spent a day with Modibedi to see for themselves what her job entails.

l 11.10am

Thobeka and I arrive at Soweto Hospice and Modibedi is waiting for us.

She checks if she has her patients' medication, soup and toilet paper. We jump into the car and hit the road.

l 11.44am

Our first stop is in Klipspruit and the first patient is a 40-year-old woman with skin cancer. The cancer has affected both her feet. She barely walks because her feet are heavily bandaged. We found her curled up in her bed. She is happy to see Modibedi.

"What have you brought for me," she asks Modibedi after exchanging greetings.

Modibedi tells her that she has brought her painkillers as she had requested on her last visit.

She asks how the patient is and praises her for making progress.

The patient complains that she does not have enough band- ages. Modibedi tells her to wash and use the bandages she has until another roll becomes available.

l 11.54am

We visit Doreen Peters, 49, another Klipspruit resident. She has HIV. She is alone in her room sipping black tea. Her face lights up when she sees Modibedi.

"Hello, darling. I have been waiting for you. I knew you were coming," Peters says.

After a few jokes, Modibedi enquires about Peters' feet.

"My feet are still very painful, but I'm taking my medication."

She looks at Thobeka's shoes and tells us that some day she will once again wear her Lady Barker and Saxon shoes.

"I'll wear my shoes again when I get better," Peters says.

Modibedi examines her tongue and notices that she has thrush. She gives her medica- tion, a packet of soup and two rolls of toilet paper.

"She is such a jolly patient," Modibedi comments as we leave the room.

l 12.44pm

The next patient is a 30-year-old HIV-positive male. He has just started ARV treatment and is also on TB medication. He assures Modibedi that he is taking his medication religiously and that the side effects, which have turned his skin pitch black, do not bother him much.

"The medication is making me restless at night and my feet ache a lot," he says.

Modibedi tells him to take medication for the pain and encourages him to eat properly and to drink lots of water and fruit juice.

"We monitor them closely when they start ARV treatment for any side effects and if these are severe, we change the medication," Modibedi explains.

l 1.10pm

We visit another 35-year-old HIV-positive male. He is unemployed and has two children aged 10 and six. He is alone in a tiny shack, looking at the pictures of his children hanging on the wardrobe door. He has just started ARV treatment.

He tells Modibedi that his feet ache. He also has a bedsore.

Modibedi gives him instructions on how to dress the sore and also emphasises the import- ance of taking his medication on time.

"Take your painkillers to ease the pain in your feet," says Modibedi.

He enquires about being transferred to Newcastle, his home town, to be with his children.

"I miss them," he says.

Modibedi explains that he needs a letter from his doctor explaining his condition and treatment and to take these to his local clinic or hospital in Newcastle.

l 1.43pm

We stop in Meadowlands. The patient is a 45-year-old man who shares a one-room shack with his girlfriend. They are both HIV-positive and are on treatment for TB. The man is sitting alone on his bed in the filthy shack. He tells Modibedi that he has been unable to get out of bed because of the pain in his feet. He says he has not taken the medication because he does not know where it is.

"I don't know where she [his girlfriend] puts my medication," he says.

Modibedi says: "This is one of the difficult situations to manage. The couple defaults on their medication and the only way to ensure that they don't is to get them admitted."

She promises to come back as soon as she makes arrangements for him to be admitted.

l 2.45pm

She drives back to the office to prepare her daily report.

"The couple worries me. They are defaulting and there's a chance they are also reinfecting themselves and this reduces their chances of getting better. I will have to do something quickly," she says.

As we part ways, Thobeka and I are emotionally exhausted. For Modibedi these emotions are part of her daily life.

"There is no end to caring," she says with a smile.