Today, the vibrant outgoing nurse enjoys celebrity status in the hospital where she supports and encourages patients and colleagues coming to terms with their HIV status and treatment.
‘She was actually admitted for terminal care. We started her on anti-retrovirals as a last gasp measure,’ recalls hospital manager Dr Gio Perez. ‘Basically we were ready to read her the last rites.’
Konza, short and stocky in her professional nurse’s uniform, smiles when asked about this time in her life. ‘I had TB and I was very confused. People said I would be finished in five days. The first few days in hospital I can’t even remember,’ recalls Konza, her oval face framed by shoulder length straight hair.
‘Hello Sisi,’ she greets a patient waiting for her bloods to be taken behind a makeshift screen at the Infectious Diseases Referral Clinic, a clinic where patients with treatment complications or opportunistic infections are referred.
The young woman shuts her eyes tightly as Konza tightens the tourniquet around her upper arms and slaps the inside of the woman’s arm to coax a vein. The woman opens one eye slightly, but shuts it quickly when she sees the needle.
Within seconds, the vial is filled with the dark red liquid and the patient is sent on her way. ‘They say I am good at taking the bloods and often it is very difficult to find the veins when people are so ill,’ explains Konza, who does a great job despite losing two fingers in a taxi accident.
Colleagues recall Konza as a quiet nurse who worked hard in theatre, but mostly kept to herself. ‘Now she is the mayor of the hospital,’ quips one colleague.
Perez describes her as a nurse not afraid to work in ‘unpopular’ places. ‘She worked in theatre when the pressure was immense, she has also done her stint in the TOP (abortion) clinic,’ he points out.
Konza has also started a support group in the hospital for HIV positive colleagues. She splits her working week between the infectious diseases and ARV clinics. ‘I think it helps that I know what people are going through. I can encourage them and tell them that they are going to be okay, because I know, I am living proof.’
‘Sometimes when you first see a patient they are sick, sick, sick and you don’t have hope. A year later they look like’¦I don’t know’¦You can’t believe it. They arrive here weighing 46kg and a year later they are back at 60 to 80 kg,’ laughs Konza.
Rest is not an option for this nurse, even when she is sick at home. ‘Eish, when people hear I am at home, the phone doesn’t stop ringing. If I have a headache, the whole hospital will know. I even get reminded at eight o’clock by colleagues to take my medication,’ chuckles Konza.
‘If I’m not feeling well, I’ll just grab any doctor her in the passage,’ says Konza.
She is relieved she hasn’t experienced much stigma, but adds that she did feel inferior when she was diagnosed. ‘I would drink out of a cup and immediately wash that cup until colleagues told me to relax. I think that if you accept yourself then people will accept you.’
During the interview, a woman, screaming, praying and singing intermittently – supported on either side by family members – enters the bustling hospital clinic. Her eyes roll back in her head and she collapses on the couch. Seconds later she starts babbling again.
Other patients click their tongues and nod their heads in sympathy and try to pacify the girl’s traumatised mother. ‘I was also like this,’ one woman tells the distraught mother.
Konza smiles as she guides the woman into the examination room: ‘Oh she will be okay. As soon as she’s on the right treatment she will be fine.’