The battle against Covid-19 is far from over, and the healthcare workers at the frontlines for a year now are growing weary. To support these workers, a Gauteng woman is delivering encouragement and appreciation via twenty thousand cards.

“Seeing them, I could not fathom the journey they had walked over the past year, and I could not sit back without trying to provide some sort of reprieve from the daily losses they faced,” said founder Benita Enoch.

Enoch is the owner of Cardiology Cards, a uniquely South African greeting card and gifting services. Now, she’s using her expertise to start the Healthcare Heroes Appreciation Drive, a campaign that she hopes will strengthen the resolve of the country’s frontline workers.

“We just want to provide an oasis for our healthcare workers, where they can rest under the abundance of love, appreciation and respect that their fellow South Africans have for them,” she said.

Campaigns like this or the popular Adopt-A-Health Worker initiative on social media, allow members of the public to show appreciation and acknowledgement for health workers.

Appreciation for emotional and physical wellness

Enoch believes simple acts of kindness and appreciation build the human spirit, and believes that this manifests physically as well.

“Research has shown the widespread impact that acts of kindness have on the body and the mind, for individuals and communities,” she said. “The act of gratitude, whether giving appreciation or receiving it, is a great way to reverse stress and improve physical and mental wellness, while also improving overall performance and health, memory, restfulness and nutrition.”

A card sent to health care heroes (Cardiology Cards)

Tertia Spangenberg is a clinical psychologist at a North West public hospital. The past year working with patients and staff in the Covid-19 isolation wards has been gruelling, but has also given her significant insight into reward systems, motivation and overall wellness.

“We know that appreciation and gratitude make us feel good, but what few people realise is that the body becomes happy, along with the mind,” she explained.

Acts of appreciation and acknowledgement boost serotonin and dopamine in both the giver and the receiver, and signals a sense of safety.

“Our primitive brain, with its fight-or-flight instincts, relaxes once someone shows us appreciation; the interaction tells us that we are valued, and therefore safe,” said Spangenberg.

This does not only impact on mental health, she adds.

“Our brain registers acknowledgement as a reward, and even the smallest sense of reward stimulates our deeper spiritual wellbeing and our self-esteem, while also impacting on our nervous system,” she explained. “This boosts physical and neurophysiological health, which eventually manifests in a strengthened immune system.”

Healthcare workers who are less stressed are less likely to experience immune suppression or suffer from comorbidities, like hypertension or obesity, that could make them more vulnerable to Covid-19.

A comfort to health care workers

“These are challenging times, and have called for many ‘firsts’ from those on the frontlines,” says Paul Herbst, the operational director of IPSS Medical Rescue in KwaZulu-Natal. “In order to really show support for these workers, you should exercise patience until you can fully consider their perspectives.”

The acknowledgement of the daily hardships and sacrifices that frontline workers live through and an appreciation for the work they do can go a long way in building morale, Herbst adds.

“We’re human beings, and it can be motivating on the longer, harder days to know that we’ve made a positive impact on the lives we serve,” he told Health-e News.

Appreciation has relieved the stress of this relentless year, says Dr. Gerhardt Smidt, a general practitioner in Johannesburg. It has also been an antidote to the impatience and aggression some family and patients have shown healthcare workers.

““It has a great impact in motivating and relieving the stresses of perceived failures,” he said. “While appreciation may be visible, it is seldom expressed by patients or their family.”

The easiest and best way for people to show appreciation for the struggles of frontline workers is for them to follow Covid-19 regulations and protect themselves and those around them. “And that includes protecting us frontline workers, because we get infected too, and we have lost so many colleagues since the pandemic started,” says Khanyisile Radebe. A firefighter and medic with the City of Johannesburg Emergency Management Services, public acknowledgement has given her greater resilience.

“I need that strength to level up to my best and make sure I perform the duties expected of me,” said Radebe. “We are mothers, wives, fathers, sons, daughters… and nevertheless we still serve so that others may live.”

Finding catharsis and resilience

In the crisis of the pandemic, patients and their relatives have not always been in a position to show their gratitude. That’s when gratitude campaigns not only become a source of support, but also of catharsis.

In her campaign, Enoch has seen families who were unable to thank their loved ones’ carers at the time use cards to so send the messages they couldn’t. In her workspace, the emotions of grief and gratitude often run high.

“I’m tearing up again just thinking about a woman who lost both her parents, but who took the time to console the nurses and physicians who held her parents as they passed on, two days apart, because she was not able to,” she recalled.

Messages have come from as far as Australia, and are filled with sincerity.

Handwritten letters were also appreciated. (Cardiology Cards)

“This just demonstrates the universal language of love and the empathy that connects us all, and that’s what this campaign is about,” she reflected. “It demonstrates how we come together in times of crisis and how we can each play our part to lighten the burden; our healthcare workers on the medical side, and us on the emotional support.”

The cards are also a reminder of the resilience people showed during the pandemic, and will always be a reminder of those lost to Covid-19, she adds.

“Tragically we are losing healthcare workers in this pandemic so in a way, these keepsakes can become part of their legacy too. And one day, someone’s great-grandchildren will see a card addressed to their loved one, and will know the significance and impact of their legacy, and the role their family played in the great pandemic of 2020.”—Health-e News