Lucia Godzongere takes a big sigh of relief as she hangs her nursing uniform on the wall, signifying her retirement after serving for 43 years in the nursing career where she says she experienced, very painful, satisfying, emotional and other heart wrenching things.
Godzongere (65) retired from the nursing career on January 15 last week after serving at Harare’s Sally Mugabe Hospital for 43 years.
“I am emotionally satisfied because I have fulfilled my childhood dream of becoming a nurse and helping others. I believe I have left a big mark in the medical field in Zimbabwe. Initially I thought I would become a teacher, but due to my small stature I did a re-think fearing that I will be intimidated by students. I then settled for the nursing career. I began nurse training on January 6, 1976 at Sally Mugabe Hospital,” she explains to NewsDay Weekender while showing off her nurse uniforms.
Godzongere completed training in 1979, but she worked for two months and fell pregnant with her first baby.
“Back then during the colonial era, you were forced to resign when you got pregnant, and I was sent home in anguish. I stayed home for quite some time. I re-joined nursing on March 1, 1980 at Sally Mugabe Hospital. Later, I was re-assigned to Shurugwi Hospital after I graduated with a midwifery course. After a year, I came back to Harare where my husband, a then radio personality Maguire Godzongere was employed.
“I then worked at all departments of the then Harare Central Hospital (now Sally Mugabe Hospital) — the maternity ward, Orthopaedic ward, Ophthalmology ward, psychiatric ward — you name it.”
Gogo Godzongere says good work ethics saw her getting promoted to Principal Nursing Officer.
However, she says in her 43-year nursing career, she faced several challenges and sad situations.
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“The challenges included seeing patients die during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, poor working conditions due to lack of funding at hospitals, strikes and several other stressful situations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, nurses were prone to infection as they did not have much protection. We were overwhelmed in numbers, and in 2020, almost half of our nurses had been infected. The remaining nurses were overwhelmed, stressed and exhausted. As their superior, I had to come up with strategies to make the situation bearable for my staff.”
Godzongere says some of the most horrific things she experienced during her 43 years of service included attending to accident victims.
“In 2011, a couple of people were killed and seriously burnt in an inferno, after a fuel tanker they were siphoning petrol from burst into flames following an accident in Sunningdale, Harare. The patients were brought to Sally Mugabe Hospital where I was the principal nursing officer. We were the nearest medical facility in the vicinity.
“The patients we received were burnt from head to toe and some died in our hands, it was horrific. The most scary part was that most of them had inhaled hot air, and so they were also being toasted from inside. We were overwhelmed, but we managed to create space for our patents to get medical attention.”
She says though thankless, nursing is not an easy career.
“Due to poor working conditions, at times nurses engaged in massive strikes that crippled the hospital. It was difficult as I had patients in the hospital looking up to me for help. I had to be vigilant and strong. The challenges I endured made me a stronger person.”
However, she says she vividly remembers some good memories too.
Gogo Godzongere said one of them was when the Dettol Brand renovated the maternity ward at Sally Mugabe Hospital.
“When they came for the handover, I was overwhelmed with joy. Our maternity ward had deteriorated and they came through with help. During that time, it was very difficult to get the private sector to help government facilities. Since then, the private sector has been helping our hospitals remarkably.”
She also remembers a programme that she introduced to reward and motivate good performers.
“This drastically improved the standards at the wards as the workers gave their all to win the prizes. I was then forced to cut off the programme due to insufficient funding."
For 43 years in the nursing career, she says she has been a workaholic.
“My work ethics could not let me leave any patient suffering. I always did my best to provide medical care to my patients. This gave me satisfaction, and I am grateful to God. It is very depressing to see a patient die, and nurses always build a strong bond with their patients.
“However, it is not always easy to break the sad death news to family members. We prepare families for the inevitable, but it is difficult to break the news, especially that of sudden death.”
While more than 2 600 registered nurses are said to have left the country for greener pastures in 2021, Gogo Godzongere says it is because they feel unappreciated despite the difficult nature of their jobs.
“Without incentives, it is difficult to stop nurses from looking for greener pastures when there is demand for their services internationally. Our nurses need to be motivated and appreciated. I stayed in the country for my family. I lost my mother at a tender age of 21 and had to take care of my siblings. So, I did not want to leave my children alone in Zimbabwe.”
Gogo Godzongere lamented the bad stereotypes often associated with nurses that they are at times rude to patients.
“As nurses, we are trained to be patient and caring. But it all goes back to the upbringing of a certain individual as that moulds their character. It is stipulated that whenever a patient feels that they have not been treated well by a nurse, they must report the issue to the hospital as it is a criminal offence. The problem is that nowadays people get into the nursing profession through connections. Nursing is a calling.”
On her advice to the young nurses, Gogo Godzongere said to become a nurse; it means one takes an oath to bring positive change to society.
“It means a nurse can use their skills everywhere; in their family, at church, in their community, and of course, in medical facilities. I chose midwifery but nursing is a course that gives you many career options," Gogo Godzongere said.
As she retires after 43 years of service in nursing, she says now she can concentrate on taking care of her eight grandchildren and one great grandchild from her four children.
“I will now spend more time with my loving husband Maguire too,” she said.