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Covid-19: Oxygen delivery breathes new life into private ambulance service

Covid-19: Oxygen delivery breathes new life into private ambulance service
Ashwell Tiflin inspects the regulator on an oxygen cylinder at the back of his ambulance. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

What started out as a means of survival for an embattled private ambulance operator has turned into a way of saving the lives of many Covid-19 patients. Ashwell Tiflin’s ambulance service took a knock after lockdown started, forcing him to come up with alternative means of survival.

Private ambulance services transport their patients for a fee, with revenue streams intrinsically linked to road accidents and house calls. But the implementation of lockdown posed a threat to many companies, which resulted in the closure of several smaller operators. 

Ashwell Tiflin’s ambulance service company, Juvare Emergency Medical Services, “took a knock” because of Covid-19. “Private EMS companies get paid from different medical aids. With accidents, we get paid from the Road Accident Fund for people who do not have medical aid. We lost 70% of our income,” he said.

A worker loads oxygen cylinders at the Eco Med plant in Krugersdorp. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Covid survivor Joaquim Adams checks his oxygen with an oximeter. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

So Tiflin did what many companies had to do during the lockdown; he pivoted.

Tiflin and two relatives, using the resources from his ambulance service, started supplying oxygen to Covid patients fighting the virus from home during the first wave. He noticed an increasing need for it as more and more people fell ill with the virus.

Initially, they used existing oxygen cylinders from his service but as demand grew, he approached other ambulance services that closed down and offered to buy their cylinders. To get the word out, he turned to social media.

Ironically, his first two patients were doctors. He would sometimes travel more than 250 kilometres a day during the second wave delivering oxygen to those in need.

Eco Med oxygen plant operator Alba Mokgahla refilling oxygen cylinders. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Ashwell Tiflin gives a demonstration on the use of an oxygen cylinder and regulator. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Joaquim Adams is among the growing number of people who made use of Tiflin’s service. Adams tested positive for Covid-19 and was admitted to Chris Hani Baragwanath Hospital for treatment but found the conditions at the facility unbearable. So he signed a refusal of treatment form and after a few hours had returned home. 

“It was a traumatic experience. Everyone around me was coughing, there was no ventilation so everyone was just spewing their Covid into the air. There was a guy sitting on the floor. Two others were lying on the floor. A guy came out of the toilet. He had messed all over himself. I told myself ‘No! I can’t do this, if I have to die, let me go and die at home. I am not going to die here in the Covid ward’. I don’t want to speak ill of the doctors. I just think they were overstressed. The general state of the place unnerved me and that is why I decided to make use of Ashwell’s service,” Adams recounted.

Ashwell Tiflin checking the regulator on an oxygen cylinder. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Ashwell Tiflin does his rounds collecting and delivering cylinders. His first two patients were doctors. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Tiflin says the second wave was much more challenging than the first. Apart from the complications that the new strain brought and some of his clients succumbing to the virus, oxygen was also in short supply and he had to turn patients away. 

I was faced with the shortage and prolonged wait for oxygen and also not to be able to provide everyone with the service. I had to tell clients ‘I don’t have oxygen, I’m sorry.’ This was an everyday occurrence.” 

Covid survivor Joaquim Adams continues to use oxygen to keep his oxygen levels up. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Covid survivor Joaquim Adams. Coughing up phlegm or mucus is normal after a Covid infection and it is common practice for Covid survivors to enhance their lung capacity. (Photo: Shiraaz Mohamed)

Regarding the severity of the new strain, Tiflin said: “With patients that we assisted in the first wave, we actually never lost a patient. They all pulled through. But during the second wave, we saw the flip side of things because the new variant was so highly infectious. 

“We saw patients of ours going from bad to worse. There are a couple of patients of mine that ended up in hospital and died because their lungs were not taking in the oxygen. Today you go there and the patient looks fine. Their oxygen levels and stuff is fine but after two days, the patient is either rushed to hospital or has passed away.”

Despite the number of active Covid-19 cases dropping, the demand for oxygen remains high. Tiflin is stocking up on more cylinders and regulators in preparation for a possible third wave. DM

Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address Covid-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected].

Gallery

"Information pertaining to Covid-19, vaccines, how to control the spread of the virus and potential treatments is ever-changing. Under the South African Disaster Management Act Regulation 11(5)(c) it is prohibited to publish information through any medium with the intention to deceive people on government measures to address COVID-19. We are therefore disabling the comment section on this article in order to protect both the commenting member and ourselves from potential liability. Should you have additional information that you think we should know, please email [email protected]"

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