A health worker registers an elderly resident for the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Brits, North West. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SIEGERS
A health worker registers an elderly resident for the Covid-19 vaccination programme in Brits, North West. Picture: BLOOMBERG/WALDO SIEGERS

Gauteng paramedics, so we are told, are apparently existing almost solely on Monster energy drink and a pharmacy-worth of other stimulants.

A survey conducted by Wits master’s student Ljuba-Ruth van Rooyen shows that the caffeine-saturated Monster drink (made by a company owned by two expat billionaires) is “the beverage of choice among the province’s emergency medical staff”. The research found that nearly all 315 ambulance staff surveyed used stimulants that included “coffee, caffeine pills, Ritalin and illicit drugs”.

It’s easy to understand why these medics — on the frontline of accidents, illness and tragedy — might have such a dependency. Extreme situations, trauma, adrenaline and fatigue must surely be powerful triggers.

Come to think of it, it’s a wonder that all 60-million South Africans are not regularly mainlining the tangy, sweet drink in the black and neon green can.

 If you take the last two weeks as a sample of “normal life”, we’ve had to deal with:    

  • Rolling blackouts. This is mostly par for the course, except in recent weeks the relentlessness of it has ratcheted up a notch.  Schedules, which seem completely random, are now changing in a second. Scheduling meetings, dinners and cellphone charging around outage times is  nerve-racking.

  • The president suddenly proclaiming that private companies can produce an unexpectedly large 100MW of power for themselves, in so doing undermining mineral resources & energy minister Gwede Mantashe.

  • A vaccine rollout happening with all the speed of evolution. True, the Pfizer jabs are finally being deployed — but the government’s electronic vaccination data system doesn’t seem to work reliably.  Some older people have had the jab, but others are still waiting for that SMS. And then Johnson & Johnson adds to the anxiety by telling us that a whack of its vaccines have been contaminated.

  • A private consortium, Takatso (including Tshepo Mahloele, chair of Arena Holdings, the  FM’s parent company), announcing that  it’s taking over 51% of SAA and aiming to get the national airline  airborne again.

  • Rocketing Covid infection numbers. The National Institute for Communicable Diseases has now confirmed  SA is  in a third wave.

  • Health minister Zweli Mkhize being  put on special leave, as his  department is  investigated for awarding a R150m communications contract to Mkhize’s friends and relatives.

  • Decuplets  being  born but  no-one can find them or their mom. Or they weren’t born. Or, they do exist and some people in the Gauteng government know where they are but aren’t saying.

When you consider the emotional reserves needed to process all these landscape-shifting events — let alone the  ebbs  of our personal lives — it’s no wonder South Africans are reaching for the stimulants.

Our news cycle has sped up mercilessly — 20 years ago, these events would have been enough for a year, let alone 14 days. And all the emotional stress implied is condensed into a far shorter time.

Last Thursday, I thought I’d throw in the towel and maybe apply to go to space with Jeff Bezos. It didn’t help that the weather in Joburg was apocalyptic, we had three different slots of load-shedding and, when I drove to Rosebank for a meeting, not a single traffic light worked.

We sat on a glacial, wind-ravaged rooftop (to be Covid safe) and compared notes of who we knew in hospital. It was grim and surreal.

But just then, the sun came out, and set over the city. It was an inferno of outrageous pinks, oranges and reds, and a reminder of why this place has my heart. It was like setting the reset button, which allows you to endure another stretch of crazy. And it illustrated that never mind the narcotics, this country remains the most complicated yet addictive drug going.

Buitendach is contributing editor at the FM


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