October 28, 2020

Breathing and Singing through COVID-19

Steve Reid

Serious infections of COVID-19 ultimately revolve around a debilitating pneumonia, giving rise to fast and laboured breathing that requires therapy with higher concentrations of oxygen than normal. Breathing normally, peacefully and automatically, which most of us take for granted, becomes the fervent goal of patients with COVID-19 pneumonia, as well as those who care for them. Careful attention is given to the oxygen saturation (‘sats’) as measured by a monitor on the finger, and expressed as a percentage. Experiences of breathing, singing and ‘sats’ will be shared from the “Hospital of Hope” at the Cape Town International Convention Centre, where I worked for two and a half months. With 850 beds and 1500 admissions, this “field” hospital was established in record time as a specialized COVID facility with piped oxygen at every bed. Despite the barriers of PPE (Personal Protective Equipment) and physical distancing, it was still possible to establish person-centred care through relatively simple methods. We noticed for example how personal communication with patients and their families through video conversations on cellphones, had a markedly positive effect on some patients’ ‘sats’. And the effect of singing in the wards by the nurses, despite masks and visors, raised everyone’s spirits. Despite the industrial nature of the environment, the technical challenges and the number of patients, a human connection was able to be established which contributed significantly to recovery and well-being.


Steve Reid

About Steve Reid

Steve Reid is a family physician with a background in rural medicine, having worked and run a district hospital in KwaZulu-Natal for 10 years together with his wife, Dr Janet Giddy. He is an advocate for rural health in South Africa, and as such is involved in medical education and human resources for health. As a musician, he is also interested in the medical humanities and the role of the arts in medicine. He took up the post of Glaxo-Wellcome Chair of Primary Health Care at the University of Cape Town in 2010 and is developing this role to support medical and health science graduates to become more relevant and appropriately skilled in Africa.  His inaugural lecture in 2011 was titled “The Music of Health for All”, and he is involved in developing the role of the arts and social sciences in health care through the Medical Humanities within the African context.