October 21, 2020

On breathing, PPE, and Other Inconveniences

Mia Jansen van Rensburg

This essay is based on an ongoing ethnographic fieldwork project conducted at a private ambulance service in Johannseburg, South Africa. I reflect here on a few of my experiences conducting research with medics at “Afrimed” during the Covid-19 pandemic, in an attempt to make sense of how pre-hospital emergency medical care providers at this organisation relate to and navigate the danger posed by potentially contaminated breath. I explore the ways in which prehospital emergency medical care providers have reacted and adapted to the unfamiliar materialities of care and modes of behaviour brought about by efforts to contain the novel coronavirus. In doing so, I think with the notion that examining the changes brought about by Covid-19 might reveal as much about the old normal as it reveals of the new; that the pandemic provides unique insight into the daily work of prehospital emergency medical care as it happens under more “normal” circumstances.

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Mia Jansen van Rensburg C

About Mia Jansen van Rensburg

I am currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Anthropology at the University of Johannesburg, having completed my undergraduate and honours degrees at the University of Pretoria. My interests fall into the realm of medical anthropology, and I am specifically curious about healthcare providers, rather than patients. I hope to continue exploring the complexities and mundanities involved in the labour of managing, altering, labelling, and caring for bodies, particularly in the South African context. My current project is an ethnographic study of a privately-owned emergency medical service provider operating in the Johannesburg area. At some point, I would like to further this research by applying similar methodologies to the context of public sector emergency medical services in South Africa.