Last Saturday, 7 May, was just a regular evening for Sister Diane Seale at the New Somerset Hospital (NSH) in the Cape Town suburb of Greenpoint. A dedicated and passionate nurse, she had no idea she’d be hailed as a hero during a shootout that would cost three people their lives.
Like any other day, Seale was busy with her routine handover process until she received a distressed call from a colleague. “I could hear her screaming, and my colleague who had answered the phone, informed me that there was an altercation on the second floor,” she recalls.
She had no idea of the extent of the danger she was about to face. “As I entered the second floor, I noticed a body on the floor in the corridor, but my eye caught the patient with the gun in his hand,” she says.
‘Patients were my priority’
The alleged gunman, former police officer Jean-Paul Malgas (39), who had obtained the firearm from a police constable, was guarding another patient.
“I walked towards him, and I hugged him. I escorted him into the cubicle.”
He instructed Seale to close the door. “That also afforded our staff to then attend to the policeman who had been shot. I felt I could calm him down a bit.”
Silently, she kept her composure as she noted that two patients lay dead, while another two were alive and needed to be saved.
“I kept him seated, standing in front of him, so that these patients were kept out of harm’s way,” she says.
“He looked at me while my hands were still on his shoulders and said, ‘You are brave, you are the only one that has come in here’. At this point, all I wanted to do was to keep him focused and calm.”
During this exchange, Seale was at first unaware that the tactical unit had arrived, and were armed and ready outside the cubicle doors.
“During our exchanges, I lifted his face and said, ‘do you see this uniform, I am here to save life and limb’. Eventually, he agreed for me sedate him. Through it all, I sat with him, stroking his forehead until he was finally sedated. At this point, I could call the tactical team in.”
Nurses, the heart of healthcare
The 12th of May marks International Nurses Day, a day of observation to mark the contribution of nurses in society. Even when faced with danger, nurses do not have the luxury to “close shop”, says NSH deputy nursing manager, Sister Salama Basardien.
Professor Roger Dickerson, head of the emergency centre clinical unit at NSH, shares, “I think in any situation as horrific as the one our team faced on Saturday night, it comes down to people and the people themselves, are the people who responded to a calamity.”
Real heroes wear epaulettes
Beven Mashedi, the facilities manager for NSH, was on site to oversee law enforcement and security that evening. She tells of how each staff member played their role in averting further crises.
There are many unsung health heroes in our healthcare system adds Dickerson. “We tend to focus on the obvious hero in these situations, and in the case of Diane Seale, it is worthy.”
Seale further reflects and says, “Prayers and God got us through this. That is part and parcel of us being nurses, no matter how traumatic the event, when you are in that moment, you do what must be done. Yes, it’s something big, but it did not take ‘Diane’ alone, it took a team to bring this whole thing together.”