Every year, May 12th is celebrated as International Nurses Day, to commemorate the birth of Florence Nightingale, the founder of modern nursing and to express our gratitude towards all the nurses, who have followed in her footsteps.
In celebration of Nurses’ Week (May 6-12), we, salute the nurses for risking their lives and working day and night as Covid warriors and our Superheroes. But despite their tremendous contribution to society, nurses in India still underpaid, undervalued and overworked. India has recorded a shortage of two million nurses according to the data journalism website, India Special.
Nurses are doing back to back night shifts without getting monetary compensation or personal protection equipment. Many are reusing cloth masks and wearing operation theatre gowns instead of the designated PPE. Even the facilities being provided to quarantined nurses are extremely poor. But still, nurses relentlessly continue working, caring and providing their best support to Covid 19 patients even when they are getting infected with covid.
A nurse, who has been working as a frontline worker shared her story with me:
She got the virus from two patients, who were aged and were amongst India’s oldest COVID-19 survivors, and had to be quarantined. Being isolated from family was pure torture for her and she felt extremely depressed. But, she successfully battled Covid 19 returned back to work with the same zeal.
The nurses’ fearless attitude, sincere belief in the idea of duty and service, physical stamina, commitment and devotion to their duty is commendable. Nurses have worked tirelessly even during their pregnancies and appeared completely unruffled, even if they were quaking inside.
On the occasion of International Nurses Day, we must acknowledge that nurses play a vital role in taking care of patients and their well-being. A doctor’s role is to decide the treatment of the patient, but to ensure the job is done is a role played by the staff nurse.
Another nurse that I spoke too, shared her experience of working endless hours during the pandemic:
Despite being over-fatigued, she is proud to be working even in the pandemic. Her routine starts with an on-call duty, which is a tough eight hours shift. She also works rotational shifts from 8 am to 8 pm, where some days she is given night duties. Wearing a PPE, she says, is very challenging as it is difficult to work continuously wearing it – one cannot drink water, go to the washroom, or even leave the ward.
Infact, wearing a PPE kit is also a task that takes nearly twenty-odd minutes. It becomes difficult to breathe, and due to sweating in the Summer months, it causes dizziness and a feeling of suffocation. To ensure complete protection, the PPE kit, as we all know, includes shoes, an overall gown that covers the body, a pair of gloves, a protective cap, glasses and a mask. After a strenuous eight hours of duty, one can take a break. But, it is only after removing the PPE kit drenched with sweat, that the scars on the eyes and face are visible but we never let our patients see our plight. While talking to our patients, we always come across as happy and in control of the situation because that is what they want to see us as– their support during their covid-19 journey.
Another nurse that I had the privilege to connect with was a chief nurse in a Covid Hospital, who has been working 20-hours a day shifts since day one of the pandemic. She has been in the profession for almost two decades and has the job of handling 160 nurses, along with administrative duties. She tries her best to ensure that her staff remains stress-free as much as possible to safeguard their health. For the last few months, she has been self-isolating where she can video call her family and talk to her children, which makes her very emotional at times. Every time she enters the Covid ward, it feels like entering a war room, where each patient is Covid Positive and in a critical condition.
It is like each day nurses live on the edge, trying their best to provide the best care and treatment possible to their patients while trying to stay safe from contracting covid someday.
Many a time, patients or their family members behave very rudely. When asked to stand at a distance or simply follow protocol, nurses face the brunt of their aggressiveness and are often humiliated for the selfless care they provide. In the wake of increasing incidents of violence against healthcare personnel deployed in fighting covid 19, in the last week of April the Union Cabinet passed an ordinance to make attacks on healthcare and frontline workers a non-bailable offence with a maximum jail term of seven years and a fine of Rs 5 lakh. Nurses drew a sigh of relief with the ordinance was passed as it provides them protection from physical harm and abusive behaviour.
Many nurses working on the frontline also suffered the brunt of their own family, friends and neighbours treating them as untouchables, due to their suspicion that they might contract the Covid 19 disease from them. One of the nurses says that one cannot change the mindsets of people who think in such a way. “We don’t deserve to be outcasted for helping the society in such a critical situation”.
One of the senior nursing staff I communicated with said that the hospital she is working at has stopped providing them with accommodation during and after duty hours and has also reduced the quarantine period to 10 days if someone does contract the disease.
As many discriminate against nurses to be given rooms to stay by their landlords in the fear that they may be covid positive or they are told to do RTPCR test report. One of the nurses added that they are already stressed about the infection, they have their personal and family life too. Many shoulder the financial burdens of their family. Above all, their own life is at a risk too. With such a high level of stress and anxiety, their mental wellbeing and productivity are also compromised.
One of the nurses also said that due to the fear of covid infection, a lot of extra tasks are put upon them as the helpers and ward boys who were helping until now have stalled their services and those tasks have fallen upon the nurses. Other workers are scared to go near covid patients. In fact, they don’t want to even distribute food to the patients and so the nurses have to do it. Even the ventilator has to be adjusted while earlier there used to some assistance. There is a tremendous increase in the workload of nurses. With the vaccination drive in full swing across the country, the responsibility to man the booths falls upon these able nurses.
Many nurses said there have been so many instances when they felt like quitting; just calling it a day and going home to the comfort of their homes and families. But when they look at their patients and their condition they just know they can’t quit. The values and integrity has been drilled in them long back which pushes them to go on– be there on the frontlines and serve humanity selflessly.
This International Nurses Day and Nurses week, let us shower gratitude to these fearless frontline warriors who are working relentlessly to defeat covid 19.