This year, the theme for the International Day of Nurses is ‘nursing the world to health.’ Working at the forefront, nurses have always been a strong pillar in times of a health crisis. In the current pandemic too, they have been playing a significant role in the fight against COVID-19
For the past two-and-a-half years, this nurse has been working at Sir Ganga Ram Hospital (SGRH), Delhi. A month ago, she was posted in the COVID-19 ward and since then, has been visiting the hospital every single day to treat the patients infected with coronavirus of different age groups. “There are patients with all age groups but mostly old-age people are in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU),” she informs.
Amidst taking care of the patients, it is also essential to take care of herself; and for that, personal protective equipment (PPE) kits are being provided to her by the hospital. She says, “We have enough safety as the hospital is providing us with a proper amount of kits and the quantity is sufficient because every staff is using a new kit daily. Further, the kits are the same as the ones used by doctors.”
Safety is not the only concern for this saviour though. There are issues like salary cuts, and lack of accommodation and quarantine centres for those treating the infected patients. “There has been a salary cut for permanent staff of SGRH and an accommodation problem for all the staff involved in the treatment of COVID-19 patients and we have been ordered to follow home quarantine,” she laments.
Protecting oneself and others
While motivating herself every day to deal with the catastrophe, she also has to assure her family about her safety as the family members remain worried about the risk of the easily-transmissible virus. She keeps them informed about the various precautions being taken in the wards, use of new PPE kits on a daily basis, etc to pacify them. Further, she takes three meals in a day and includes hot water, honey and almonds in it to keep herself healthy and strong. She emphasises, “It is necessary to take proper care of our meal so that immunity can be maintained and we are healthy enough to treat those who are infected.”
Just like the nurse working in SGRH, Marcia Ann Jacob, 24, has been working in the COVID-19 wards of Apollo Hospital, Bengaluru for a week. Being associated with the hospital for three years and four months now, she notifies that the hospital has an adequate number of PPE kits for its staff. “We have the necessary PPE kits in the hospital, and it comes as a complete set. We have been given masks, caps, gloves, shoe covers, face shield, etc. Further, people who are working in the ICU have been provided with N95 masks. All this is being done on a daily basis. From the screening test step onwards till they enter the emergency/till they come out as a suspect or go to the ICU or into the isolation ward, everybody is being provided with PPE. There is a separate area to wear it and a separate one to discard,” Jacob reveals.
The PPE kits provided to the nurses as well as doctors are the same in Apollo too. Jacob emphasises, “The PPE kits are manufactured at a particular company; and the hospital procures it from there for everyone – be it doctors or nurses or anyone else.”.
However, unlike the nurse working at SGRH, Jacob is getting her salary on time. “We haven’t faced any problems like salary cut or delayed payments because the healthcare sector is functioning all throughout the year. So, there are no delays in payments. Everything is happening the way it used to be previously,” she happily apprises.
Jacob lives away from her family in a hostel that has been provided to her by the hospital. She works for six days in a week in a shift of six hours – morning or evening – depending on the roster; whereas, during night duty, she works for 12 hours. There are around 100-150 nurses who have been divided into two groups. She highlights, “If a nurse is taking care of patients who are in isolation or any suspected patient who is awaiting results, the hospital authorities do not allow him/her to come out of the hospital and quarantine him/her. There are separate areas in the hospital and they have also arranged other accommodations where the nurse can stay during such a scenario,” she says.
According to Jacob, COVID-19 pandemic is quite challenging for all of us and it thus becomes really difficult to convince our families about our safety. She stresses, “I have to accept the fact that if I am not going in the front to save someone, then, what about those who cannot; and do not know how to deal with this pandemic. Risk is 100 per cent there, no matter what, but I convince my family by telling them that I have got complete protection. Above that, when we have proper PPE and when we follow proper standard practices, then our exposure to the virus is less. There are 99 per cent chances that we are not going to get infected and there is just one per cent chance wherein our immunity is less, that we are going to get infected.”
Except using PPE kits, these nurses also need to boost their immunity to prevent themselves from getting infected. They are being given a healthy breakfast in the morning and a cup of coffee or tea afterwards. She says, “For taking care of others, we first need to take care of ourselves. Our health is really important. As a result, a lot of fruits and vegetables have been added to our diet. In addition, I am taking some vitamin supplements just to boost my immunity. Besides, we have also started consuming hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) as and when needed.”
Managing mental health
A 2019 report by the Center for Disease Dynamics, Economics and Policy in the US reveals that India has a shortage of an estimated two million nurses. Therefore, nurses like Divya Raj are working for 12 to 14 hours in a day to deal with the ongoing crisis .
For the past two years, 30-year-old Raj has been working with Fortis Hospital, Kolkata. With the onset of COVID-19 pandemic in West Bengal two months ago, she has now been working dedicatedly to combat it. Mentioning about the patients who have been infected with the virus, and are being treated, she says, “The age group being treated in the hospital ranges between 25-90 years. Further, I haven’t heard about any myths from these patients regarding the disease. There is a need to be extremely vigilant though and only go by what is being said on the websites of the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHF&W).”
Similar to the nurse in SGRH and Jacob in Apollo, Raj maintains proper hygiene, while all kinds of safety have also been assured to her by the hospital. “We have been provided with an adequate number of PPE kits identical to the ones given to doctors. We work in shifts and follow all protocols in order to keep ourselves healthy and robust,” she highlights.
All the nurses working in COVID area have been given in-hospital accommodation. “The staff gets quarantined for seven days after 14 days of duty. The tests are conducted after five days; if tested negative, they are sent back to their respective home/hostels; if positive, they are taken care of in the hospital. Even so, none of the nurses has tested positive yet,” shares Raj, also adding that there are no problems related to salary.
She brings it into the limelight that all kinds of safety measures are being taken to ensure her safety at every step making it easy for her to assure her family about her well-being. “Once we feel safe and sound, we can always give assurance to our family members. We were anxious in the beginning since a few staff members had left the hospital without any prior notice. Nevertheless, sessions were conducted later by Dr Sanjay Garg, Senior Consultant, Mental Health and Behavioural Science, Fortis Healthcare, virtually, to boost up our mental strength. The chief nursing officer also conducted stress management sessions. Hence, it is indeed a matter of time, and we are all together in this fight, and treating the patients with utmost safety and care is our primary agenda,” she mentions.
Raj and her colleagues are provided meals four times a day, including breakfast, lunch, evening snacks and dinner. “Every day, nutritious meals are planned differently. During duty hours, we are provided with snacks, water and other refreshments,” she informs.
While these nurses are a few among the many saviours, we salute them and bow our heads in respect on this International Day of Nurses to celebrate their hard work, courage and passion. With the theme being ‘nursing the world to health,’ they have always proved their mettle by working on the frontline and standing firm as a strong pillar in the times of crises. Let’s be thankful for all their efforts!