As the world celebrates them, Nurses on COVID duty demand recognition not just praise
The WHO commemorates May 12th, the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, as the international nurses day every year.
“It’s been over a year that we are working in hospitals with COVID-19 patients. Never before have we seen such a time, such amount of work and such long hours of duty,” says sister Dhanashree Jamdade, ICU in-charge nurse at Pune’s Naidu Hospital. Being the contagious disease hospital run by the Pune Municipal Corporation (PMC), this was the hospital where the first COVID patients in Pune and Maharashtra were treated last March. Since then, Jamdade and her fellow nurses have been working in what seem to be endless shifts, without any break or holidays.
“It’s not like we have not handled infectious diseases before. We worked during the Swine Flu outbreak in the city. However, it’s all so much different this time. Never before did we have work pressure like now,” Jamdade adds. In the last 14 months, Jamdade is finally taking rest at home at present, because she contracted COVID infection while on duty. “I have had both shots of COVID vaccines, my health is alright. I have worked eight hours of shift daily without a holiday, with barely a day off every week. This is my time to rest. I will resume duty after 14 days of quarantine,” she says.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) commemorates May 12th, the birth anniversary of Florence Nightingale, as the international nurses day every year. This year, the theme of the day is ‘nursing the world back to health’. Nurses have been at the forefront of the COVID crisis around the world over the past year and a half of the pandemic. While doctors provide consultation and treatment to the COVID patients admitted to the hospitals, it’s the nurses that spend the maximum time with them, making sure the patients are alright, that they eat, take their medicine and help them clean up.
"At Naidu, we have around 50 to 55 COVID patients admitted to each ward. There are hardly three-four nurses to tend to each ward."
“The workload on every nurse working in a COVID ward is tremendous. At Naidu, we have around 50 to 55 COVID patients admitted to each ward. There are hardly three-four nurses to tend to each ward,” says sister Anusuya Kate, a nurse at Naidu Hospital.
Jamdade, who is ICU in charge, manages the nurses working in ICU. “We have to ensure we bring all the medicines and injections prescribed by the doctors to our patients and administer those to them as per the given schedule. I have to manage the shifts of my nurses, make sure that the ward is clean at all times. I don’t even realise how my eight-hour-long shift passes,” she said.
Patients in COVID wards are all alone. For several, these nurses provide the support and care that they need to get through the disease. “Most of the patients are scared when admitted. They are all by themselves, they have severe symptoms and they miss their family. It’s worse in ICUs as the patients are even more scared when they see the machines like ventilators. We have to support them emotionally as it is necessary for their recovery. We talk to them, assure them that they will get better soon. Sometimes, we also allow them to see their family members through a window,” Kate shared.
While most nurses have now overcome the fear of coronavirus, it was dreadful for them in the beginning. In fact, sister Kate was the nurse who took the swab sample of the first-ever COVID patient in Pune and Maharashtra. “I took the swab in the morning, and at around 9 pm the same day, the reports came back positive. I was so scared, my blood pressure shot up. But my family supported me through it,’ Kate said.
While nurses wore PPE kits throughout the duty hours every day in the beginning, Kate says that many have now stopped. “We can take care of ourselves even without the PPE kits if we follow some basic protocol. We wear masks and gloves all the time and sanitise ourselves constantly. I was the one who took the swab of the first COVID patient in the city, and I can proudly say that I have not contracted the disease yet by following all the protective measures strictly,” she expressed.
"No matter how tired I was, I had to first sanitise myself, take a bath, clean all my clothes, and only then could I eat and rest."
Jamdade added, “Initially, we didn’t know much about the virus, how exactly it transmitted, and what were its consequences. Working all day long in the PPE kits was difficult. At the end of my shift every day, I had to go home to my 85-year-old mother. No matter how tired I was, I had to first sanitise myself, take a bath, clean all my clothes, and only then could I eat and rest. It has all become a part of the routine now. It’s much less scary now.”
However, despite working at the frontline day and night for over a year, the nurses are still waiting for their share of recognition. “I am working at a permanent position, so I have a good remuneration. However, many nurses who work with me, who have been employed on a contractual basis, have to work at a very low salary. They give their 100 percent to their work. Considering the risks involved in their work, the government must increase their remuneration,” Kate said.
Priyanka Nande, a nurse who has been working with the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) since 2013 has been on COVID duty since the beginning of the pandemic. While she works on par with doctors at the rural hospital, she complains that she is not paid on par with permanent government employees.
“We want the government to make us permanent and provide us with insurance. We have been working hard risking our lives. Authorities keep saying that they will take care of us if we get the disease, but why wait until then? We treat the patients like our family. We treat them with love and give them emotional support. Patients cry while saying goodbye to us while leaving the hospital and call us Gods. We don't want to be Gods. We just want the government to see our work and recognise our efforts,” she said.