KOCHI: Kerala’s healthcare workers have been appreciated globally and, many a time, cited as an example to emulate. They have diligently kept the state’s healthcare infrastructure fighting fit, despite sagging morale in the tireless war against Covid over the past two years.
Returning home after days of tiring work, entering the house through a separate door, isolating in an earmarked room, staying away from close relatives including children, all the while fearing about getting infected... this has been the routine of most doctors and healthcare professionals for the past two years and through three successive Covid waves.
Kripa S, 32, a nurse at a private hospital in Kozhikode, is three months pregnant. Early this month, she had to work in the Covid ward, as the hospital was short of staff, with many getting infected. Though the arrangement was for a few weeks, her days were filled with tension. “It was my condition that made the situation risky. I was constantly worried about getting infected. I was reluctant to call my parents to stay with me and my husband here because I was scared of infecting them.
My doctor had instructed me to rest and get good sleep for the first few months of pregnancy due to some complications. But everything went upside down. With mood swings, sleeplessness, and loss of appetite, I reached a stage of depression pretty soon,” said Kripa. Luckily, she was shifted to another department when some of the regular staff returned. Many have similar stories to tell.
“There was a slight relief when the Covid admissions began to fall towards the end of the second wave. Now, Covid ward duty has become hectic again. Non-Covid admissions and treatments have taken a back seat and almost all the staff have been roped in for Covid care,” said a nurse with the Ernakulam Medical College Hospital. “It is not easy spending every working hour in a PPE kit. I have been on Covid duty for the past two years, and I still haven’t gotten used to it.
The hectic routine, filled with sweat and heat due to the PPE, really crushes us when we have to deal with people who complain without knowing our situation,” she said. According to the World Health Organization, globally, over a lakh healthcare workers might have died of Covid between January 2020 to May 2021. The last victim in Kerala was Saritha, 45, a nursing officer at the Varkala Taluk Hospital.
“Deaths among healthcare workers are constant reminders of the seriousness of what we are dealing with. No matter how many precautions we take, we are not sure what will happen to us at the end of the day,” said Dr Wilson George, a Kollam- based endocrinologist. “Most healthcare workers and their families have been affected, and the rest of the support staff in hospitals are overworked and stretched out.
Admissions in non- Covid areas are also overwhelming. We have been at the forefront of the fight for nearly two years now. We are not complaining, but do understand the situation in our hospitals and our working conditions,” said Akshara, a staff with the Kot - tayam medical college. Along with the hardships of the Covid duty, health professionals also battle issues such as sleeplessness, mental agony, anxiety, depression, and illness disorders (constant fear of getting the infection).
“The third wave attacked us just as things started to limp back to normal. Many doctors and nurses have been affected severely. There has been a rise in the number of those seeking mental health help over the past few months,” said Dr Arun B Nair, psychiatrist, Government Medical College Hospital, Thiruvananthapuram.
“The health department should ensure that the treatment of other departments is not affected by Covid. Let those trained in Covid care handle those duties so that non- Covid illnesses, including chronic ones, are not affected. Also, there should be an exclusive helpline that caters to the stress-related issues of the healthcare professionals,” said Dr Arun. “If healthcare workers are going through severe psychological problems, they should be given exemption from Covid duty,” he said.