KOCHI: For Priya T R, a Grade I nursing officer at General Hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the days after the pandemic outbreak were a nightmare. In retrospect, the first thing that comes to her mind is the terror of being inside the hot, sweaty personal protective equipment (PPE) kit. “Getting into the PPE kit is an ordeal by itself. You cannot even go to the washroom until your shift is over,” Priya says.
Now, with Covid cases coming down drastically, Priya and most other nurses in the state are relieved. Since 2020 March, for two years, they have been working tirelessly to deliver primary care to Covid patients in ICUs and isolation wards. Then, they were busy vaccinating people against Covid.
“It was quite stressful. For nurses, everyday is a busy day. This is especially true when you are working in a government health facility. But when Covid hit and patients started crowding the hospitals, we were all shocked. There were fewer hospital beds and we were fighting an unknown disease. We were far from our friends and family too, to make things worse,” says Priya.
Compared with this, vaccination duty was a blessing for nurses. “During the vaccination drive, everyday from 6am to night you are working on the same thing. I don’t even get time to think about anything else. For more than 13 months, I was on vaccination duty,” she says.
On Women’s Day, Priya won a Central award for administering over 1.33 lakh jabs. “This was the only recognition I got for my service. All the nurses at the hospital were happy for me,” she adds.
Ajitha TR, the head nurse at Kalamassery MCH and state committee member of Kerala Government Nursing Association, says her hospital struggled to manage the pandemic. “Unlike other medical colleges, the Kalamassery one doesn’t have staff accomodation. The hospital isn’t very spacious and lacks transportation facilities. So, hospital staff had a tough time finding a place to stay,” she says.
Since the Government College Of Nursing, Ernakulam, was closed due to lockdown, the staff decided to use its dormitory as temporary accommodation. Ajitha recollects an incident that happened after the first wave. “A colleague’s mother died. But she was denied entry in her own house because her relatives were scared they would contract Covid from her. She had to stay at the hospital without attending her mother’s funeral. Another nurse caught Covid from the hospital. Her family contracted it eventually. But her young husband, who was just 38, couldn’t recover,” she says. “That was literally when all our fears came true — spreading the disease to our dear ones,” she says.
All pain, no gain
Vibin Chandy, staff nurse at Government Medical College, Kottayam, and district president of the Kerala Government Nurses Union, was in charge of screening Covid patients who came into his hospital. “Everyday, you meet people from all walks of life,” he says.
He had lost his left leg during an accident in 2018. For him, the pandemic was especially difficult. Furthermore, nurses weren’t getting any benefits or risk allowance. While states like Tamil Nadu offered incentives, Kerala made no such moves. “The situation was worse for nurses at private hospitals. Forget benefits, their salary itself was low,” says Vibin.
He adds that though nurses are called angels on every Nurses Day, the spotlight is a sham. “Everyone forgets about us soon after,” says Vibin.
For Santy Augustine, a retired nursing officer at Government Medical College Kalamassery, the Covid period was quite tense. “I retired in April 2021, just before the second wave of the pandemic. I went back to the hospital as a patient soon after. I got to experience Covid care from the receiving end,” she quips.
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