When Kerala native Sangeetha who works at England's Basildon University Hospital spoke to The New Indian Express in March about how she was forced to attend to fever patients and collect their swab samples despite being a regular nurse at the cardiac ward, the UK had reported 300 COVID-19 deaths. But now she feels like it was a long time ago as a lot has happened since.
Her work became more demanding as the UK's death toll shot up to cross the five-digit mark and a few of her close acquaintances fell sick. It was only a matter of time before the 24-year-old nurse tested positive for COVID-19 as well and had to take a month's break from work.
What got to her more than the disease was the stigma attached to it, as she was condemned for going public about her condition. Even as she was bedridden and struggling with breathlessness, many "wellwishers" provoked her for being vocal about having COVID-19.
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However, as the world observes International Nurses Day, Sangeetha has long recovered and is back in service to fight the pandemic at her hospital in Essex.
Recollecting those hard times, Sangeetha said she saw it coming and was ready. "My swab sample was collected on April 18 and the result was out on April 22. Here the practice is that the testing centre calls up the patient and directly conveys the result."
"They asked me to take rest. I wasn't shocked, to be honest, as I was almost certain that the result would be positive. I had all the symptoms and a few of my closest companions had tested positive already," she said.
"The minor symptoms started to show in the first week of April. In a few days time, I developed wheezing and body pain as well. I lost my sense of taste and smell soon and contacted my hospital manager who made arrangements to get me tested," she said.
The Kottayam native, who got the job soon after completing nursing from a premier institution in Bengaluru, said she was never scared of death as her professional experience had taught her she was much outside the vulnerable category.
Paracetamol was prescribed for a week at a gap of six hours along with Cetirizine to treat the cold. But she developed a chest infection and her general practitioner gave her an antibiotic which provided much-needed relief.
"I was lucky that my roommate works with the respiratory unit. She was very supportive and equipped to handle a COVID patient up close," Sangeetha said.
The hospital authorities too were cooperative and allowed her paid leave for a month with all benefits.
But the real challenge was only ahead of her. Sangeetha was open about her health to everyone back home with whom she was in contact. The youngster could think of no reason why she should hide from the world that she was one among millions infected by the virus.
On her Facebook wall, she mentioned how relaxed she felt while binge-watching shows on Amazon Prime during her quarantine. The post was not well-received among many back home.
"Some of them sent me voice notes saying how foolish it was of me to state that in public. My parents and sister were very supportive. A COVID warrior getting infected isn't a black mark to be ashamed of," she said.
Sangeetha said she was frustrated and taken aback to hear the displeasure of many who otherwise compare nurses to angels. Many messages she received expressed hatred towards NRIs returning home from foreign lands.
"They said the returnees will increase the number of cases in Kerala again. It was frustrating at first but then I made up my mind that I don't have time for this nonsense," she said.
She was cleared to join duty again on April 28. Sangeetha says she isn't scared to go back to the COVID ward though she hasn't been asked to do so yet.
"In March, the staff of all departments were expected to attend virus cases. But now certain departments including cardiology have been made 'cold wards' where COVID cases aren't attended. However, everyone is screened and if tested positive, they will be shifted to speciality wards.
"The first patient I attended on was a merchant from Italy and I was a little tense. But then the infections started to multiply so fast that there was hardly any time to worry about ourselves. But it was always hard to see critical patients on the ventilator," she said.
When asked about International Nurses Day, she said though people needn't treat medical professionals as angels or gods, they should be sensible enough not to ostracise them during hard times like these.