Mayura Awasare, 36, swallowed hard, but she could not control her tears. The nurse in-charge at the Kothrud unit of Sahyadri Hospital said it would be impossible to go to Raigad district, more than 150 km from Pune, to be with her 14-year-old son on his birthday on May 23. “He disconnected my phone. How do I explain to my child that I am taking care of those who are suffering from coronavirus and cannot take leave?” she asked.
Maya Bapat, 52, nurse in-charge at Sassoon General Hospital’s paediatric ward, has not entered her kitchen for the past month. On May 9, her husband decided to celebrate his birthday by cooking her favourite food and taking a tiffin to Sassoon hospital, where she has been engaged in providing care for Covid-19 as well as non-Covid-19 patients. “My husband and father-in-law have diabetes and, at home too, I am maintaining a distance from them. My 85-year-old father-in-law keeps calling me to the dining table and does not understand when I eat separately at our place,” she said.
At Symbiosis hospital, Praisy Varghese, 45, wakes early to cook three meals for her 13-year-old son, who stays alone for more than eight hours till she joins him after completing her duty as nursing director. At the civic-run Naidu hospital, Saroj Vasudevan, 56, nurse in-charge, was the first to don Personal Protective Equipment and train young nurses to provide care to patients suffering from Covid-19.
At the frontline of the effort to stop the spread of Covid-19, each nurse has a story to tell and while most have not met their families for more than two months, what is common among all of them is their commitment to look after patients suffering from Covid-19. “Patients who tested positive were extremely scared and if we do not provide care, who will? We have no option but to keep our families in the corner and perform our duty,” Varghese said.
The year 2020 is being observed as the Year of the Nurse and May 12 is International Nurses Day. The celebration will be muted due to Covid-19; however, in their own way, each hospital will cheer for the nurses.
At Sassoon General Hospital, Bapat talked about how, along with 25 others, they were engaged in caring for 75 coronavirus-positive patients.
“I have hypertension and hypothyroidism but I have chosen this profession and need to do my best. There are so many patients who are alone in the ward and some feel totally isolated when they see us in PPE. This is one disease that the patient must face alone and I ask the young nurses to talk to them and tell them how we all must have had some connection that Covid-19 brought us together,” she said.
Vasudevan, who is a widow and stays alone, said, “My daughters are married, though the younger one has now come home for a while to look after me,” adding that the entire hospital staff and her patients were her family and, particularly, recalled how among the initial lot of people who had travelled abroad and returned to Pune was a Chinese national who was wary of how he would be treated. “He was happy and left a really nice thank-you note for us,” she said.
Male nurses in the intensive care unit, like 33-year-old Manjeeth Kadam, said it was difficult to have water at times as they could not remove the PPE. “We cannot have food or water after we wear a PPE. We are dealing with a deadly virus and if we do not look after ourselves, how can we care for patients?” Kadam asked. Kadam added that only after duty hours were over, they removed the suit and put it in the disinfectant solution and took a hot shower.
For the overall in-charge of the nursing department, like 57-year-old Mariamma Jose at Sahyadri hospital, who has more than 600 nursing staff or Rajashree Korake, nursing superintendent at Sassoon hospital, who has more than 1,000 nurses to manage, it has been a challenge. “From 1,100 nurses, we had to rule out those with co-morbid conditions and engage the younger lot of 155 nurses to take care of Covid-19 patients,” Korake said.
Jose said she had to deal with several issues like parents of younger nurses not allowing them to work, but after a lot of counselling and providing PPE, the nursing community was on track. As Dr Sunil Rao, group medical director of Sahyadri Hospitals, said, “Without our nurses, it is impossible to manage this pandemic. They have risked their lives and given their best.”
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