As India swerves into its second wave of Covid, the population manages to thank its nurses over social media on the occasion of International Nurses’ Day, while the healthcare infrastructure and its frontline warriors face a dilemma of their own. Even though doctors, in every way possible, are able to speak up for themselves and the crisis they now face with regards to healthcare resources and immediate facilities required, there is no voice, however, to shed light over the urgent predicament that nurses all over India are facing, even as we speak.
It would become a critical need of the hour if only enough discussion was laid upon the conditions of nurses in India, who right now are more than exhausted, mentally as well as physically, fighting a global battle that seems to be never-ending, while having no real security of their own. To shed some light on this issue, we could start off by addressing the already ignorant plight of nurses all over India, when it comes to their income sources, even before the pandemic had arrived.
Although well-known, it is hardly an issue for the Indian population that an army that trains rigorously for four years on primary healthcare, receives hardly Rs 15,000-20,000 per month in the present day, be it in the government or private hospitals. To add to this underpaid scenario, are the exhausting work conditions, which are highly unbalanced with 12-hour continuous shifts and rarely any breaks for the nurses to even catch a breath.
Now, this was prior to the Covid arriving in the country. Under the present scenario, with India only entering the second wave, the condition of nurses has already turned deplorable. For the same amount of income, now nurses are working for both morning and night shifts on most days, with hardly any time to go home and take some rest.
To add to this, they are required to stay in their PPE kits for the entire duration of the shifts, which makes it even impossible to take bathroom breaks (which also includes not being able to change their sanitary pads on time), eat, drink, or even take their kits off in case they are sweating profusely. These PPE kits are worn meticulously for more than 12 hours, which also restrict the nurses’ movements, who are supposed to be at the disposal of their patients under any emergency.
Although we have all become aware of the shortage of hospital beds and oxygen cylinders during this second wave, only the nurses witness it first hand everyday as they are usually appointed in a ward with 40 beds and only 2 nurses to check up on these 40 patients, sometimes on both shifts. As the nurses report- the beds are never empty, and as soon as a patient is discharged, another one fills up the space.
Along with taking the primary care of the patient which include feeding, cleaning and checking for their oxygen and medicines regularly, the nurses also have to keep up with the maintenance of death records and informing the families and the police in case of such incidents. With their health being compromised to such drastic levels, the nurses have no choice but to adhere to the rules set for them by the hospitals.
This is only the physical exhaustion that has been recorded from nurses all over India. The emotional and mental trauma and exhaustion that follows the same is not even recorded in any space whatsoever, because there is hardly any platform for them to voice their concerns or to reach out to the masses while taking care of patients during a pandemic. Witnessing, recording and remembering deaths on a personal
level everyday, and still waking up in the morning and putting on one’s uniform requires an enormous amount of courage and strength.
Our nurses are doing the same, even as we speak, as most of them report that they witness at least one death during a 12-hour shift. As affectionate caregivers, they generally form a warm bond with the patients that they look after. To watch the same patients pass away in front of their eyes on a daily basis and feeling helpless because they give their best every single time – is a form of post traumatic stress that can only be found during and after wars. The important question here is — who is accounting for this psychological trauma? Is there a way to cope their already aggrieved state of mind here, so that they do not carry on this trauma silently for the rest of their lives?
Yet, every single day, they gather every ounce of energy to provide the best care to their patients, thereby putting their own health second. Even during vaccination, they are the same nurses who singlehandedly administer thousands of vaccines to citizens each day but fail to receive the same vaccination for themselves and their families on time.
However, with the second wave recording such a huge number of deaths per day, most nurses have admitted to losing their courage and strength to work and wish to resign from their job that they have been doing for such a long time. It is indeed, a matter of serious concern for India, as an integral part of its frontline warriors is on the verge of losing their physical and mental strength to help fight Covid. To make matters worse, India is already on a shortage of caregivers and doctors alike, with another two lakh nurses being required already to fight Covid in the year to come. Under such circumstances, one can only wonder how the country would stand during the third wave.
For an army that fights painstakingly each day without being given the respect and remuneration that they rightly deserve, nurses indeed have proven to be caregivers of the highest order today. It is high time that they are thanked not just on social media or over papers, but given the due recognition and place in society that has been long overdue. Perhaps, simply addressing them as “frontline warriors” is not enough today; it is time that they are treated the same.