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Overworked-Nightingales raring to go home

Overworked-Nightingales raring to go home
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A testing period for nurses; without leave, they work tirelessly

Hyderabad: With long work hours in tensed and harsh conditions, wearing personal protective equipment and following continuously evolving guidelines on patient care, it has been a testing period for nurses.

Many, who have been providing services as a nurse, hail from neighbouring States. They have not seen their families for over a year. While during the first wave, they worked for eight hours a day, with the second wave there has been a drastic increase in work pressure on them. Nurses share that there is a dearth of manpower and being responsible for so many people is extremely taxing. They complain of meagre salaries with overwork.

ESIC Medical College and Hospital Nurses' Union general secretary Prakash Kenchala says that without leave, nurses are working tirelessly. As hospitals do not accommodate isolation rooms for nurses, they travel back home in fear of infecting the virus to their families.

"There are many instances where staff has gotten covid positive, leaving their families affected too. A few private hospitals are giving accommodations, like 15-day isolation and then asking them to get back to work. But the government hospitals' nurses are working long hours, with no such provision.

During the second wave, it was more difficult to deal with patients on ventilators and constant need to monitor them closely. If a seven-day quarantine leave is given after every seven-day work, it will boost their mood." he added.

Alexander Christopher hails from Andhra Pradesh. He has been working as a nurse for five years and has not seen his family in the past one year, being apprehensive, he might be a carrier of the virus. He works six hours a day without break. He says the nurse:patient ratio is 1:2. In the second wave the ratio is 1:20 (followed by hospitals).

"One nurse has to look over 20 patients. We are not given even basic facilities like food, water not even a single room for changing." He shared, due to constant shifts, they are burnt out and depressed. When the Central government promised to provide 50 lakh insurance, but they have not heard of the benefits yet.

"When we get infected and are admitted in our hospitals, we are not given the injection due to shortage. Hence, our morale goes down." Now they are performing Covid duty in eight-hour shifts for 14 days at a stretch since January this year, with a massive shortage of hospital staff.l

Pinkesh Kumar Soni (25), a nurse in ESIC hospital, returns home to his pregnant wife after a 12-hour shift worrying that he may affect his family. He has been performing Covid duty since the pandemic hit the country. Soni wanted to remove his PPE kit, but it could have exposed him to the virus.

"Wearing a PPE kit for 12 hours is challenging, as we are not allowed to eat, drink, and have no access to washrooms. I felt dizzy many times and experienced rashes on my skin following dehydration. Many colleagues are reporting anxiety, burnouts, insomnia. The PPE kits are taken off in a very systematic manner to avoid infections, which take at least 20 minutes. But still, we continue to work while starving. Even though the staff gets vaccinated, they have been testing positive."

Soni says nurses are standing as a pillar of strength to Covid-19 patients. But that is not, with Covid patients being isolated without visits from family and friends, nurses have taken it upon themselves to provide emotional support to them.

During peak hours, the nurse:patient ratio goes for a toss, as workload increases. Nurses cannot focus on patients properly. As per the government guidelines 15 days work, 15 days leave for nurses are mandatory but "we have not gotten any leave yet. The contract staff gets only four-day leave in a month.

Divya, who handles the ICU and general ward simultaneously, attends the 8-2 pm shift. She is hurtling towards a breakdown. "Sometimes, due to staff shortage, I have to look after a Covid patient as well a patient in the general ward." She is working since 2011.

Narrating an incident that left Divya agonised, she says "I may be talking to them one day, talking to their families over the phone, and the next day they are no more. It is a pathetic situation to face. We cannot save them even though we are available in the ward. We all wish this to end, as it is mentally exhausting." she felt wracked by guilt and anger.

After completing shifts, she goes back home but isolates self while her children knock on the door to meet their mother. But she is seized by helplessness and despair.

V Sowjanya, a young intern of a private hospital says: "I go home and cry, as things are extremely worse to handle. One needs coping skills to handle this pandemic."

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