Amid surge, nursing staff in Delhi rue lack of respite, say they are exhausted

Updated on Apr 24, 2021 03:58 AM IST

The second wave of Covid-19 across the country — and the fourth wave in Delhi — has turned out to be deadliest one yet with hundreds of thousands testing positive for the virus and over 2,000 succumbing to the infection every day.

A nurse prepares a dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.(Reuters)
A nurse prepares a dose of AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine.(Reuters)
By, New Delhi, Hindustan Times

The avalanche of Covid-19 patients reaching hospitals, the strain of family members and colleagues falling sick, and the crippling shortage of beds, oxygen and other medical essentials across hospitals in Delhi have left nursing staff in the city “drained” and “emotionally strained”.

The second wave of Covid-19 across the country — and the fourth wave in Delhi — has turned out to be deadliest one yet with hundreds of thousands testing positive for the virus and over 2,000 succumbing to the infection every day. The virus has not spared health care workers — many have tested positive and are in need of oxygen support themselves.

A senior nursing officer at Ram Manohar Lohia (RML) Hospital, asking not to be named, said around 120 of her colleagues are currently infected. “What we saw last year is nothing compared to what we are witnessing now. The number of patients we are getting is unprecedented and with many of our colleagues testing positive for Covid-19, the whole situation has become more difficult,” she said.

She said emotional breakdowns among nurses have become more frequent in Covid wards these days.

“We feel absolutely helpless when people beg us for beds and oxygen for their loved ones and we have to say no. Three days ago, a 24-year-old patient succumbed to the infection. Several nurses, who have children about the same age, started weeping. It’s so difficult to see young people die. Last year, at least young people were not getting affected like this,” she said.

When Covid first struck in 2020, health care workers used to work for 14 days at a stretch and then quarantine themselves for another 14. There is no such guideline this time and medical professionals say they are currently working without a break.

Akhilesh Sharma, a nursing officer at Guru Teg Bahadur (GTB) Hospital, said he feels overwhelmed by the long queues of waiting patients, requesting beds every day.

“It’s so difficult to say no to a person in that state. The situation is so dire that even if any staff member tests positive for Covid-19 today, they won’t be able to get a bed. I have been on Covid duty since March last year, and I’m exhausted. It is emotionally draining to see your patients, with whom you have worked so hard, dying in front of your eyes,” he said.

A nursing officer at Lok Nayak Hospital, who wished not to be named, said, “I have seen many patients die while waiting for a bed outside the hospital in the past few days. I feel helpless. Many of our doctors and nursing staff sometimes come out to attend to these people, but how can we take care of so many?”

Several nursing staff also have Covid positive family members. Babita Rani, a senior nursing officer at the Covid maternity ward at the Employees’ State Insurance Model Hospital in Basaidarapur, said her husband is Covid positive at present. “I, my husband and our 15-year-old son are currently living in three different rooms without seeing each other. It has become so difficult to juggle my husband’s care and my nursing duties. It’s like I am doing the same thing 24x7 -- taking care of Covid patients at the hospital and home,” she said.

Rani said nurses are facing another dilemma -- to communicate to others nurses the condition of their loved ones receiving Covid treatment. “Nurses know the survival chances of patients with severe infection. Yet, we are placed in a challenging situation where we have to console our own colleagues and give them assurances about their loved ones even when they, and we, know that the chances are grim,” she said.

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  • ABOUT THE AUTHOR

    Fareeha Iftikhar is a principal correspondent with the national political bureau of the Hindustan Times. She tracks the education ministry, and covers the beat at the national level for the newspaper. She also writes on issues related to gender, human rights and different policy matters.

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