Tales of pandemic: Each day was a blur, says matron of BYL Nair Hospital, Mumbai
For 52-year-old Rucha Salgaonkar, who was assigned the post of matron at BYL Nair Hospital in Mumbai Central in March 2020, the first assignment was to prepare a Covid ward.
“Our dean asked me to prepare 40 beds in a separate ward for Covid patients. Within two days the entire hospital was declared a Covid-care zone and overnight everything changed,” said Salgaonkar, who heads a team of 680 nurses at the hospital.
Soon, Salgaonkar and her team were working 12-hour shifts administering continuous care for patients and staff as well; they got their first weekly off only four months later.
It started with an average of two patients every day in March. By April-end, approximately 240 patients were being admitted every day, and a Super Specialty Out-patient Department (OPD) was set up in a make-shift tent. “At its peak, in the months of May and June, on an average we were admitting anywhere between 500 to 680 patients every day.
“Our 1600-bed hospital was converted into a 1043-bed hospital after following social distancing norms. Each day was a blur of tending to the needs of everyone admitted,” Salgaonkar said.
“We had to set up an ambulance bay and make sure beds were ready immediately so that patients could undergo a quick check-up and get admitted without any hassle. We had to ensure that we were not falling short of oxygen and other essential supplies at all times,” she said.
Salgaonkar, who lives in Haji Ali, which is close to her workplace, refused to take up accommodation in the hospital’s hostel and chose to live with her family comprising her husband, a BMC employee, and two daughters.
“My husband and daughters were very supportive and for months together, my older daughter would buy the groceries and cook dinner while my husband and younger daughter would keep my clothes ready so the minute I entered my home, I would bathe,” she said.
Each day brought with it a new set of challenges, and Salgaonkar said with some measure of pride that the staff worked in tandem to come up with solutions. For instance, nurses had a tough time working in PPE gear during the peak summer months with little or no access to air conditioning in the municipal hospital.
“We were spending hours in PPE and by the time we got out of it, we were drenched in sweat. I therefore made it a point to ensure that a nurse does not spend more than six hours in the PPE kit, and rest of the time managed with basic protective gear including gloves, masks and face gear,” Salgaonkar said.
Nair Hospital continued to cater to non-Covid patients through the pandemic, and on August 15, the hospital started operations of non-Covid wards. “It took almost five months of continuous work and in mid-August we finally opened the doors for non-Covid patients. So the work doubled, but we had all hands on deck all the time,” she said.
Second and third year nursing students began to undergo counseling following which they started providing counseling to Covid patients to help them alleviate their stress and anxiety. The staff members too required counseling on a regular basis, as they were witnessing the suffering and death caused by a pandemic, for the first time themselves. A special public notice system was formulated by so that relatives would get regular updates on their family members admitted in the hospital, as they were not allowed to meet in person.
The hospital also managed over 830 deliveries of Covid-19 positive mothers.
The incident that left a lasting impression on Salgaonkar’s mind however was when she lost a pregnant patient. “At the peak of the pandemic, we lost an eight-month pregnant mother and her baby to Covid, despite all the medical care we gave. We were as heartbroken as the family but there was no time to grieve because we had to ensure the next patient lived to see another day,” she said.