‘Once we don PPE we worry only about our patients’: Kerala nurses fighting Covid-19
They say they would like to be known as warriors, not nightingales any more. Days of gloom and challenges have made them stronger and bolder, say nurses, frontline health workers in the Covid-19 battle who spend most of their time in forlorn wards.
“I have stopped breast feeding my 2-year-old daughter. Initially I had some problems but once I don the heavy personal protection equipment (PPE) I forget all my worries,” a 28-year-old nurse at Kalamassery medical college hospital in Ernakulam said. Since she has a small child, Reeja Vishnu was given an option to opt-out of the Covid-19 ward but she declined. “We can’t desert the ship when it needs us the most,” she said.
Reshma Mohandas, a nurse at the Kottayam medical college hospital, turned coronavirus positive while treating 93-year-old Thomas and his 84-year-old wife Mariyamma. She was discharged the same day the old couple left the hospital, often dubbed as a miracle among the medical fraternity. While leaving the hospital, the nurse made an unusual plea to the medical superintendent-- she wants to works at the Covid-19 ward after her 14-day mandatory quarantine at home.
“Both the aged people were like small kids and we treated them like that. At times they were stubborn and cranky. We had to pat them quite often. Since one of them had some hearing problem I had to go very close. It was my duty,” said Mohandas, a staff nurse. She developed fever on the fourth day of their admission and got isolated immediately. “If we start worrying about ourselves, who will be there to console and look after our patients? So I took it in my stride,” she said.
Let us ask some of these nurses about their day in a Covid-19 ward. According to world health standards, a person in PPE can’t work more than four hours and they admit these four are like 40 hours. But they say for wearing and removing it takes more than one hour and another one hour for pre-quarantine and post-duty protocols.
“We need another person’s help. First we wear shoes and put on the PPE overall. Then we cover the head and wear mask and goggles. At times we have to wear two or three layers of masks and then put on gloves, one large and another small over it. Since we can’t go to the washroom after putting PPE we usually avoid water,” a nurse explained. After putting the PPE on, there is a 10-minute check to find out whether the person is comfortable and can move around quickly.
“Post-duty protocol is more cumbersome. We have to spray disinfectant on entire clothing before removing and each apparel has different bins. During bath we have to wash all our personal clothes and disinfect them again. Not allowed to wear those clothes for at least a month. Then we move to the hostel or dormitory and are not allowed to interact with others. We have to inform our superiors about our health twice a day,” she said. Many Covid-19 hospitals in Kerala have arranged accommodation for health staff near hospitals. There were some cases of taboo but the government intervened effectively.
They all say Lini Puthussery, a nurse who died fighting the Nipah virus outbreak in north Kerala in 2018, is their inspiration. Later, a movie was made based on her life ‘Virus’ and it was a big hit. “After fighting Nipah virus, which was more dangerous, our health workers are stronger now. It is time to stand with them,” said Lini’s husband Sajeesh, who works at the health department now. When Lini died, both her children were six and two years of age, later the government gave Sajeesh, who was working in the Middle-east, a job near his house.
Nurses from Kerala are most sought after the world over and you can find them in all major hospitals of the country and roughly 20,000 of them work in foreign countries also. Office-bearers of the Nurses’ association said they have information about at least six Kerala nurses who have been infected in foreign countries, including two in United Kingdom.