During wars and epidemics, they have held the lamps of relief. The current pandemic has put immense pressure on the health workers across the world. For more than a month, Jyothi has been on covid duty at a private hospital. As a psychiatrist, she has been organising several counselling sessions for the nurses on-duty. “There is a lot of anxiety they have been facing since the pandemic began and many factors have led to this,” she says.
England’s National Health Service (NHS) asked its nurses, who had left the service, to re-register to tackle the pandemic. Across the globe, nurses and their services are in high demand. In many ways, they are also risking their personal safety in the line of duty.
“In many hospitals, doctors are somehow more protected than nurses in terms of getting personal protective equipment (PPE). Due to the high risk they face at work, there is also the danger of nurses taking the infection back to their homes as many of them have responsibilities on the home front as well. There is a huge psychological stress,” says Jayamohan Unnithan, consultant pulmonologist, Hindustan Hospital.
There are many reasons why nurses are feeling burnt out. MN Sivakumar, head, institute of critical care medicine, Royal Care Super Specialty Hospital Ltd, feels that many hospitals are facing a scarcity of staff. “Many nurses are going on quarantine so there is a thin workforce taking care of patients and if a surge happens, it will place a lot of pressure on the system. Secondly, there is a concern that if they contract the infection, they can pass it on to their families. Thirdly, working for a whole day wearing the PPE is not an easy task. In areas like the ICUs, they wear cover-all gowns. They are often unable to hydrate themselves and it is tough to use the rest room as well,” he says.
In India’s cities several young nurses are staying away from their families in hostels and since the coronavirus cases have been on the rise, they have been staying in the hospitals itself. “Being away from their families and friends in the midst of this is not easy,” says Yuvaraj Arumugham, who works as a nursing supervisor in an ICU. “Even doctors on covid duty are staying in the hospitals and all arrangements have been made for our stay in the hospital premises itself. Before we undertook covid duty, orientation was done for the staff. Counselling is also being done for the staff,” he says.
With each passing day, the work only seems to be increasing. Dr T Palaniappan, CEO, Medway Hospitals says the working hours are getting long during the pandemic and often, meals get skipped. Many are away from their homes. “After all the trouble and risk they go through, they don’t even get their due recognition. The anxiety levels are high and the situation if comparable to that of a person on the war front.”
Needless to say, many of these health workers have been facing severe home sickness and even depression. “In our counselling sessions we ask them to look at it from an altruistic standpoint. It is good thing not to go home as that will keep the family members safe as well. Usually, every department has its own nurses but after the pandemic, there has been a lot of shuffling of nurses in hospitals across departments based on requirements, which has led to some confusion. Also, if a health worker has come in touch with a covid positive patient, they have to be quarantined. Most of them in the cities do not live with their families and those who live with their families have sent their kids to live with their grandparents or have moved out of their homes to stay in the hospital itself,” says Jyothi. When duty hours are over, they get connected to their families using video calls. “Right now technology allows us to do this at least.”a