Gangtok: For Sharmila (name changed), life feels more uncertain than ever. The nurse working at Sikkim‘s STNM Hospital has seen so many people dying this year that it has drained her emotionally.
“The anxiety that I experience now while I am donning the PPE kit for my shift can’t be expressed. You don’t know what you would be walking into. Even If I am under layers of PPE I still fear of contracting the virus if a patient coughs right at my face while administering the medicines,” she said.
“We do not want to go through it again. We fear for lives of people in general, and our loved ones in particular. It’s scary,” she added.
Sharmila is not alone. To acknowledge the contribution of the nurses on International Nurses Day and the various challenges that they face, EastMojo spoke with several nurses in Sikkim. The accounts that they narrated are indeed touching.
In 2018, the state government recruited 261 nurses. The following year, 200 more were hired. Considering the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, it was a timely action. In between the pandemic, there have been ‘temporary COVID 19 package recruitments’, with most of them being volunteers working without salaries.
One such volunteer nurse who has been working since last year told EastMojo: “Volunteer nurses are working day and night in this pandemic exposing themselves to the virus. We are doing this without salary. We should also get some incentives or something that can motivate us and keep us going in these difficult times.”
It is a given that the healthcare workers, including the nurses, are overworked and exhausted. However, even the help from volunteers is not enough.
“Recently when COVID-19 cases were rising, only four nurses were posted per shift to look after three floors. These include the ICU, HDU and the general ward. It’s very difficult to work in such conditions, specially at night when shifts are for 12 hours. Nurses cannot work to their fullest,” said another nurse.
Not just the extra number of hours, most nurses are even going the extra mile to take care of their patients.
“Nurses are always working more than their capabilities. We’ve had situations where we really didn’t know what we were capable of, but then we figured out what needs to be done to save a life. I think nurses have to take utmost responsibility for every single thing, starting from patient care (which of course is our work) to maintainance work,” said a nurse at STNM Hospital in Gangtok.
But in the end, not all nurses get their due credit. Ideally, patients tend to acknowledge doctors more than the nurses, said another nurse.
“People become indifferent when it comes to nurses. They vent all their anger and frustrations on us. In my seven years of nursing career, there have been only a few instances when patients and their attendants have appreciated our work. It’s quite disheartening at times,” the nurse added.
People perceive nurses to be rude and cold, said another nurse. “This generalisation about nurses should be done away with. We are dealing with lives of people and it’s a very challenging profession. We have seen and been through a lot. We do not talk about it always but we try to put that little extra effort in taking care of people and do everything in our capacity to make a difference. We are as human as everyone else,” said the nurse, adding: “Even a little bit of appreciation from the patients can boost our morale.”
Currently, nurses stationed at the COVID-19 wards are overworked, as only one nurse is posted either in the ICU, the HDU or any part of the building. Communication and coordination have always been a problem, a nurse offered.
“We are short staffed and overworked. We are not able to work efficiently and deliver quality care. It’s physically and mentally exhausting,” said a nurse.
Nurses are questioned if a water pipe is leaking at night. They are blamed if the floor of the hospital is not cleaned properly. They are questioned if the doctor is not available in case of an emergency. Nurses have to face the aggression of the visitors in an emergency room if the bed is full. “So, there are a whole lot of challenges that we have to face,” added the nurse.