Srinagar: Many nurses in Kashmir have been exposed to the coronavirus in the line of duty during the past eight months, but along with the illness they have had to suffer social stigma and mental health issues, for the first time in their lives.
The nurses have been on emergency duty since March 18, when J&K reported its first Covid-19 case from Srinagar. Since then, Jammu and Kashmir has reported over ninety-thousand cases of Covid-19, with more than 1,400 casualties. With a vaccine for Covid-19 nowhere visible in the near future, the nurses continue to grapple with the challenges at the cost of their own health and with their own lives as well as of their loved ones at risk.
Saima Jan (name changed), a junior-grade nurse at Government Medical College (GMC) Anantnag, has been suffering from sleeplessness and anxiety ever since she was called to attend to Covid-19 patients seven months ago. Her family members have been as worried.
“When I leave the ward after 24 hours of duty, I am haunted by the experience. It drains me mentally as well as emotionally, and my family, too,” she told Kashmir Reader.
Saima, aged 24, says that the relentless stress of dealing with critical Covid patients who struggle for life in hospital has left deep imprints on her mind, so much so that she thinks she is suffering from mental trauma.
Despite this all, she continues to perform her duties. “There is a dearth of healthcare professionals, especially nurses, in this hour of crisis. I have to carry on with my duties despite all trials and tribulations. We can’t let the patients die or suffer due to lack of care,” she said.
Pupilder Qaur, Assistant Matron of Nurses at SMHS Hospital in Srinagar, says that nurses have contributed immensely in the pandemic but they have hardly been given any recognition or reward.
“Nurses had to face problems ranging from social discrimination to personal issues of health and family. They braved all these difficulties without compromising on their duties”, Qaur said.
Qaur informed that nearly 40 nursing staff of SMHS Hospital contracted the coronavirus in the line of duty. The family members of many nurses also caught the infection, Qaur said.
Some married nurses had to face outrage from their in-laws, while others had to face ostracisation from neighbours and relatives, Qaur said. However, with time people have started thinking rationally about the virus and the discrimination against healthcare professionals has lessened, she said.
Qaur also said that the Covid-19 pandemic exposed the shortage of staff in hospitals of Jammu and Kashmir. Shockingly, the Jammu and Kashmir government terminated services of about 250 nurses who were posted in various hospitals of J&K, to pave the way for permanent recruits to be inducted in five new government medical colleges.
“The government has done injustice with these nurses, who had for long rendered their services and throughout the Covid crisis,” said a nurse recently posted at GMC Anantnag.
Iqra Rashid, 24, has been nursing Covid-19 patients while donning a full PPE kit at SMHS Hospital. She told Kashmir Reader, “We have to deal with the patients directly. Our day starts in the PPE kit and ends in the same. We have developed rashes on our skin.”
She said the nurses never know which patient is Covid positive and which is not. After finishing the duties at the hospital, nurses remain under quarantine at a rented accommodation instead of going home.
“We can’t make our families vulnerable”, Iqra said.
Jozia Farooq, 26, Nursing Officer in charge at GMC Anantnag, told Kashmir Reader that nurses have had to go through various problems since the outbreak of Covid-19. She recalled a case of physical assault on one of her colleagues while dealing with a patient.
“My colleague was physically assaulted and abused verbally by a patient after his report came positive. It was not an isolated case; nurses come across such experiences day in and day out,” Jozia said.
The safety of nurses has to be ensured by the government, she said. “The ill treatment of nurses has to end, and the onus for this lies on the government. If the government treats us with respect, people, too, will develop a sense of respect towards our profession,” she said.
Nurses remain “invisible” in the healthcare sector, Jozia said, and underpaid.
“We have no problems with other healthcare professionals. But it feels sad that only the contribution of a specific group is publicised and praised, while that of others is ignored even though they burn more midnight oil in service of patients,” Jozia said.
Battling the Covid-19 pandemic, more than one lakh healthcare workers in India have been infected with Covid-19, while more than 500 professionals have lost their lives. In Jammu and Kashmir, hundreds of healthcare professionals, most of them nurses, have been infected by the virus.