This is a first person account of a nurse working during the pandemic in India. Haritha Vijayan is the Chief Nursing Officer at Continental Hospital, Hyderabad and is also President of ANEI, Telangana chapter.

International Nurses Day marks the anniversary of the birth of Florence Nightingale, fondly known as the ‘Lady with the Lamp’. On this day we celebrate the hard work and  contributions of our nurses by exploring some of their challenges and what can be done to help.

Nurses are one of the largest and most vital workforces in healthcare. With the ever-changing processes, continuing advances, and pandemic, they still need to meet expectations of both hospital management and patients. As a result, nurses often describe their days as demanding, erratic, and both mentally and emotionally challenging. These are some of the reasons why there is so much work-related stress, dissatisfaction, high attrition, and poor personal health among nurses

I often reflect on the tough period we have walked through since Covid-19 emerged as an invisible enemy among us.  This enemy was unknown to all of us including the protocols. So how did we equip ourselves for it?

Initially, we created a covid nursing task team to look after covid patients. While forming the team we witnessed the fear that existed among many of the nurses. We spent much time and energy counselling them, and at times their family members too.

We then developed various nursing standards to help select task team members by assessing their physical and mental wellbeing.

But then arose the challenge of shortage in PPEs. But we still could not stop working. We had to come up with various innovative ideas to extend the use of available PPEs. To help nurses cope, we defined best practices for infection prevention and control that included ensuring adequate break time for staff in between shifts or during the shift.

Other issues we face are staff infectivity and fear among other team members. We spend much time counselling and setting protocols for those members. We were always with them to support and help them overcome their difficulties as much as possible. 

I still remember this incident where one of our staff members had lost her grandmother, who had taken care of her after she lost her parents. Due to travel restrictions and high demand at the workplace she was unable to visit one last time.  

There was another incident where one of our Covid-19 duty nurses, who was staying away from her family tested positive. She was moderately sick with continuous symptoms and so she had no option but to keep her children away. I personally witnessed the stress, fear, and depression she went through due to the illness and helplessness as a mother. She was always worried that she was going to infect her children. Despite being a sick patient, she had to do all household activities to feed her children and keep them comfortable.

During this crisis period many of the nurses lost their lives, many others were severely infected requiring hospital admissions. Several lacked a healthy diet, rest, medical facilities, and insurance. I strongly feel though we talk so much about nurses as angels and but very less is expressed and done in our country to really take care of them and the nursing profession. 

We must focus on the staff nurses’ physical and mental wellbeing, financial stability and healthy work environment. We must encourage and empower them. 

We must act and bring changes that will help in building a healthy nursing workforce. It can happen only if we address challenges raised and faced by our nurses.