New Delhi: “The COVID-19 was declared a pandemic in March 2020 but our fight against the novel coronavirus began in January itself, right after the outbreak was reported in China’s Wuhan. As an infection control nurse, I and my team had to gear up for training sessions for all the employees of Jaslok. We had to learn the COVID protocols and keep ourselves updated with the latest guidelines so that we can educate our colleagues about the same”, said Maria Rodrigues. 52-year-old Ms Rodrigues is an Infection Control Nurse at Jaslok Hospital and Research Centre in Mumbai and has been in this profession for 28 years but this is the first time she has seen an outbreak of such intensity. On the occasion of International Nurses Day 2021, Ms Rodrigues spoke to NDTV at length about her role in the COVID-19 pandemic and what is it to be at the frontline.
Though the preparations to deal with SARS-CoV-2 began in January 2020, as per Ms Rodrigues, the real challenge came up when Jaslok Hospital opened up the entire floor to COVID-19 patients and the hospital started reporting an increase in the inflow of patients.
Our job involves educating medical and public health professionals on infection prevention protocols to facilitate emergency preparedness. But our job doesn’t end there. We had to work round the clock to ensure COVID protocols are followed at all levels. If there is any discrepancy, we report it and take measures to correct it. We also check on patients and do audits, she said.
As the pandemic progressed, Ms Rodrigues’ role evolved and she and her team were given more duties like assisting in the process of RT-PCR testing including sample collection and vaccinating healthcare workers and other beneficiaries. Throughout, one of the biggest challenges Ms Rodrigues faced was the burden of personal protective equipment (PPE), especially N-95 mask.
In this humid weather, we literally get drenched in sweat after wearing PPE. Also, PPE puts you down a bit; working without any PPE was different and faster. But then you have no other choice. You need to protect yourself, your family and whoever you come in contact with. The silver lining is that we, infection control nurses, don’t work in COVID wards all day. We take rounds and come back within three to four hours, said Ms Rodrigues.
She also informed that healthcare workers have to wear different levels of PPE in different zones. Like in non-COVID zones, level 2 PPE needs to be worn. This includes gown, head cover, N-95 mask, and goggles. Whereas, in COVID zones, level 3 PPE is used which includes gloves, laboratory coats, gowns, goggles, glasses with side shields, shoe covers, face shields and masks.
In level 3, there is a sequence to be followed while wearing and taking off PPE. In medical language, it is called donning and doffing off PPE. It’s crucial to take off the PPE in an appropriate manner because the majority of infections happen during doffing off PPE, said Ms Rodrigues.
Family And Spirituality: The Two Pillars Of Sister Maria Rodrigues
Ms Rodrigues lives with her husband, 90-year-old mother-in-law, 25-year-old son and a brother-in-law and together they are fighting the pandemic, said the COVID warrior. When Ms Rodrigues had to lay off the house help due to COVID restrictions, everyone in the family stepped up and shared the load of the household work. The family was never scared of Ms Rodrigues going to work during COVID-19 or coming back home after being on COVID duty. In fact, they never stopped her from performing her job.
When neighbours were against me going to work because of the high risk of infection, it was my mother-in-law, a nurse herself, who stood by my side and questioned those neighbours and asked, ‘If not healthcare workers then who?’ When I come back home, my husband keeps the shower room and food ready for me. My family has been my biggest support system throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic. Also, we are very well taken care of by our hospital; we get proper off days, high-quality PPE and masks and good food, said Ms Rodrigues.
The COVID warrior says that it’s her god and spirituality that motivate her to continue working and not fear COVID-19. She starts and ends her day by worshipping and reading scriptures. What adds to this are the blessings she receives from patients and their families.
We really are blessed to be in this profession, she said.
Follow COVID Precautions And Fight The Second Wave: COVID Warrior
I have seen the SARS outbreak, swine flu, and bird flu but even then we could accommodate patients on one floor. People need to understand the severity of the COVID-19. In the second wave of the pandemic, mortality and severity is same but we are seeing more people requiring oxygen support, said Ms Rodrigues.
To overcome the second wave of coronavirus, Ms Rodrigues urged everyone to follow all COVID precautions that are handwashing, wearing a double face mask, practising social distancing. Along with this, she suggested taking more liquids and a healthy diet.
Housekeeping staff and nurses ask ‘when will this end’ but we too don’t have an answer to this question. I ask them to pray and keep everyone in their prayers. I would request everyone to avoid going out until it’s really needed. Healthcare workers are already struggling and they are trying to help you out. There is also a limit to everything so please stay indoors and safe. Also, don’t be scared, be cautious. Fear is the worst enemy of a human being, said Ms Rodrigues.
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swasth India campaign is an extension of the five-year-old Banega Swachh India initiative helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan. It aims to spread awareness about critical health issues facing the country. In wake of the current COVID-19 pandemic, the need for WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) is reaffirmed as handwashing is one of the ways to prevent Coronavirus infection and other diseases. The campaign highlights the importance of nutrition and healthcare for women and children to prevent maternal and child mortality, fight malnutrition, stunting, wasting, anaemia and disease prevention through vaccines. Importance of programmes like Public Distribution System (PDS), Mid-day Meal Scheme, POSHAN Abhiyan and the role of Aganwadis and ASHA workers are also covered. Only a Swachh or clean India where toilets are used and open defecation free (ODF) status achieved as part of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan launched by Prime Minister Narendra Modi in 2014, can eradicate diseases like diahorrea and become a Swasth or healthy India. The campaign will continue to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and sanitation workers and menstrual hygiene.
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