- Dr Hazell Almeida couldn’t rent a flat in Mumbai for being a COVID warrior
- COVID warriors work for six hours straight even on their periods
- Healthcare workers also provide emotional support to COVID-19 patients
New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic unleashed an unprecedented humanitarian and health crisis. The war being fought by doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers; frontline workers including police officials and sanitation workers; scientists. From putting in extra working hours to save lives and contain the spread of Novel Coronavirus, getting infected with COVID-19, to staying away from their family and friends and finding family in their patients to even being ostracised by the society, healthcare workers have faced all in the past one year. This women’s day, we take you through the journey of three women COVID warriors who didn’t bat an eye and faced all the challenges head-on.
29-year-old Dr Hazell Almeida is a Senior Medical Officer in Wockhardt Hospital, Mira Road in Mumbai, has been on COVID-19 duty for over a year now. Dr Almeida said she has lost the count of the number of COVID-19 patients, she has treated so far.
Back in February and early March, 2020, when there were a handful of COVID-19 cases, I would travel from my home in Vasai to work by road, daily. But the fear of being a carrier of the virus and infecting my elderly-comorbid parents and other family members was always at the back of my mind. Therefore, I decided to rent a flat near the hospital. Surprisingly, every place I liked and decided to rent would become unavailable as soon as the owners would get to know that I am a doctor. Later, the hospital helped me with accommodation, recalled Dr Almeida.
Dr Almeida said that in the last one year, some of the biggest challenges she as a frontline warrior has faced are isolation, insomnia, anxiety, social ostracism and mental stress of preventing oneself from the disease while curing patients.
36-year-old Jessica D’souza, Chief Nursing Officer at Global Hospital, Mumbai has been on COVID-19 duty since March 18, 2020 along with her nursing team. Ms D’souza, who has experience of over 15 years in the nursing field, said that she has made peace with COVID-19 and mainly focusses on finding the work-life balance in trying times. Talking about how she and her team motivate and support patients, Ms D’souza said,
Once in a while, patients can talk to their families and we keep them posted about their family’s well-being. We interact with our patients positively and spread spiritual messages. We have even celebrated birthdays and anniversaries of the patients with care and precautions so that they don’t miss out on anything.
In September 2020, Ms D’souza and her family – in-laws, children and husband – tested positive for COVID-19. Doing daily chores and ensuring each other’s well-being became a challenge as everyone was infected but as Ms D’souza said, together they fought the disease, recovered and she even joined back duty.
Similarly, 42-year-old Suvarna NA, nursing incharge at BGS Gleneagles Global Hospital in Bengaluru was on COVID-19 duty from April to December, 2020. In a COVID ward, Ms Suvarna’s role was to provide medication to all the COVID infected patients and monitor their health. Talking about her work, Ms Suvarna said,
In the month of April and May, we used to handle six patients per day. However, June onwards, the number of admissions spiked drastically and we started attending up to 15 patients per day in our COVID ward alone. As per our hospital’s guidelines, we were assigned COVID duty for a week followed by 14 days of quarantine. When on COVID-19 duty, I would stay at the hospital allotted hostel; during quarantine, I would go back home.
Further talking about the change in her work life following COVID-19, Ms Suvarna shared that earlier she was posted in the transplant ward where her job was to provide medication and take care of patients before and after transplant. She added,
Although we used to spend seven to eight hours in the hospital, we would take breaks and interact with colleagues which was a stress buster. But, when on COVID-19 duty, we hardly interact with our colleagues; everyone is covered in personal protective equipment (PPE) which is quite stressful; seeing families lose their loved ones to COVID-19 was overwhelming.
On July 21, 2020, Ms Suvarna contracted COVID-19 and was admitted to the hospital for five days. Post a quick recovery, she worked in a non-COVID ward for a month and later resumed COVID duty. After having faced COVID-19 induced hardships, Ms Suvarna believes she is prepared to face any challenge that life plans to throw at her.
Pandemic, PPE And Periods
Talking about the challenges that come with wearing a PPE kit for hours, Dr Almeida said,
Wearing a PPE means dry mouth, full bladder, foggy vision, heat, suffocation, fatigue, headache, sometimes breathlessness, painful pressure sores and bruising especially across the bridge of the nose, cheekbone and behind the ears from the tight N95 masks. The pressure sores were the worst.
Dr Almeida and Ms Suvarna informed that they wear PPE for six hours straight and eat, drink and use the washroom before wearing PPE and after disposing it of. On the other hand, Ms D’souza said that in their hospital, they have a bio-break system where if nurses have an 8-hour shift, every 4 hours they have to go to the washroom. She added,
We always tell them to use a fresh PPE kit when they get back on duty. To ensure that the nurses have enough energy, we also provide them with a protein snack planned by the dietician in between every shift.
Periods, a regular monthly cycle sees no pandemic or lockdown. But, the pandemic and PPE made it difficult for women COVID warriors to ensure hygiene during their periods. Elaborating on the challenge of wearing a PPE for six hours during periods, Ms Suvarna said,
We used to wear extra-large sanitary pads for 6 hours straight. During the heavy bleeding days, we used to wear extra sanitary pads to avoid the leak.
Being A Family Away From Family, Providing Psychological Support To COVID-19 Patients
Some hospitals connect patients to their families back home with regular video calls and while patients stay disconnected from their families for the most part of their stay in the hospital, COVID warriors play the role of the support system.
We try filling the gap with activities like celebrating patients’ birthdays and other such events in the COVID area, said Dr Almeida.
Sharing a similar anecdote, Ms D’souza said,
There was a patient who stayed with us for nearly 50 days. He was one of the longest staying patients in our ICU who was on the ventilator and went back home with the oxygen cylinder. By the end, he knew the names of all the nurses and could identify all of us. Then there was an 85-year-old patient who used to forget basic things and often refuse to eat. We discussed his food preferences with his family, we arranged for newspapers for him to read and kill time. The family would also send storybooks for him to keep him occupied and divert his attention as he loves reading. His family, especially granddaughters working in other cities as doctors would call every morning and whenever they felt like that their grandfather was sounding low, they would inform me.
Healthcare workers provide such psychological and emotional support despite working under pressure and surrounded by fear, grief and loss. Ms Suvarna said,
The biggest challenge was to see a family grieving over the loss of their family member. We could see the fear in the eyes of patients; the fear of losing their life due to the dreaded infection.
COVID warriors battle stress by connecting with their family and friends, engaging in recreational activities and rejuvenate their body by practising meditation and yoga.
Novel Coronavirus Is Still Here And Transmissible, Say Frontline Warriors
As the governments have been repeatedly saying, though the daily increase in the COVID-19 cases has come down, the novel Coronavirus is still prevalent and can cause severe infection if we let our guards down. Ms D’souza informed that the COVID ward in her hospital has started to admit patients once again and currently, they have around 25-30 patients.
COVID warriors urged citizens to take all necessary precautions and follow COVID appropriate behaviour. Dr Almeida said,
We understand everyone is tired of staying indoors, but the pandemic isn’t over yet. We have to be equally conscious and cautious by maintaining social distance and wearing our masks. We should try and avoid gatherings as it is one of the major culprits for spreading the disease.
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.