Nurse thyself

Nurse thyself

Not being there for their children during Covid-duty has taken a toll on the psychological health and mental well-being of nurses, writes Joice Inbarani

Motherhood sparks joy in a woman’s heart as nothing else can. For a woman, her baby completes her emotionally and it is, without a doubt, her most valued possession. If you are a mother, you may agree that keeping your baby out of sight for even a fraction of a second feels like a task, let alone for hours and days. Today, I submit to you my experience of working with some incredible, selfless mothers who put their duties as nurses and frontline warriors before their desire of being with their children and families.

The year 2020 brought the world down to its knees with a rapidly spreading pandemic virus. It wreaked havoc and claimed millions of lives in a few months. Everybody was confined to the limits of their homes to shield them from contracting the virus. But doctors, nurses and other healthcare workers bid adieu to their comfort and marched into the environment that exposed them to the virus, just so they could find a cure and look after those affected. A large fraction of this selfless group included mothers of young children who not only put their families second to their call of duty but also put their own lives in line. It wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that the year was extremely difficult for nurses with young children. Not being there for their babies and the perpetual fear of their health while putting their own lives at risk, took a toll on their psychological health and mental well-being.

The oath of taking care of their patients, the responsibilities to look after their children and the fear of infecting them was extremely overwhelming and truly a lot for our staff members to handle. In addition, witnessing so many patients losing their lives and them being unable to help these patients in pain added to their trauma. Many staff members lost their parents and loved ones to the pandemic which made it almost impossible for them to work in the Covid-19 and ICU wards, as it reminded them of their deceased loved one. It was simply overwhelming to see my team lose hope and work with such mental stress in a completely different and challenging environment.

We came up with certain plans of action to boost staff morale and ensure their physical and mental well-being. We asked lactating women to take as much leave as possible as posting them in the Covid-19 wards would have been a massive threat to the health of their babies. Most lactating and pregnant nurses still wished to work, so we posted them in other safer wards. We assigned nurses with young children 6-hour duty instead of 8 hours and gave them seven days of quarantine off for every 7 days of working. Their shifts were managed based on their family needs so they did not have to face any issues or resistance.

For those who missed their families and could not visit, arrangements were made to accommodate their families in the nearby hotel for them to spend some quality time together. To deal with the fear, anxiety and symptoms of depression in some, regular counselling sessions were hosted. 

Spending hours in the PPE kit was one of the toughest challenges that we had to overcome. It was difficult to breathe, frequent toilet breaks were impossible, many felt dizzy and nauseated in the suits. Therefore, we came up with a creative solution. After spending a certain period in the suit, if the nurses needed a break, a reliever was sent to cover their shifts. It’s such a strong set of dedicated women and mothers who make a nation great.

(The writer is the Chief Nursing Officer of a Bengaluru-based hospital.)

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