My workplace, the college where I teach is situated in a rural setting in the outskirts of Kolkata. I had the privilege of staying home and taking online classes from the comfort of my home in Delhi where I lived with my spouse throughout the lockdown. I was required to travel to Kolkata in order to deliver my offline college duties towards the end of October. On the very day I fell terribly sick while I was alone, my family members and a few friends managed to reach me on time. I was asked for a COVID-19 test which turned out to be positive and I had to be hospitalized within the next two days due to a low oxygen saturation probe which went down to 63. My personal experience with Covid has been quite a tough one for me as well as my near and dear ones while at the same time I am immensely grateful that I have had many people to take care of me and support me in my isolation without considering my position as one identified with stigma. With an extremely supportive partner and a caregiving big Indian joint family I could get rid of this infection and am sailing through the post-COVID recovery phase now. Covid disrupts the system of those that it attacks in many cases and it has likewise disrupted all other levels of the state and society.
Apart from my family, I have had the privilege of being guided by a doctor friend who has been on covid duties since March in a government healthcare facility in Delhi available on call and through messages. There have been some tirelessly working healthcare professionals, physicians, nursing staff and the associated workers who have been instrumental in curing me of the viral pneumonia and other immediate ailments that struck me due to covid during my stay in the private healthcare care in Kolkata. I was kept in a Covid ward for a week and have confronted the lowest of low mentally as well in my personal front due to the disease. In times when I would feel better, my areas of interests and research which is largely confined to care, caregiving and healthcare made me inquisitive and I would talk to the nurses and housekeeping staff stationed on duty in the ward. While they would be covered from head to toe in their PPEs I would be amazed at their level of patience working tirelessly throughout the day. The nurses I gathered were mainly those who were pursuing GNM (General Nursing and Midwifery) and had been hired by the private healthcare facility as interns. All these GNM interns were barely 21-22 years old. My covid ward as far as I could perceive had around 14 to 15 beds and each of these nurses were to be on an 8 hour duty. At times there would be two nurses and during night mostly one of them in these wards catering to 14-15 patients. Most of us the patients needed to be provided with different kinds of drips, medication every 2-3 hours. Both the nurses and the housekeeping staff were overworked. I once asked one of the housekeeping boys if they were given paid leaves, and were allowed to take a free RT-PCR in case they needed to. I was informed by him that there was a shortage of staff and leaves could not be availed then and if anyone of them required to take a RT-PCR covid test they would have to pay half the amount and the other half would be borne by the hospital while the total amount of the test set by the hospital, I was told is five thousand. The private healthcare facility that I had been admitted to and other such facilities across the state and the nation is charging exorbitantly and the fee break up I noticed after my discharge does not show the amount relegated to these workers.
As I have argued earlier in a piece published by The Citizen and I would like to reiterate that physicians and healthcare professionals should not be treated as warriors but as saviours who need to be provided their due in this pandemic more than ever before. These are workers who not only do save lives, deliver relentlessly but also are risking their own lives. The role of these caregivers, the nursing staff, the ASHA workers must not be viewed in tandem with other service providers in regular times, the crisis is real and their duties and service to humanity merits recognition, respect and adequate compensation. It is about time that a standard mechanism is put in place for the nursing staff and healthcare workers in a private set up that is in consonance with the service they are providing not only by means of serving patients in covid wards but at the cost of themselves at the same time.
(Representational image used)
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DISCLAIMER: The views expressed in this article should not be considered as a substitute for physician’s advice. Please consult your treating physician for more details.