In the beginning of March 2020, all of us who worked at Jaslok Hospital in Mumbai were told to get ready for a potential large-scale medical emergency. Not much more was revealed, and then within a matter of days, the first wave of Covid-19 struck.
I immediately volunteered to work in the Covid ward. In the initial two months, I worked shifts that were longer than 10 hours at a stretch. Half the staff was not coming in to work. Many refused Covid duty fearing this novel virus and its unpredictable, contagious nature.
At home, my husband, my young sons (aged 18 and 22) and my 80-year-old mother-in-law were very worried. They asked me to consider taking time off until it subsided, but I told them I had to go. It was my duty.
I am Sujata Kavle and I am 50 years old. I am a nurse, working on the frontlines of the Coronavirus pandemic in Maharashtra. I have wanted to be a nurse ever since I was a child. I attended a municipal school and no one in my family has any background in medicine, yet I was interested.
After completing a three-year diploma in nursing at the Mahatma Gandhi Memorial Hospital, Parel in Mumbai in 1997, I joined Jaslok Hospital immediately. I began in the pediatric ward and after seven years there, I moved to the cath lab [catheterisation laboratory] and worked there for 17 years before moving [last year] to the Covid section.
My employers have been very responsible [with regard to our care]. They provided enough PPEs and made arrangements for staff to stay in rooms at the hospital in case they couldn’t return home. Trains were not running when the first lockdown began in March 2020. The hospital organized buses, but they got crowded quickly. And so, for a whole year, my husband, who works as a meter reader for an electrical company, drove me from our home in Santa Cruz to the hospital and back every day. I am grateful for this.
Doctors come and go, but we nurses stay with our patients, even taking on the role of a family member to them. Alongside medical duties, we give them company, help them stay in touch with their family members (on video calls) and try to keep their morale up. We reassure both them and their loved ones, saying “Don’t worry, we are here.”
During Covid duty, I have been surrounded by constant suffering and death – it hasn’t been easy. I contracted Covid in March 2021, but I was fortunate to recover.
Our job got even tougher during the second wave, with hundreds of patients coming in almost every day. Vaccines are now available [in our hospital] and people should get vaccinated when their turn comes so that we can all go back to our normal lives someday.
The government made promises regarding insurance and financial compensation but hardly any of them were fulfilled. [According to newspaper reports, under the Pradhan Mantri Garib Kalyan Package (PMGKP) Insurance Scheme launched on March 30, 2020, an insurance cover of 50 lakh rupees was to be provided to the families of healthcare workers who died due to Covid as compensation from the central government. As of July 1, 2021, Maharashtra had sent only 210 applications till date, and of those, only 58 families, i.e. 28 per cent had received the insurance amount.]
I love my job, but I feel that in India, nurses don’t get much importance, respect or remuneration, which has led to a shortage of nurses, as exposed by this pandemic. I believe that seva is important, and we are always happy to serve, but nurses must receive adequate support to be able to continue to do their jobs.
Janina Shivdasani is a Class 12 student at Cathedral and John Connon School, Mumbai. She wanted to find out more about healthcare workers. She says, “The pandemic has been tough on all of us, especially on the medical sector. I wanted to highlight Nurse Sujata’s story which I felt was typical of the tremendous challenges faced by the nursing community during Covid-19. In India, the ratio of nurses to population is 1:670 whereas the WHO norm is 1:300. It was my first experience with the whole process of interviewing, going through several rounds of follow-up questions and edits to arrive at this piece.”
Bhavani Nadgonde is a fourth year student at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru.