While the resident doctors in many places have launched an ‘I Am Overworked’ campaign and most other hospitals are allowing them to take their leaves and hours off, the nurses aren't being awarded with any such privileges, possibly an unfortunate but serious outcome of the hierarchy in the medical profession. Most nurses feel that they are not given the importance they deserve, even in the current pandemic situation. They are forced to work for extended hours, attend every single patient in their section and sometimes be on an insane shift of 11-15 hours of work.
Lisa Joseph, a nurse from a government hospital in Kerala said, “Following the call of duty isn’t easy as my routine has taken a 360-degree turn. My originally six-hour shift has been turned into 12 hours, from morning 8 to night 8.
I get no rest whatsoever; often me and my colleague nurses go without comfortable access to food, water and break-rooms because doing any of it in the PPE is utterly impossible. One of every five patients is likely to behave rudely with us, nurses. It is more like people look down upon us, ironically, for cleaning them up and ensuring their own hygiene. They hold us below the doctors. But what becomes difficult is when the resident doctors are not supportive--if we say a ‘no’ to something, we are considered boorish and impolite.”
In many parts of the country and the world, nurses have reported feeling coerced into working “voluntary” overtime.
Lisa agrees and said, “Yes, we do not have a clear distinction between voluntary and mandatory here. When it is about the doctors, they have the upper hand when they say - we are voluntarily doing a service. And even when they are serving “voluntarily” they get their day-offs, extra pay for overtime or at least the full payment for their monthly services. For us nurses, we have to fight for our rights.”
And what complicates the misery of these warriors of ours is when they are ostracized and disowned by the outside world as well. In Mumbai 82 nurses working with Bhatia Hospital were not allowed to enter their respective societies for the fear of contamination they bring with them. The hospital eventually made space for them to stay in the premises itself. But Lisa puts up a valid question, “Would someone stop a senior doctor from entering his/her apartment or house. He would be looked upon as a hero, and we are looked upon as carriers of the virus. Also, if 82 doctors complained together about society misbehaving, wouldn’t the government have taken notice of it; I think it has something to do with the mindset of the people and the lesser respect they have for us nurses vis-a-vis the doctors.”
As per the protocols, healthcare professionals are allowed to be in the wards in their PPE for 4-6 hours only since beyond that the PPE kits can create health hazards. “But initially, all the nurses in my hospital were forced, rather taken for granted, to work all our shift hours in the wards. After a long struggle, our requests for avoiding the longer exposure to virus-infected patients were accepted. We never even hoped to get extra payment for the overtime, but, we nurses, even had to fight for our full payment without any deductions and this is still under consideration.
It is a difficult battle for us nurses; we struggle, risk our lives, face the patients’ tantrums and still, our services are stuck between the basic of ‘mandatory - voluntary’ tasks.”