‘Angels In Apron’: Guiding Light In Kashmir’s Gloom

‘Together,’ they say, ‘we can.’ KO Photos

They may be performing their duties, but the role of nurses in the second viral wave is being hailed as “exemplary” given how these ‘healthcare backbones’ are going extra mile to save breaths in Kashmir.

BEFORE trying some sleep at night, Sheeraza Akhtar, 24, takes an anxiety-allying pill called Petril.

The mind-altering medicine became a new normal for this jovial nurse when her workplace, a hospital ward, became a “madhouse”, stormed by swarms for an emergency oxygen treatment.

As the crisis-manager of a hospital ward, she had never seen Kashmir as breathless as the unseen bug made it in its second coming.

“I’m suffering from hysteria,” Sheeraza says in a PPE-gear heaved voice. “I feel suffocated to attend this crisis and often lose peace of mind due to frequent deaths in my ward. I crave to see my family but can’t while doing this grueling duty.”

Working as junior staff nurse at government tertiary care hospital, SMHS, Sheeraza is witnessing an “unspeakable” crisis in the ward.

She may be leading from the front and hailed as “the guiding light in the gloom” for the lockdown-plagued society, but Sheeraza says, it’s a daily razor-walk for her tribe.

“The doctors at the hospital told me lately that I’m mentally disturbed and need psychiatrist help,” she says.

“Whatever I witness in my ward, be it the death of young people, or the terrible conditions of Covid patients, ends up haunting my sleep.

I get up in the middle of the night— panting and with sweat beads on my forehead. This is not normal. None of us had signed for this!”

Gearing up for the job.

But this challenging task and perils involved in it hardly discourage these frontliners from performing their task.

Honouring their role, this year’s International Nurse Day, observed on May 12, was celebrated with the telling theme: “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A vision for future healthcare”.

Mindful of this medical wall’s importance in the current health crisis, Delhi on May 3 surged their ranks by recruiting the final-year nursing students for the Covid combat.

But those holding the fort during the “unprecedented situation” are decrying disparity and apathy.

Most of the nurses working in different hospitals in Kashmir capital have been reportedly engaged on academic arrangement basis —many of them working for decades.

“Not that we’re complaining about it when we’re supposed to take care of our people, but working hard in these unprecedented times should be duly respected,” says Sheikh Gowhera, another nurse catering a ‘warlike situation’ in Kashmir today.

“At the back of our distressed minds, job insecurity keeps haunting us. We remain at the forefront of this crisis and yet there’s no basic facility like bus service for the nurses. It becomes very difficult to travel in the lockdown.”

During those moments of respite.

Most of these nurses, including males, work four days a week, and then go for isolation. They hardy visit home due to the fear of infecting their family members.

“Last year, I infected my mother with my home visits,” Gowhera says. “My mother gasped for breath for over 15 days in hospital. Those were the worst days of my life.”

But despite these personal pains and perils, they stand strong to tackle another pandemic phase in the valley.

“Sometimes patients get stable and within no time their conditions get worse and they die in front of your eyes,” Gowhera continues to detail her daily duty.

“As a healthcare specialist, you get frustrated when you can’t save lives!”

And what’s equally adding to this mental breakdown situation is the packed wards of Kashmir hospital today where attendants are getting desperate for beds for their breathless patients.

“Entire 52 beds in my ward are occupied,” Gowhera says. “The attendees wait for the death of any patient so that they can occupy that bed.”

At the end of this stressful shift, these nurses end up losing their sleep.

Standing like a wall.

Like others, Insha keeps thinking about her patients and often spends sleepless nights.

Engaged on an academic arrangement, Insha says, her job is more difficult than other nurses.

“I work in the Cardiology Section of SMHS, which is being treated as non-Covid ward but we get the patients with heart-related diseases and you can’t ask them to do Covid test first, because your first priority is to stabilise them,” Insha says.

“It’s difficult to wear PPE kits in the ward because you can’t fret critical patients by making them assume that they’ve landed in a Covid ward.”

However, people are duly recognizing these valiant nursing efforts in the current crisis situation.

“After seeing patients, doctors just prescribe medicines, but nurses execute the rest of the process and take care of them until they get stabilised completely,” says Mushtaq Misgar, an attendant of a Covid patient in SMHS hospital.

“Even if a patient needs immediate attention or just a few encouraging words, nurses are there for them round-the-clock. They’re saving breaths with their efforts in the hospitals today. For me, they’re angels in apron and the backbone of the hospitals who remain at the service of the society at this crucial juncture.”

Flash from Frontline.

Back in her ward, Sheeraza is feeling another anxiety attack with the demise of another patient. She takes Petril to stabilize her condition and carry on with her job.

“When you nurse patients, you naturally tend to develop bonds with them,” the numb nurse says.

“And when some of them can’t make it, they feel a personal loss to you and shake you beyond words.”

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Auqib Javeed

Auqib Javeed is special correspondent with Kashmir Observer and tweets @AuqibJaveed

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