If Nepal’s Covid-19 recovery rate is more than 75%, much credit must go to the hundreds of nurses who are putting in gruelling work to keep the system running.
As she steps into home isolation in Baglung, Neetu Khadka whispers a silent prayer. It is early morning and she is seconds away from starting her day counselling Covid positive patients. Covered head to toe in protective wear, the 28-year-old nurse sets about attending to the 10-12 patients battling the Coronavirus. And for this, she doesn’t charge a rupee.
Neetu completed her nursing in 2015 from Hope International College in Satdobato. She begins with a basic health check of the patients, stands by their bedside, wielding the power of words. “I believe that instilling confidence helps them. Through their isolation period, they are going to see us as their family. I tell my patients not to be afraid, and that they need to be mentally strong to conquer the illness. This too shall pass,” she says.
As the day progresses, the PPE she wears gets stifling. Her neck and back hurt, but Neetu continues her visits to patients door to door and monitors them on nutrition, oxygen level, medication and psychological support as well. Whether it is six-hours a day or 12-hours, work does not stop. “I do these visits for Covid patients in Baglung and also consult many from across the country over the phone. I have made my number public and anyone in need of consultation can call,” she says. Neetu receives around 10-15 calls a day.
Baglung, like almost all of Nepal, has been battling Covid 19 since March, and nurses like Neetu have become the invisible faces behind the increasing recoveries the district has seen. At the forefront of the Covid 19 response team, many of them stay away from homes and families, but remain indomitable in these extraordinarily challenging times.
What brings Neetu most joy and relief these days is the journey of a Covid positive patient from an isolation centre to back home with their dear ones. Neetu states that the number of cases in Baglung is very high. “Almost every other household has a Covid patient. Many of them fear to even go to the nearby hospitals,” she claims.
Luckily, Neetu hasn’t tested positive since the last week of April when she started visiting people in her neighbourhood with Covid symptoms. “Every day I wake up with more energy to meet and heal people,” she shares. There are days when I even meet 60-70 patients in a day, checking temperatures and monitoring vital parameters, most importantly oxygen saturation levels. The task is nothing new for Neetu, but the circumstances are.
In the midst of a pandemic, many healthcare providers, especially nurses like Neetu, have pushed their personal lives to the back seat. Living under the same roof, many times she fears to meet her parents. “I can’t put them at risk,” she says.
Neetu knows that her own personal safety is equally important. But often her instincts as healthcare provider come first. “One day, the family of a person who had tested positive called. The family was desperately looking for a bed in the hospital. Without thinking, a colleague and I reached them and helped carry the patient to Emergency. At such times, we tend to forget about ourselves and put the patient first,” she shares.
Currently, there are seven people in her team comprising doctors, nurses and volunteers. “We get to see all categories of patients. Some may have tested positive, while some have called for psychological and nutritional consultation. If there is one thing that is common to most of them, it is fear and stress,” she says.
“When we wear the uniform, we walk with our heads held high. More than us, our family and society see us as warriors in the fight against Covid 19,” she says. For Neetu, empathy is the “special quality of nurses.”
After her long and exhausting day, when she reaches home “I have to bathe and sanitise all my belongings. I need to take care to keep my family safe too,” she says. Being on the field has another aspect too. “When all this started, people used to fear that we may be the source of infection as we visited houses of patients. But now things are looking up as awareness improves,” says Neetu.
The weariness may be hidden behind their masks, but work for nurses is ceaseless: be it in hospitals or care centres or on the field. As Neetu says, “This is more than just a job. It’s a way of life for us.”