Indian American nurses at the forefront of Corona fight

Naina group

By Ajay Ghosh

“On a rainy Sunday morning last weekend, we had just finished breakfast. I was happy that I had made Appam and egg curry for breakfast after many months. I sat on the couch and was checking the messages on my phone,” Mary (name changed for this report), who is a Registered Nurse (RN) at a large hospital in recalls. “I was shocked to learn that a male patient, 41, I had admitted and had taken care of for over a week had tested positive for Covid-19.”

This is not the first patient Mary had worked with, not knowing that he had hidden symptoms of Covid-19, since the pandemic broke out over two months ago. The fear of being exposed to the virus has been devastating for her and countless other doctors and nurses.  

Mary does not work on a unit assigned to work with Covid positive patients, but has been unknowingly caring for many such patients. Mini was called to work on the Corona Units, which have now come to be occupying entire five floors in addition to the ICU/EDs in her hospital because of an overwhelming flow of people diagnosed with the deadly virus.

The lack of adequate tests for coronavirus has led to the healthcare professionals being exposed to and being infected themselves and endangering the safety of their loved ones at home. “Seeing my colleagues falling victim to this virus has made going to work a nightmare for me,” Mini says.  “One of my colleagues has been in the ICU for over two weeks now, struggling for her life. Another colleague and her entire family have tests positive for the virus.” Mary herself had shown corona symptoms and has been self-quarantining, mostly isolating in her room after work and with minimum contact with her husband and their three daughters.

The experiences of nurses have been traumatic but they are coping. Of their role, says Sumana Gaddam, North Carolina chapter President of National Association of Indian Nurses in America (NAINA), “Nurses are the life and soul of the healthcare profession, providing comfort and care to patients every day. It’s a challenging job that requires hard work, dedication, and a very thick skin. Nurses are the ultimate healthcare monitors – vigilant observers and problem solvers, poised to take action whatever the challenge.”

During this pandemic, the role of nurses has become even more challenging. Ciji, an ER Nurse at a Connecticut hospital, says, “When I first heard about Covid-19, I never in my wildest dreams thought it would be this bad.” Challenges of working with the Covid patients is not limited to work alone. “Since the first day of caring for Covid patients, I had isolated myself at home. I am concerned about the safety of my family as I could bring this virus home any day with me. I have my kids, husband and more importantly my elderly parents who are vulnerable to this virus. I want to keep them safe.”

Describing the challenges at work, Ciji says, “The stress level at work is unprecedented. We work hard to keep people alive. It’s painful and traumatic to watch my patients die without being allowed to see their loved ones even at death bed. Working in ICU wearing N95 mask for 13 hours gives me terrible headaches. I get home and cry in the shower because I don’t want my family to see it.”

Shyla who works in the Medical ICU at a leading healthcare facility in Connecticut echoes Ciji’s sentiments, “In the past few weeks, my entire unit is filled with only COVID-19 patients now, and they are extremely sick, most of them on the Ventilator for weeks now. It is very depressing to work  when we don’t see the progress in several patients.”

Shyla adds, “It’s even more stressful when I return home from work. My kids, particularly, my 2 year old, is always waiting at the door, but I run away  to my room to avoid infecting my family.”  

Kavya, from Long Island who works in a Rehabilitation Unit at a local hospital, says, “Now we are treating only post-Covid patients on my Unit. Among all the patients and negative news about the losses, I was glad to discharge a 68-year-old patient last week. He had come to the hospital for kidney transplant, and had developed Covid and was faced with several complications.”

Several nurses have already sacrificed their lives while caring for Covid patients.  Aleyamma John, 65, an RN  at a Queens Hospital Center, fell to the disease on April 7.

“We honor Aleyamma’s record of service to the patients of New York, and her career spanning record of NAINA membership and participation,” said Agnes Therady, RN, and President of NAINA.

There are thousands of Registered Nurses of Indian origin in the New York area and around the nation who have been in the forefront providing professional nursing care to thousands and thousands of COVID-19 patients. 

Not many people are aware that nursing is a much broader career these days that plays a key role at all levels of health care. Today, we are more likely to find an RN teaching at a university, conducting research or occupying hospital administrative positions than even  a decade ago. At the same time, they preserve and practice the time-honored skills of listening, therapeutic conversation, and personal touch in caring for patients and families.

Sumana Gaddam rightly points out, “Nurses aspire to create a culture that ‘Everyone Matters”, a culture that puts people first and where true success is measured by the way we touch the lives of people in which all members can realize their professional and personal gifts and share those gifts with others.”

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Employment Projections 2016-2026, Registered Nursing (RN) is listed among the top occupations in terms of job growth. The RN workforce is expected to grow 15% from 2.9 million in 2016 to 3.4 million in 2026, creating need to hire 203,700 new RNs each year through 2026.

As U.S. health care facilities struggle to fill current RN staffing vacancies, a more critical nurse undersupply has been foreseen over the next few decades. In response, many institutions are doubling their efforts to attract and retain nurses, and many more Nursing Schools are opening up and the existing schools are expanding their programs.  In the interim, foreign nurses are increasingly being sought.

Nurses who migrate from India to the US undergo both socio-cultural and workplace adjustments. Workplace adjustments include communication issues, dealing with a new healthcare system and adapting to an expanded role of nurses. However, in a very short time, they adapt and master the skills and shine as the best among the nursing community.

Nurses from India and those of Indian origin have made an impact on the patients they care for.  In recent decades, the US has been looking to India to alleviate its shortage for nurses as Indian schools are churning out professionals matching American standards. “India is now being recognized as an area which offers bachelor-degree nurses and a good health care system with an abundance of nurses,” Mary Prascher, HRD manager at Texas- based Triad Hospitals told the Dallas Morning News. Sujana Chakravarty, secretary general of the Trained Nurses Association of India in New Delhi, says that “nurses are already outwitting software programmers by getting paid a lot better.”

Indian American Nurses like the physicians serving millions of patients in the US, have come to be known for their compassion, dedication and clinical skills, touching thousands of lives daily. Johns Hopkins University nursing ethics expert Cynda Rushton, interviewed on the hub.jhu.edu website, correctly said, “It’s a time of great stress and uncertainty, and nurses are rising to the challenge.” A few weeks ago, she helped create the Frontline Nurses Wikiwisdom Forum, a virtual safe space where nurses can share their challenges and experiences during COVID-19. Rushton summed up the role of today’s nurses thus: “Nurses are often the last thread of compassion for patients. They’re the ones doing the screenings, taking care of the critically ill, implementing triage protocols, communicating to families, and attending to the dying. Nurses in every role are impacted. They’re being asked to work in areas of the hospital that aren’t their normal specialty.”

While expressing deep sorrow for the loss of Asian American Nurses and several others who have been diagnosed with Covid, NAINA chief Agnes Therady says, “As we look to the future, I am confident that we can work together to improve our lives and that of others, innovate our practice, and rise to the top as authentic leaders and exceptional nurses. The success of NAINA is largely driven by the dedication and commitment of its members, their countless hours of selfless service and hard work.”

Paul, a Nursing Administrator from Long Island says, “Nervousness, anxiety and fear initially overwhelmed those who were called upon to respond to those fighting for life. As they provided care and comfort, many of them themselves became ill and recovered.  They became more resilient, proud and altruistic.”

Shyla says, “It was very stressful in the beginning, and now we have come around to accept the reality.” A devout believer in God and in her Faith, she adds, “When I help and do the services for these most vulnerable people during this pandemic, God will protect Me and My Family.”

Ajay-Ghosh

Ajay Ghosh is Chief Editor & Co-Publisher of The Universal News Network (UNN) and member of Director Board of Indo American Press Club.

New York nurses

Members and guests at Indian Nurses Association of New York’s Community Health Fair 2019.

 

Miami group

Indian Nurses Association of South Florida group photo.

Images courtesy of Parveen Chopra and thesatimes |

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