International Nurses Day 2021: Frontline heroes tell of their own COVID-19 battles

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Amidst the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, nurses across the region have emerged as the heroes of the unprecedented crisis, and have spoken of their frontline fight against the biggest challenge they have faced in their careers.

Every year, International Nurses Day, which commemorates the birthday of Florence Nightingale, the first ‘professional nurse’ is observed on May 12. The theme this year is: “Nurses: A Voice to Lead – A vision for future healthcare”.

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Nurses remain at the forefront in fight against epidemics and pandemics and in the UAE, frontline heroes have spoken of their personal battles as they worked to save the lives of others.

Harsha Pushpan, an Indian nurse at Bareen International Hospital, in Abu Dhabi’s MBZ City, herself tested positive with COVID-19 in February, 20201.

She was heavily pregnant at the time.

“I was experiencing high levels of stress as I was eight months pregnant,” she told Al Arabiya English. “I was suffering from fever, body ache and shortness of breath.”

“I was really struggling for oxygen. COVID-19 affected my professional and personal life. I was admitted to a government medical facility with high flow oxygen.”

“I could not walk or eat and did not see my loved ones for a long time.”

Pushpan said she was worried about both her unborn child and her two-year-old daughter.

“I had never felt so emotionally broken before. However, what kept me going was thinking about my daughter’s face, which gave me more courage to live.”

“I was also eagerly waiting to see my unborn baby too. Within a month I received a negative report, after which I was physically ill, and it took me about two months to stabilize. Going through this rough phase made me learn the negative effects of this virus on our society.”

Her personal fight against COVID-19 made her even more determined to help others suffering with the virus.

“I was even more motivated to come back and fulfill my job as a nurse and take care of our patients at Bareen International Hospital who were COVID-19 positive. I was determined to give whatever it takes to ensure that our patients fight this virus with a smile on their face.”

A handout picture taken by the Government of Dubai Media Office on December 23, 2020, shows a health worker administering a dose of the coronavirus vaccine to a nurse at a medical center in the Dubai Emirate. (File photo: AFP)
A handout picture taken by the Government of Dubai Media Office on December 23, 2020, shows a health worker administering a dose of the coronavirus vaccine to a nurse at a medical center in the Dubai Emirate. (File photo: AFP)

Resmi S Nair, another registered nurse at the hospital, also tested positive with COVID-19 while performing her duties. She was told she had the virus in January, 2021.

“I was on duty that day. I had severe body ache, headaches, and fever,” she told Al Arabiya English. “I went to our urgent care doctor."

“A day later, the PCR test result confirmed I was COVID-19 positive. I was forced to stay away from my family, particularly away from my two-year-old daughter. It was very hard for me. It gave me so much mental pressure.”

Nair said she feared her family members would also test positive for the virus.

“It was a very stressful situation for me as we were all uncertain about what would happen next. I was also overly concerned about post-COVID-19 syndrome.”

“I was having trouble sleeping, followed by severe mood swings, difficulty in concentrating, loss of smell and taste, lack of appetite, severe body pain and stomach problems. I felt very miserable, both physically and mentally.”

However, Nair said she was determined “not to quit.”

“I decided to improve my physical and mental health. I began exercising moderately at home while ensuring I get plenty of rest too. I also trained myself to develop a positive mindset.”

“I consumed healthy food and drank a lot of water. I was able to recover within 26 days. Surviving this road full of hurdles would not have been possible if I did not have the support of my workplace and my family with me.”

“I got back to my professional life stronger than before, mentally, and physically, and was ready to do my duty. I hope that one day soon, my kids look back in time and feel proud of their mother as a nurse on the frontlines of COVID-19."

Elsewhere across the region, a nursing chapter in Lebanon warned that the frontline heroes who helped the Middle Eastern nation battle the COVID-19 crisis are being forced to seek employment out of the country as they suffer low wages and minimum benefits.

The President of the Order of Nurses in Lebanon, Dr Myrna Abdallah Doumit, said as International Nurses Day is marked across the globe, safeguarding nurses has never been more critical.

“This past year, specifically from May 2020 to May 2021, many events have unfolded, and the nurses proved to be the cornerstone in the battle against COVID-19 being the frontline workers defending the people and the community,” she said.

However, Dr Abdallah voiced her concerns about the future of the nursing profession and the economical and social status of nurses as a result of the “drastic decrease in salaries and benefits that does not correspond to their efforts” in Lebanon.

“This reality has pushed experienced nurses to leave the country in search of better work opportunities, putting at risk the patients, the families and the community,” she said.

The president emphasized that “rights are not given, they are taken”; calling on all nurses to fight together to gain long-term rights for the profession.

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