May 12, 2020

Chairman of Pallium India, Dr M R Rajagopal, writes:

It is great to be recognized. It feels good when someone acknowledges the value of your work. But is that enough?

The status of a nurse in India is by no means anywhere near what it is in the West. I suppose the same would hold true for many low- or middle-income countries.

The work is hard, the pay is low and yet the nurses go on. When there are discussions about corruption in government hospitals, one unanimous voice that usually pipes up is that nurses stand out as the most ethical and least corrupt force. When there are discussions about insensitivity of the medical system, someone usually points out how the nurses are different, how they are quick to wipe a tear or hold a hand. (Of course there would be exceptions; is there anything in the world for which there are no exceptions?)

And one memory that I hold dear to me is that of a nurse sitting by a lonely dying patient, holding his hand. I passed by an hour later. She was still there, holding that hand and ensuring that he did not die alone.

Yet, we as a society are not kind to nurses. When one is angry at the disease, fate or God, the anger erupts at whoever is easily accessible and vulnerable. The nurse. The vast majority of them are women and that makes them particularly vulnerable. When they go home, many would hear only complaints about how they are not available at home to look after the children, the elderly at home or the male chauvinist sipping a cup of tea and reading the newspaper.

Has anyone studied the incidence of depression among Indian nurses?

Or the incidence of attempted suicides?

Do we not have a responsibility to provide them with a support system? Opportunities for empowering themselves? Helplines?

Apologies, all nurses, on behalf of all of us non-nurses who have not been fair to you. We will try to do better. But in the meantime, please know that many of us value you, perhaps much more than you think.

Thank you for being there with compassion in your eyes. And happy nurses’ day.