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This question from her 10-year-old son left Vaishali Ghule gutted: “What is the need to stay there, aai (mother)?” Ghule, who was set to join work as a staff nurse at Nashik Civil Hospital on April 26, had just informed her family, her 75-year-old mother-in-law, her husband, Madhukar, and her sons, Tanishk (10) and Yash (15), that she would have to stay in the hospital for a fortnight. The hospital management had decided to ask several nurses to put in extra hours as the number of patients admitted had swelled from 10 to 300 in a week. She exp­lained to her family that with the coronavirus spreading, health workers had to do everything they could. She assured them that she would take good care of herself, and would call them whenever she could. “My house is 8 km from the hospital,” she says. “I realised for the first time that this is a long distance.”

Like her colleagues, Ghule had a day’s training on the use of personal protection equipment kits and maintaining hygiene. Her test began when she entered the dedicated COVID-19 ward. “The patients who had tested positive were scared and clueless about how they had contracted the disease,” she says. Ghule was handling 30 patients at a time. She says she was shaken when she found a patient slipping into depression. “That was the toughest moment,” she says. “I insisted he think positively about getting cured as early as possible. I realised at that time I could be a counsellor too.” Her best moment was when cured patients said goodbye with folded hands and tears in their eyes.

Ghule worked in the COVID-19 ward for a week. She was later kept in mandatory quarantine for a week, till May 10. “I give thanks to my superiors and colleagues. They are very careful.”

Back at home, Madhukar, a small-time businessman, took care of the children as his elderly mother is unable to move around. “He has always been a caring husband,” Ghule proudly proclaims. “He knows how to cook. The only problem is that he can’t make chapatis.” Her mother, who stays nearby, came in to help in this situation. “Aai makes chapatis for my family and delivers them every day.”

Madhukar had taken care of the children a couple of years ago too when Ghule was doing her postgraduation at Mumbai’s J.J. Hospital. The only difference is she used to come to home every weekend. “I haven’t seen my children for a fortnight. I talk to them through WhatsApp video calls. They are not dependent on me for their daily routine but they really miss me,” she says, her voice choking.

For Ghule, this was an experience she will remember for the rest of her life. “I have never faced such a situation in my 20-year career. This fortnight has made me stronger and more responsible,” she says. She will get two days off when she gets home to her family. When she resumes work, she will be sent back to her original department, taking care of newborn babies, after another test to confirm she is COVID-19-negative.

An ardent believer in God, Ghule says she draws strength from bhakti. She says she hopes the COVID-19 pandemic will change the people’s outlook towards government hospitals. “Now, people must have realised that they can’t buy a caring attitude.”

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