Nightingale’s year of nursing: nation’s nurses at the frontline during the Covid-19 era

Kumari Amarasena

Registered Nurse

A perfectionist at work, Kumari Amarasena (36) arrives early at Infectious Disease Hospital (IDH) to check on her patients. Her day starts by talking to them, calming their irrational fears and giving them hope. She has over 10 years experience at the quarantine wards working with deadly communicable diseases. She says, “to be a nurse for me personally is to do work no one else will do, in a way no one can do. It is to be of service in spite of the circumstance we face.” Kumari works 12 or 24-hour shifts at the infectious disease wards. She describes her line of work saying, “It is a challenging environment but I don’t like to step back. I’ve always been the one to face challenges head-on.”

“It was an unforgettable experience”, she remarks, reflecting on the first Covid positive patient, a Chinese national she treated. “She had no relatives here, there was a language barrier and she had contracted the virus. I can understand how she must be feeling, a woman all by herself in a foreign land. That’s why I did all I could to make her comfortable, going to the lengths of getting google translate to communicate,” she reminisces with a smile. She has treated Covid positive patients of all ages. She says, “watching patients recover and get back on their feet with our care has been my favourite aspect. It truly defines what nursing is all about!”

Shortages of PPE was a global phenomenon, and Sri Lanka was not an exception to it. The staff in her ward made makeshift protective clothing covers by hand and made do with the limited resources they had. “We never used the lack of PPE as an excuse to avoid work. We took necessary precautions to evade contaminating surfaces and infecting others, to look after our patients. If we start worrying about ourselves, who will be there for them? So I took it in my stride,” she says.

Apart from the camaraderie amongst her colleagues who put up a brave front she also acknowledges the appreciation she received from her patients. She had received cards and flowers from them. “I am very sensitive. I get emotional when I see these acts of appreciation and I cherish these moments.”