‘We are living a nightmare’ – Indian nurses in Ireland fear for family at home

Two nursing home staff feel 'helpless' as they witness India's Covid crisis from afar

Binimole Santhosh,  director of nursing at Esker Lodge Nursing Home in Co Cavan.

Binimole Santhosh, director of nursing at Esker Lodge Nursing Home in Co Cavan.

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Every day when Binimole Santhosh opens WhatsApp on her phone, there is a new message of condolence in a chat group in relation to someone who has died from Covid-19 at home in India.

As director of nursing and “person in charge” at Esker Lodge Nursing Home in Co Cavan, she worked on the frontline of Ireland’s pandemic last year and now must watch from afar at the battle against the virus rages in India. She has not seen her 82-year-old mother in two years and is worried about her.

“It is beyond heartbreaking. I don’t know when or whether I will see my mum again,” said a tearful Santhosh, who has been working in Ireland for the past 17 years.

“I was planning to travel home in 2020 and then I thought 2021 was the time to go but look at where we are going. It is the worst time in India at the moment.”

Her mother reports back details of oxygen shortages in hospitals and queues at crematoriums, where people wait for the funerals of loved ones who died from the virus.

That feeling of helplessness is not something that can be explained in words

“Everyone here is worrying about parents and grandparents,” she said of the Indian community in Ireland who are monitoring their home country’s deadly second wave of Covid-19.

“If you are in a different country, your family are not with you and you are seeing the number of deaths. That feeling of helplessness is not something that can be explained in words.”

Shiny Paul, assistant director of nursing at Belmont House nursing home, Co Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw
Shiny Paul, assistant director of nursing at Belmont House nursing home, Co Dublin. Photograph: Nick Bradshaw

Shiny Paul, assistant director of nursing at Belmont House nursing home in Stillorgan, Co Dublin, said it was “quite frightening” what was happening in India.

“Recently I have heard about distant relatives affected with Covid and being hospitalised. Last week I heard that someone died, not a close family member but a distant relative,” she said. “It feels like it is coming closer.”

The two Indian nurses had to manage severe outbreaks at their nursing homes last year. As vaccinations have eliminated infections in care homes here, they now track with concern how daily cases in India reached a record 414,000 one day last week.

On Sunday, the country’s health minister reported 4,092 Covid-related deaths in the previous 24 hours, taking the official death toll to 242,000. New cases rose by 403,738, bringing total cases to 22.3 million.

Santhosh said last year’s outbreak at her nursing home in Cavan was “a very heartbreaking situation” and the continuous battle to keep the virus out meant they never had time to grieve.

The Irish stories are reassuring and give me hope that India is also going to come out of it

“From month to month, we would keep going. Now we are dealing with our own country and what is happening to our beloved ones. It is more than words can explain,” she said.

Paul has not been home to India for two years. She and her partner had their first baby last year after trying for 15 years and their families are eager to see their son but she cannot take him home because of the pandemic.

In India, there are arrangements in place to have groceries delivered to her elderly parents who are self-isolating to protect them from the virus.

“It is terrifying really. It is beyond something which we could imagine. We never could imagine that we would be at this stage in 2021. We are living a nightmare,” she said.

She draws hope from the Irish experience with vaccinations eliminating the virus in nursing homes. She believes that this too will eventually happen in India.

“The Irish stories are reassuring and give me hope that India is also going to come out of it,” she said.

“This too shall pass and then Covid will be of the past.”

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