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Nursing the world to health — Nightingale's spirit shines in coronavirus fight

Updated: May 12,2020 10:32 AM    Xinhua

— May 12 is International Nurses Day, an annual celebration of the crucial work of nurses around the world.

— In China's battle against the novel coronavirus, high-quality nursing service has made great contributions to reducing the death rate of the epidemic.

— Among the 42,600 medical workers dispatched to support virus-hit Hubei province, about 28,600 are nurses, accounting for almost 70 percent of the total.

NANJING — Whenever there is a public health scare, people often think of doctors. But the coronavirus pandemic has put the spotlight on an overlooked group in the healthcare sector — nurses.

May 12 is International Nurses Day, an annual celebration of the crucial work of nurses around the world. To Liu Hui, head nurse in the Department of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Center at Jiangsu Province Hospital, the novel coronavirus has left an indelible mark on her career.

Newly recruited nurses take an oath during a capping ceremony at Peking University People's Hospital in Beijing, capital of China, April 26, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

On May 10, after more than 70 days of work at a hospital in Wuhan — hit hard by the novel coronavirus outbreak — and a fortnight quarantine, Liu and six other colleagues — the last batch of intensive care specialists that stayed in Wuhan to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients from Jiangsu Province Hospital, were finally freed.

"I'm back, and you can rest easy," said the masked nurse to her mother. She gave the old lady a big hug and a kiss.

Her colleague, Chu Minjuan, held back her tears while hearing her husband repeating the same sentence. "It's good to have you back. It's good to have you back."

Devotion to duty

Liu and her team arrived in Wuhan on the night of Feb 13 and they immediately threw themselves into their work. The next day, all the 61 beds at the hospital's intensive care unit they took over were full.

"In the first week, I could only sleep a few hours a day," Liu said.

"COVID-19 patients have to be isolated from their family members, so the nurses take complete charge. They perform a range of roles and have to know how to use ventilators, monitors, hemodialysis machines, ECMO, and other pieces of life-saving equipment," Chu said.

Liu Hui, nurse-in-charge in the Department of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Center at Jiangsu Province Hospital, works at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, April 4, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

According to Qiu Haibo, deputy Party secretary of Zhongda Hospital Southeast University, many COVID-19 patients had symptoms called "silent hypoxemia" — their lips were not as purple as under hypoxia, and their heart and respiratory rates not as fast, but their condition can worsen in the twinkle of an eye.

"They, therefore, require more close observation from us on the subtle changes of their conditions and we must timely communicate with doctors," said Chu.

"We would work out a customized nursing plan for each patient after an early assessment. We tried our utmost to ease their pain and protect the physiological functions of severely-ill patients," Chu said.

"Doctors and nurses are comrades in arms. Doctors prescribe the strategy of therapeutic solutions while nurses carry out the therapy, check patients' condition, and communicate directly with the patients," she said.

The role of nurses is even more important for patients in ICUs.

"Patients with basic diseases or those who are bedridden, in particular, need extra attention for issues such as skin injuries and post-disease rehabilitation. We also offer psychological counseling to patients who have lost their loved ones, or suffer mental stress," Liu said.

In China's battle against the novel coronavirus, high-quality nursing service has made great contributions to reducing the death rate of the epidemic. According to the National Health Commission, among the 42,600 medical workers dispatched to support virus-hit Hubei province, about 28,600 are nurses, accounting for almost 70 percent of the total.

Change needed in female-dominated nursing

Nurses account for more than half of all the world's health workers, providing vital services throughout the health system. Historically, as well as today, nurses are at the forefront of fighting epidemics and pandemics that threaten health across the globe, according to the State of the World's Nursing Report 2020 released by the World Health Organization (WHO) in partnership with the International Council of Nurses and Nursing Now.

Male nurse Fan Leilei displays an "honor board" made by colleagues for him and another nurse, who have just come back from the frontline of the fight against the epidemic in Hubei province, at a hospital of Putuo district in East China's Shanghai, May 10, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

The report also highlighted that about 90 percent of all nurses around the world are female and calls for continued efforts in optimizing the female-dominated domain.

China, too, has worked hard to attract more men to join the nursing ranks.

Fan Leilei, a 23-year-old male nurse, just graduated from a nursing school in 2018. In less than two years, he has built up experience in critical care and was dispatched to the frontline in Hubei to join the fight against COVID-19.

Fan arrived in Hubei with the third batch of Shanghai medics on Jan. 28. "I was shocked at how deserted the airport was," he recalled. "It was then that I realized the epidemic was not just a topic on WeChat but was actually happening, and we had to take immediate action."

Fan and his colleagues worked in pairs on four-hour shifts. Their work was extremely detailed from feeding the patients, helping them turn over, to changing sheets and diapers for them.

"Both women and men have their advantages in nursing," said Fan. "In the face of a situation like this, we have our own merits in terms of physical strength, energy and operation of various medical devices."

The hospital Fan works at has set up a team consisting purely of male nurses. The team, named after Nightingale, who is known as the fundamental philosopher of modern nursing, is a move to help attract more males to join nursing in China.

The theme of this year's International Nurses Day is "A voice to lead — Nursing the world to health," illustrating how nurses can overcome a wide range of health issues.

And what makes this year's celebration extra special is that 2020 is also the 200th anniversary of Nightingale's birth.

Chu Minjuan, nurse-in-charge in the Department of Intensive Care Unit (ICU) Center at Jiangsu Province Hospital, displays a painting presented to her by a pupil, at Jinyintan Hospital in Wuhan, capital of Central China's Hubei province, April 10, 2020. [Photo/Xinhua]

Chinese nurses are playing an indispensable role in the fight against the virus outbreak. Among the 42,600 medical staff across the country sent to aid Hubei, almost 90 percent were born after 1980 and 40 percent were born after 1990.

"These young nurses showed their bravery and power of youth, and have set an example for all the young people," said Guo Yanhong, an official with the National Health Commission.

According to Guo, the total number of nurses in China reached 4.45 million by the end of 2019, 350,000 more than the previous year. Guo added that China will continue to strengthen the protection of nurses' rights and upgrade their professionalism through training and education.

Being a nurse has given Fan a great sense of accomplishment. "The life and death in the ICU made me better understand how sacred and glorious our job is," he said.

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