Florence Nightingale Nurses Awards for Late Malayalee nurses
By ANANTHAKRISHNAN G.
May 12: Two young nurses who died while saving patients from the fire at AMRI Hospitals, Dhakuria, last December were conferred with the first posthumous National Florence Nightingale Nurses Awards by President Pratibha Patil today.
Vineetha P.K. and Remya Rajappan, who were born in Kerala but worked in Calcutta to support their poor families, were among 36 members of the profession honoured by Patil on International Nurses Day.
The tragic fate of Vineetha and Remya had stood out especially when allegations surfaced that some other employees had fled the premises and the hospital authorities had dragged their feet in calling for help, leaving several patients to choke to death. Around 90 patients were killed.
The two were the first nurses to receive the award posthumously, Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said at the Rashtrapati Bhavan ceremony.
“The Kerala government nominated the two nurses after consultations with the Bengal government,” Union health ministry nursing adviser T. Dileep Kumar said. Bengal health department officials The Telegraph spoke to could not remember any role played by the eastern state in the nomination.
Kerala health secretary Rajeev Sadanandan said he had personally taken the matter up with the Centre.
“I should also acknowledge the readiness of the Union (health) minister to acknowledge our request. Associations of nurses in the state had lobbied with us to include the names of the two nurses in the list of awardees,” Sadanandan said.
Bengal had nominated two other nurses, both from government hospitals, after the Centre sought nominations in December, the same month Remya and Vineetha died.
A senior Bengal health department official said: “We didn’t recommend their names. However, the Kerala government may have sent the recommendations as they had cremated them with state honour.”
AMRI Hospitals authorities had praised the efforts of the two nurses, both in their 20s.
“They saved eight patients. Both girls went up to bring out a ninth patient, who had suffered a fracture, but died of suffocation and the heat. The patient died in the ward,” medical superintendent Suman Ghosh had said. Ratan Tata too had lauded their “heroic action”.
“This is a recognition of the supreme sacrifice by the two nurses,” Bharati Chatterjee, the principal of the Ma Sarada College of Nursing in Calcutta, acknowledged today. “They have added even more prestige to our profession.”
Every single member of the central selection committee strongly supported the nominations, a Union health ministry source said.
“It is clear they were very special persons — to continue to remain in the hospital, helping evacuate patients despite the great danger to themselves,” said the source who requested not to be named.
“Saving even one life is invaluable, and they helped save at least eight patients. There is a lesson in their sacrifice at a time ordinary people are likely to turn away from even road accident victims.”
Vineetha’s father and Remya’s mother accepted the awards — a Rs 50,000 cash prize, certificate and a medal — from Patil. The award is given “in recognition of selfless hard work, commitment and extraordinary perseverance in the course of performance of duties”, Azad said.
Remya had joined AMRI in February 2011 from a Hyderabad hospital after being offered a higher salary, and Vineetha had arrived six months later.
“I feel proud of my daughter: she saved so many lives. Nothing can compensate for her loss but I have learnt to take things in my stride now,” said Remya’s mother Usha, who lost her husband, a casual labourer, five years ago.
Vineetha’s father Kunjumon Thomas, also a casual labourer, said: “I wanted her to study (instead of training to be a nurse) so that she didn’t have to struggle like me.”
His brother Vijayan explained that Vineetha took up the caregivers’ profession to support her family and take care of the health expenses of her chronically ailing mother.
Remya’s mother Usha recalled the traumatic early hours of December 9. “Remya called me about 4am and said there was fire and smoke all around. Five minutes later, she called again. She was crying and saying she was doubtful if she could escape. The call got disconnected and there was no response though her phone kept ringing when I called.”
Her younger son Rajesh, 25, who has quit his job in West Asia to return home and take care of his mother, now makes stickers to earn a living. He said he too spoke to his sister that night.
“I told her to break open a window and stand where she could get some air, but the call got disconnected.”
Investigators have filed a chargesheet in the AMRI case implicating 16 persons: nine owners, two doctor directors, the executive director and four managers. The charges are yet to be framed, and the 11 accused who were arrested have got bail.
Remya’s mother said she was pained by hospital managements’ attitude towards nurses in general.
“They are paid very little, not enough for a decent living. There is no one who has not been touched by their care at least once in their life,” Usha said.
She issued an appeal: “Please be more kind to them.” Courtesy The Telegraph India