Anthony Swamy, SVD
One evening, I was going through the WhatsApp status of my friends where one picture caught my attention. I looked at the image closely. I couldn’t recognize the face.
The image was of a nurse with a face mask on. The text read: “I am proud of you and I salute you.” The image was trying to tell me a painful story.
Immediately, I called my friend to find out who the nurse was.
To my surprise, she was none other than a classmate on mine in 1996 at St. Mary’s High School in Martalli, Karnataka. It was a joyful moment when I contacted her. It was my second call since 1996.
Ms. Arockiamma is a nurse by profession. She worked as a staff nurse at Bharat Cancer and Research Institute of Oncology for three years, and taught at Kamakshi School of Nursing and Holdsworth College of Nursing for eight years. She also took up clinical psychology.
At present, she works as a community health officer at the National Health Mission in Mysore. As a health officer, she is in charge of two civil districts of Karnataka — Mysore and Hunsur.
Like any other worker, she also desired to go home for the holidays when the first lockdown was announced in India. But being a health officer, she couldn’t afford to be out of duty because of the increasing number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The pandemic created a lot of fear and anxiety, especially when Mysore was declared a “red zone” and a complete lockdown of the borders was declared.
“The fear was mounting day by day, but it did not succeed to keep me inside the house,” said Ms. Arockiamma.
One day, on her way home, she entered a church compound and went to the grotto to pray.
“I love Mother Mary. I always keep a rosary in my purse. Often, I used to touch the rosary during my duty hours. I always felt Mother Mary was with me to guide and protect me,” she said.
The few minutes spent at the grotto gave her new strength. The following day she got up and reported for duty without fear or worry.
She said she had the feeling that Mother Mary was protecting her.
“Mother Mary accompanied her son Jesus to Calvary, so I too accompanied the COVID-19 patients until they returned home after getting cured,” she said.
She was first posted at a checkpoint at the district's borders. From morning until evening, she encountered people who would try to escape from the disease.
There were times that she saw people in quarantine who would later be sent to hospitals.
Spending time with the patients could be a nightmare. One time, she had to stay in the hospital where 30 COVID-19 positive cases were admitted. She stayed there for 14 days.
“There was fear,” she said. “But there was also the sense of duty, the sense of serving humanity. It was more than the fear,” Ms Arockiamma added.
Every day, she heard the cry for help, especially in the slums.
Then the local administration came up with an innovative plan. They converted several buses into “Mobile COVID-19 Hospitals.”
Ms Arockiamma was on one of the “hospitals” that went to the slums and villages and treated those who had cough, cold, and fever.
There were times that the medical team was escorted by the police who would bring people suspected to be infected by the disease to the “mobile hospitals” for treatment.
“People could not come to the hospital but the hospital went to them,” said the nurse.
She said what makes her strong is the support of her family members. She said that although her children are still small, they understand her situation.
She entered the house through the back door when she came home after 14 days of quarantine.
“It was really a painful situation,” she said. She had to remain in her room and her children could not go near her. She just would talk to them from a distance.
Every time she would go to the hospital, she would pray and seek the blessings of the Lord to make her an instrument of healing for her patients.