Undeterred by adversity, these nurses showed exemplary resilience and helped their community ride through challenges brought on by the pandemic.
Battling challenges on both personal and professional fronts
For Pulgan Shenna Grace Acosta, Staff Nurse, Sengkang Community Hospital (SKCH), 2020 marked her second year as a nurse. Fresh from being recognised with the Best Newcomer Award for Enrolled Nurses at the SingHealth Nursing Awards 2019, Shenna was looking forward to starting a fulfilling new year.
Things took an unexpected turn when the COVID-19 pandemic hit our shores. From April to June 2020, SKCH converted wards into isolation facilities for COVID-19 patients. Shenna was one of the first to volunteer to care for these patients, who were mostly migrant workers.
Although the 30-year-old was a little apprehensive when the first COVID-19 patients arrived at SKCH, her heart soon went out to them as she realised many of the migrant workers did not fully understand the severity of the situation or why they had to be isolated.
At work, Shenna channeled her energy to lift her patients’ spirits by befriending them and teaching them recovery exercises. But unbeknownst to the patients she helped, Shenna was struggling with the emotional turmoil of losing her mother to illness. Her distress was compounded by the travel restrictions, which made it difficult for her, an only child, to be by her mother’s side in their hometown in the Philippines.
Life dealt another blow six months after her mother’s death when Shenna’s father passed away from terminal lung cancer. This time, though, she was able to return home to take care of him briefly before he passed away.
Through these dark times, she credits her colleagues, who gave her space and time to grieve, and helped alleviate her pain by organising activities, such as dancing and drawing competitions, to engage staff during the pandemic.
Shenna found strength and inspiration in her late mother, who was dedicated to her work as head nurse at a hospital in the Philippines even though she was on dialysis and blind in her right eye.
Today, Shenna continues to honour the memory of her parents through caring for elderly patients at SKCH’s rehabilitation ward as though they were her own parents.
Drawing lessons from past epidemics
Having been through two infectious disease outbreaks of SARS and H1N1, Song Lee Gek, Nurse Clinician, KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), leveraged her experience in infection prevention to help her team navigate the current COVID-19 pandemic.
When the SARS outbreak hit in 2003, Lee Gek was posted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital, along with four other colleagues from a multidisciplinary team, to set up and manage a ward for pregnant women, newborns and children suspected of having SARS. When she returned to KKH, she helped create a dedicated isolation area and build a nursing team to care for pregnant women infected with SARS at the Delivery Suite.
“I remember vividly caring for a pregnant nurse who was suspected of having SARS. I donned full personal protective equipment (PPE) and powered air-purifying respirator (PAPR) to assist with the delivery of her baby. It was gratifying when both mother and baby were discharged safely,” said Lee Gek.
Since then, she has helped set up similar isolation facilities during the H1N1 outbreak, and again during this COVID-19 pandemic, when she championed for an isolation ward to be set up at KKH for pregnant women who had to serve Stay-Home Notice or had developed flu-like symptoms.
“My team and I worked in the isolation unit as nurse midwives, and we were confident in nursing this group of pregnant women to provide optimal care for them,” she said.
Lee Gek’s trust in infection prevention protocols enabled her to persevere in her role of caring for expectant mothers who were infected or suspected to be infected with COVID-19.
Among her team of nurses, she built confidence by emphasising the importance of handwashing, and following proper steps for donning and doffing of PPE. “It is through proper infection prevention measures that they can protect themselves and keep the virus at bay,” she said.
The 54-year-old also nurtured a culture of well-being in her team by creating a secure group chat to update her nurses on the latest protocols while giving them a platform to share their problems and fears. Knowing that help or much needed words of encouragement was just a text message away was particularly critical for the mental well-being of nurses who worked long hours in the isolation area.
Viewing new challenges as learning opportunities, Lee Gek is one who sees the glass as half full, and constantly learns from those around her.
For more inspiring stories of our nurses, read the 2021 Singapore Health Special Nursing Issue, produced in conjunction with Nurses’ Day.