​I would usually avoid difficult face-to-face situations. But I stepped forward as a volunteer at our perimeter screening stations to relieve our Visitor Services colleagues during this challenging COVID-19 period. My frontline stint taught me how to deal with difficult people, and helped me appreciate the physical demands of the role.

Staff volunteers are helping to screen visitors, outpatients and their companions at the hospital’s entrances before they proceed inside to the Visitor Registration Counter.

It was an eye opener for me. I have seen colleagues facing difficult members of public but have never been on the receiving end myself. I volunteered to help out with Visitor Registration and did my first shift on a Sunday night at Block 6 prior to DORSCON Orange.

SGH requires all visitors to the inpatient wards to complete a Declaration Form on their travel and contact history. This has also been introduced for outpatient areas, for patients and their companions.

Learning how to deal with difficult people

I encountered a few people who were impatient or a little rude, but nothing that couldn’t be handled with a “How are you?” or “Thank you.”

I must confess that I usually stay clear of difficult face-to-face interactions – I wouldn’t get involved, as I am not good at handling people in such situations. But the whole experience at the frontline has taught me a few things.

First, stay calm. I find that this helps me to diffuse any tense situation. And I try to understand why they are behaving that way. Usually they are just worried about their loved ones who are unwell and in hospital.

Also, I understand that their outburst is not personal, that it is not targeted at me. It could be anyone who happens to be there, when they show their anxiety in this manner.

And it helps to have someone to commiserate with. That’s why I am glad to be rostered in pairs, for peer support.

Physically demanding

I didn’t realise that standing is tough too. For the first day, I was on my feet for about 3 hours, from about 5.30pm to 8.30pm. I never sat down at all.

Or maybe it was the constant talking that was tiring. I had to explain to every single person why they had to fill in the form, and why it is important. Some of them needed help filling in the form, so I had to ask and explain all the questions to them, and in various languages too!

Screening at the Block 2 & 3 entrance 

Making things less difficult for our visitors

Most of them understand why we have to introduce the additional measures. It also helped that repeat visitors do not have to queue up again at the Registration Counter, as their records are already captured. They just have to fill in the form each time they come.

Initially I struggled to explain why the visitors had to fill in the forms again. My duty buddy calls it “the daily form” and that seemed to stop the questions. So I quickly wised up and did the same. 

Screening at Block 4 entrance

Encouraging encounters

It was very heartening to meet two visitors who admitted that they are not well. Their responsible behaviour made me feel that all the effort was worthwhile.

A lady came up to me, looking perfectly well. “Actually I was feeling unwell, and have just taken some medicine,” she confessed.

“Do you think your symptoms are being suppressed by the medicine?” I asked. In the end she decided not to go up to the wards.

The other was a mother-and-daughter pair. The teenager was going to visit her Grandma in the ward, but mum said, “You’ve been coughing at night.”

“So not a good idea,” I said.

After a while, I saw the girl again at the registration area, so I went up to her to tell her again that she should not visit. “It’s a different girl, lah! She’s wearing a different T-shirt,” whispered my duty buddy. It was her twin! I quickly went up to the family to apologise.

“It’s OK. She’s got the same cough,” said the mother.

Both girls wanted badly to visit their Grandma in the ward. So I suggested that maybe they could try a video call instead. 

Screening at Block 4 (7-Eleven) entrance

Calling all SGH staff, if you would like to volunteer for our perimeter screening stations, please contact our HR colleagues, Megan Foo megan.foo.c.y@sgh.com.sg  or Ng Shi Yuan ng.shi.yuan@sgh.com.sg

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