Seeing how quickly a dialysis machine can help a breathless and gasping renal patient to breathe normally fascinated Nurse Clinician Wu Sin Yan so much that she spent much of her professional life working in dialysis.

Originally from Hong Kong, where she attained a Bachelor of Applied Science degree in Nursing in 1992, Mdm Wu moved to Singapore a year later and worked her way as a dialysis nurse at a private hospital to her current position heading Singapore General Hospital’s (SGH) Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) programme.

“I remember one case where the patient came in gasping. After the third hour of dialysis, he was much better. Seeing the patient get better gave me a great sense of satisfaction. With dialysis, you can really see results,” said Mdm Wu.

Dialysis removes waste products from the blood when the kidneys can no longer do the job. It can be done via two main methods — haemodialysis, where blood is pumped in and out of the body; or PD, where the inner lining of a patient’s abdomen (peritoneum) acts as a natural filter.

During PD, a cleansing fluid flows through a surgically inserted catheter into the patient’s abdomen. After a few hours, the fluid with the filtered waste products is drained and discarded.

Unless the patient undergoes a kidney transplant, PD and haemodialysis are lifelong treatments. For Mdm Wu, it is especially motivating when patients maintain a good quality of life despite their condition.

“We had a patient who started dialysis when his kids were very small. He continued working and even got promoted. His condition did not stop him from going about his daily activities and supporting his family. He managed to get a kidney transplant after eight years,” she said, adding that the satisfaction of seeing patients recover gives her the drive to work.

A people person

SGH’s PD programme is the largest of its kind in Singapore, with Mdm Wu leading 15 nurses to care for more than 500 patients.

As a seasoned nursing leader, Mdm Wu considers flexibility and a sense of humour important traits of a nurse — besides knowledge, skills and patience. “We need to be flexible when guiding patients because everyone is different. Being humorous helps ease the tension of patients and their caregivers who may be feeling stressed.”

At 57, Mdm Wu may be twice the age of some of her colleagues, but she has no trouble working with them. In fact, they have become “good friends” who can discuss problems together. “The young nurses come to me when they have difficulties. We are open with each other and talk about many things. It is like chatting with my daughter!” she said.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has put a halt to their outings, including dining out, Mdm Wu often orders food to be delivered to their office for her team.

Beyond her nursing duties, Mdm Wu plays an active part in exploring potential development in the renal nursing field. Collaborating with the nursing research team and psychologists, she conducted a mindfulness programme on reducing the stress and anxiety levels of PD patients and caregivers.

Her efforts did not go unnoticed, as she was named one of 2020 Nurses’ Merit Award winners in recognition of her dedication. “It is an honour. I wasn’t expecting to get the award. I am thankful for the renal and nursing departments, as well as my supervisor, who have supported me through the years.”

The mother of two is so committed to her profession that she encouraged her daughter to join nursing, too. Recently, the young woman in her early twenties left the clean energy industry to embark on a nursing course.

During her free time, Mdm Wu enjoys long walks with her husband at MacRitchie Reservoir. Her newfound hobby — thanks to more frequent meals at home — is whipping up dishes for her family.

“I like watching cooking shows and learning from them. Cooking is good practice for concentration. If you don’t focus, you may end up injuring yourself,” she said. “My son is quite a picky eater, but he likes it when I cook Korean-style pork!”