Stories of a home-away-from-home, support from extended ‘family’ members, solidarity and resilience
“So many of our nurses made personal sacrifices during this COVID-19 pandemic,” said Deputy Director, Nursing (DDN) Norhayati. Here are some of their untold stories.
It was the day before Malaysia implemented their movement control order and closed their border with Singapore in March 2020. One of our nurses finished his night shift and made the long journey from Singapore to Terengganu where his wife and children live, just to see and hug them before making his way back to Singapore.
A few expectant nurses had gone to their homes overseas to deliver their babies. They then left the infants in the care of family members there before returning to the frontline in Singapore, not knowing when they will get to hold their infant children as they were unable to make care arrangements here due to the circuit breaker measures that disallowed hired confinement and childcare services.
Another lost her parents to COVID-19 in her hometown while she was here caring for other patients. She never got to pay her last respects. She was also sick with worry for her 6-year-old son who had to be quarantined with the rest of her family back home.
DDN Norhayati herself lost her mother to illness in May when COVID-19 cases here were surging. “I allowed myself some time to grief then went back to work because I knew I had colleagues and patients counting on me.”
What helped get them through it all, was the emotional and psychological support from their extended ‘family’ – colleagues who banded together, opened their homes for those who needed a place to stay, watched out for each other, and provided care and comfort.
Changing roles … or not
“Our nurses understood that we needed all hands on-deck, particularly during the peak of the pandemic. Many readily cancelled their leave and travel plans”, said DDN Elena Binte Ayob. “This helped us manage the absence of colleagues who were unable to return to Singapore at the end of their home leave when the borders closed.”
With the constantly shifting demands on manpower across various settings and locations, it also meant that the nursing workforce had to remain agile and be ready for redeployment.
Very early in the pandemic, it soon became apparent that there would be greater demand for nurses who could care for patients in an intensive care setting. In addition, SGH was also asked to ramp up the number of ICU beds in anticipation of a surge in the number of COVID-19 patients. Without hesitation, nurses who were formerly trained in intensive care offered to take refresher courses should their services be required. Nurses who were trained in intermediate care also took on the challenge and received training in intensive care.
With elective surgeries put on hold, nurses from the Major Operating Theatres went to the frontline of the Emergency Department’s Fever Screening Areas, triaging patients and performing nursing interventions.
When COVID-19 hit the workers’ dormitories, a new demand was asked of our nurses. They were called upon to be deployed externally - to the foreign worker dormitories as mobile teams; to swab isolation facilities where suspect COVID-19 patients await their swab results; and to community care facilities housing confirmed COVID-19 patients.
Being deployed outside of campus posed a different challenge - not having access to the hospital’s well-established support network for supplies and services. “We had to get to work quickly and at the same time establish ties with colleagues that we have never worked with; many of whom are not from the healthcare industry”, said DDN Ang Shin Yuh.
While all the attention was on the COVID-19 response, another group of nursing colleagues continued to make sure care continued for our other patients. Some of them had to make adjustments too, such as when the patients were decanted to wards in Outram Community Hospital.
Keeping Spirits Up
Knowing that the months ahead would be challenging, a welfare committee was quickly formed at the onset of the pandemic to ensure a ready supply of home-brewed herbal drinks and chilled desserts, appreciation notes from members of the public and other treats to provide respite and to uplift spirits.
From left: DDN Foo Yu Wei, DDN Tan Siok Bee and DDN Tan Ah Pang were the nursing leads of the welfare committee. The team worked closely with the hospital’s welfare team comprising colleagues from the Communications Department and Worklife unit.
DDN Lim Fong Chee shared how the Nursing Division’s office transformed into a ‘hotel concierge desk’ where nurses who needed alternative accommodation reported to and were assigned beds in unopened wards that would be their home for the next few weeks. These were mostly nurses who had young children or elderly at home and chose to keep their distance from their families in the early days when not much was known about the disease, and those who were unable to isolate themselves at home in the event they were exposed to COVID-19 positive patients.
Many of the nurses had been through the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) outbreak in 2003 and were better prepared for the uncertainties ahead. They readily shared their experiences and knowledge so that the younger and newer nurses could be better equipped to deal with what lay ahead.
“Face-to-face debriefs and huddles were held each time a new case was admitted or diagnosed in the hospital. This provided a much-needed opportunity for us to address queries and concerns”, said DDN Salimah Bte Mohd Ayoob. “This was in addition to the regular updates we were receiving from the hospital’s leaders through emails, our intranet and other online channels. Technology played a huge role in information dissemination this time round and has allowed us higher levels of direct engagement with nurses on the ground, to quickly dispel any misconceptions, and to reassure when needed.”
One key difference which everyone felt this time, was the nation’s support for frontliners such as nurses. The outpouring of appreciation and encouragement this year was keenly felt.
Throughout all these changes, one thing remained constant – they could count on each other to stand together and offer support and comfort. And the rest of SGH and our patients could count on our nurses to be an unwavering force in this battle with COVID-19.
Everyone took it in their stride and put their fears aside to take on roles as needed. This display of teamwork, positivity and adaptability is a signature of the nursing DNA.
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