Covid-19: Heroes of the storm

During the Covid-19 pandemic, these nurses from SingHealth went beyond the call of duty by stepping up to serve in various Covid-19 care settings across Singapore

No storm is too great for nurses from SingHealth, as they continue to battle against Covid-19. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Putting aside their fears and working together to respond to the rapidly evolving situation while ensuring that patient care is not disrupted, these nurses experienced a renewed sense of purpose in their work, developed a sense of camaraderie with their teammates and rediscovered strength in unity.

Ms Anuradha Ramasamy, nurse educator, National Heart Centre Singapore

Ms Anuradha (left) conducting N95 mask-fitting sessions for staff. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

When Covid-19 first hit our shores, Ms Anuradha volunteered to conduct N95 mask-fitting sessions for staff at the National Heart Centre Singapore (NHCS) and Singapore General Hospital (SGH). She also prepared NHCS nurses for deployment to Community Care Facilities (CCFs) through infection control refresher training on personal protective equipment (PPE). Her work was critical in keeping healthcare workers safe and mitigating risks of viral transmission.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
"Due to heightened infection control measures, there were many changes to the workflow when conducting training. Regular disinfection of the equipment and environment had to be done, and face-to-face training had to be carried out in small groups while complying with safe distancing guidelines. With this, I was mindful to communicate in a clear, concise and effective manner. I kept a positive mindset and accepted that this was going to be the 'new normal'."

What kept you going?
"Even though it was tiring to manage my usual duties on top of conducting mask-fitting exercises for so many staff, the gratitude of my colleagues, their eagerness to learn, and understanding my role in ensuring a successful fitting - so they can continue their frontline work - kept me motivated. I was also very touched when members of the public, colleagues and senior leaders asked after us, and wished us well. The outpouring of support was very encouraging."

Mr Muhammad Ridhwan Razali, senior staff nurse, Sengkang General Hospital

With timely updates on the evolving Covid-19 situation, Mr Ridhwan was able to adapt quickly to the changes to ensure the safety of patients. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

At Sengkang General Hospital's Emergency Department, Mr Ridhwan receives suspect and confirmed Covid-19 cases at the isolation area. He looks after these patients closely to ensure that they are not experiencing respiratory distress, and monitors their movements to limit contact with other patients. He also assists in collecting swab samples and reinforcing the discharge advice for Swab and Send Home patients.

How did you prepare for your role?
"Regular and timely updates about the process changes due to the evolving situation from our management through e-mails and during roll calls helped us better prepare for our roles. These updates are important to help us tighten processes, such as determining area layouts and planning workflows, for the safe management of Covid-19 patients."

What was the most uplifting moment you experienced?
"A migrant worker invited me to join him in a video call with his family back in India while I was taking his vital signs. His wife and son thanked me for taking care of him, and gave me words of encouragement. Although the interaction was short, it was heart-warming."

Ms Lee Mei Ling, senior staff nurse, National Dental Centre Singapore

Ms Lee (left) on duty at a dormitory with the mobile swab team. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

When the Covid-19 situation intensified, patients conveyed by designated ambulances to SGH were sent to the multi-storey carpark, which was converted into a fever screening and triaging area. Ms Lee was deployed there to do triaging, assessments and nursing interventions, such as taking vital signs, and performing electrocardiograms (ECGs). She was also attached to the Mobile Swab Team at various locations to help with registration and ushering, and collating and dispatching swabs.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
"Tending to the needs of the migrant workers was tough due to the language barrier. To overcome this, we used pictorial charts and online translation tools to communicate with them more effectively."

What was your biggest takeaway?
"Different departments have different roles to play, but we share a common goal of giving our best care to our patients. It was an eye-opener to work with doctors, anaesthetists, allied health professionals and nurses from different institutions and specialities. This is an experience that I am very thankful for."

Ms Ganchalee Sae Gan, senior staff nurse, Singapore National Eye Centre

By adhering to strict infection control measures and being extra vigilant when attending to patients, Ms Ganchalee (right) responded to her call of duty with peace of mind. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ms Ganchalee usually works at the Day Ward at the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC), but was deployed to the triage area at SGH's Emergency Department, where she assessed patients who were suspect Covid-19 cases and assisted in collecting swab specimens.

Did you have any concerns when taking up this role?
"As the first line of contact with suspect cases, I was concerned because I stay in a household of 10 people, with young children and elderly parents. But I strongly believed that there would be no issue if I adhered to infection control measures. I was extra vigilant when attending to patients, and made an effort to stay healthy and hydrated as much as possible. Caring for the sick is my call of duty, and I am willing to contribute wherever my service is needed."

What were your memorable moments?
"At the SNEC Day Ward, I did not have the opportunity to put on the full PPE. During my deployment, I had to gown up whenever I attended to patients - now I can even do it with my eyes closed! The group of doctors I worked with was very generous and caring. They would order small treats occasionally to show their appreciation for us. In times of crisis, teamwork among healthcare workers is especially important."

Ms Vithiya Kaliammah Chandrasegaran, senior staff nurse, KK Women's And Children's Hospital

Strong support and teamwork are essential in fighting Covid-19, says Ms Vithiya. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ms Vithiya provides nursing care for suspect and confirmed Covid-19 patients in the KK Women's and Children's (KKH) isolation ward, where she performs nasal swab tests and monitors their condition. She also looks into the psychological and emotional well-being of patients and caregivers by taking time to explain the condition and care rendered, partnering caregivers in their child's care, and sharing stories of patients who have recovered.

How did you feel about caring for Covid-19 patients?
"Initially, I felt nervous. But I knew I needed to be brave. It helped to be doing this with my team, with strong support and encouragement from my supervisors and senior management. My ward took care of high-dependency patients and those who required intensive care. As we were not trained on such specialised procedures, my team participated in a two-week attachment at KKH's Children Intensive Care Unit (ICU), which boosted our confidence."

What was the most uplifting moment?
"The first paediatric Covid-19 patient in Singapore was fully cared for by my team. Before the caregiver was admitted into KKH, the young patient would cry when left alone in the isolation room. After a few weeks, the child started to recognise me and smiled whenever I entered. The caregiver was very appreciative of our efforts. I am happiest when my patients recover and get discharged without complications."

Ms An Xue Qi, senior staff nurse, Singapore General Hospital

Honoured to be part of the team on the frontline, Ms An treasured her valuable experiences during her deployments to CGH and NCID. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

When the call came for nurses to be deployed to Changi General Hospital's (CGH) ICU to supplement its manpower, Ms An stepped forward and was posted there for one month. She also volunteered to be posted to the National Centre for Infectious Diseases' (NCID) ICU when SGH was asked to assist with its ramp-up. She was able to optimise her skills and knowledge in managing ICU patients through these valuable experiences.

How did you feel about being on the frontlines of this pandemic?
"Instead of being anxious, I felt honoured to be a part of the team on the frontline. The experience gave me the opportunity to work with and learn from healthcare workers from various institutions. Although we had different working cultures, we gelled as a team and exchanged ideas to improve processes for better patient outcomes."

What was your biggest takeaway?
"Being deployed at NCID exposed me to new work procedures, and allowed me to pick up valuable skills and knowledge to manage complex cases. For example, I learnt to care for patients using the ECMO machine, which I have never handled before. This experience also taught me to appreciate everyone in the healthcare setting, from housekeeping staff to frontline workers. By working together and trusting each other, we can overcome this crisis."

Ms Nerissa Ramirez Lontoc, senior staff nurse, National Cancer Centre Singapore

Despite the unprecedented challenges, Ms Nerissa (left) felt a great sense of fulfillment knowing she has done her part to keep her patients safe. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Immuno-compromised patients, such as those suffering from cancer, are at a higher risk of being infected with Covid-19. At the National Cancer Centre Singapore's (NCCS) Ambulatory Treatment Unit (ATU), Ms Nerissa ensures that each patient is cared for with extra vigilance. For patients who have a potential risk of Covid-19 but are fit for chemotherapy treatment, she cares for them in a separate room.

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
"We had to adapt to evolving instructions and precautionary measures in line with the situation, so my colleagues and I would remind each other about them. Putting on and taking off the PPE repeatedly was also challenging, but these safety measures are in place to protect us and our patients, and we soon got used to it. As a team leader, I try to adopt a positive attitude to encourage my colleagues."

What kept you going?
"Being a nurse is not just a job but a calling, and I always endeavour to treat patients with the care and respect they deserve. I feel a great sense of fulfillment knowing that I have done my part to keep our patients safe. It also warms my heart when patients appreciate and encourage us during this trying period."

Ms Quek Yih Jen, senior staff nurse, Changi General Hospital

Serving the nation and protecting its people keeps Ms Quek (right) motivated in the fight against Covid-19. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ms Quek was part of the CGH Mobile Rapid Triage team that went to different dormitories to triage and treat migrant workers. As the nursing lead of the team, she oversaw the smooth running of the team's operations, including nursing manpower assignments as well as ensuring that medical supplies were sufficient and equipment were functional. She also performed tasks, such as monitoring vital signs and conducting blood and swab tests.

How did you prepare for your role?
"I started by getting to know my teammates well, as this would help us work cohesively and bring out the best in everyone. I also underwent training about the right procedures and precautions to take note of during swab tests, and learnt how to run a medical post in a dormitory to ensure that we meet the needs of the migrant workers."

What kept you going?
"It was quite a sight to see staff from different departments come together, work closely as a team and persevere through rain and shine. As a healthcare worker, I feel proud to be able to serve the nation and protect people from invisible enemies, such as Covid-19."

Ms Ng Hwee Lan, nurse clinician, National Neuroscience Institute

Ms Ng considers it a privilege to care for the migrant workers who have helped built our nation. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ms Ng volunteered to be part of the Mobile Swab Team (MST) in foreign worker dormitories and was subsequently deployed to the CCF at Singapore Expo. As part of the MST, she visited different dormitories and did swab tests for migrant workers. At the CCF, she assisted the Hall In-Charge as a team leader to run the hall and guard everyone's safety. The team also brainstormed and planned activities for the hall residents to facilitate their holistic recovery.

Why did you volunteer to serve at the frontline?
"I saw the task as a mission similar to National Service. I had worked through the Sars outbreak in 2003, so I was not fearful to be at the frontlines. It is a privilege to care for the migrant workers. They helped build our nation and now, it is our turn to help them get back on the road to recovery."

What challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?
"Although the 12-hour shifts at Singapore Expo were draining, it was very meaningful to witness the hall residents regain their health. The support from my family, as well as the National Neuroscience Institute's (NNI) senior management who visited us on-site several times, boosted our morale and assured us that we were not alone in this battle."

Ms Jessica Ow, senior staff nurse, SingHealth Polyclinics

Like many other nurses, Ms Ow's (right) sense of responsibility towards her patients keeps her going every day. PHOTO: SINGHEALTH

Ms Ow was deployed to the Swab Isolation Facility at Village Hotel Changi, where she triaged and screened patients who were undergoing self-isolation while they awaited their Covid-19 test results.

How did you prepare for your role?
"I attended a refresher course on infection control and conducted an audit on screening processes. Besides adhering strictly to safety measures, such as frequent handwashing and proper wearing of PPE, I kept myself updated with the latest information from the Ministry of Health and SingHealth Polyclinics (SHP), and familiarised myself with the new procedures and protocols."

What kept you going?
"My sense of responsibility towards our patients motivates me every day. During my deployment, I saw that some patients were anxious because they did not understand certain protocols. By addressing and clarifying their doubts, they felt more assured and calm. Some of them even thanked us for our patience when we took the effort to explain the situation. The sense of achievement from being part of the team combatting Covid-19 also kept me going."

Join ST's WhatsApp Channel and get the latest news and must-reads.