When The Straits Times asked cancer patient Madam Chai to be photographed, she was hesitant initially. However, when she was told she would be joined by the nurses who care for her at Tan Tock Seng Hospital's (TTSH's) oncology ward, she began laughing and smiling.
"I am so grateful to them that I can't express it," said Madam Chai, who paid tribute to the 60-strong oncology team ahead of Nurses' Day, which is celebrated today. "They've taken care of me since the very first day and they never grumble. As patients, we are dependent on the nurses' help every day. Sometimes, even family can't help you, but the nurses always do."
Madam Chai, who is in her 60s, was admitted to the hospital three months ago. She had gone to a polyclinic for a check-up after discovering bruises on her body.
Later that day, she was on her way to an electronics factory where she has worked the night shift for the past 25 years when she received a call to go to the hospital immediately. She did not reveal the details of her diagnosis but has been in hospital since. "I was so upset... I couldn't believe what was happening because I was still well and working," she said tearfully. "All I could think of was that I had to survive for my mother and my son. He hasn't graduated from university yet."
AN ADMIRABLE JOB
Some people may think that nursing is not a glamorous job, but I have come to realise that it is so admirable.
CANCER PATIENT MADAM CHAI
Madam Chai has kept her illness a secret from her mother, who is in her 80s, for fear of worrying her. Her father died when she was seven. Born in China, she worked as a teacher before moving, in her 30s, to Singapore, where she met and married her husband.
Though her illness has weakened her, Madam Chai persists in doing things independently, despite the nurses' instructions to ask them for help, as she knows they are very busy. "One night I had a fever and I went to the toilet on my own. I fainted and they all rushed over to help me," she recalled.
The medical staff in the ward even surprised her with a birthday celebration last Thursday.
Madam Chai's family has been a constant source of love and support. Her husband, a 71-year-old retiree, sleeps next to her in the hospital every night, while her son, who is studying business at the National University of Singapore, visits often. Her sister and brother, and his wife, have been taking turns to visit her for a month at a time before flying back to their homes in Hong Kong and China respectively.
The nurses say that while patients appreciate their help, not all express it readily like Madam Chai.
"Even when she is suffering and in pain, she still thanks us every time we check on her," said Ms Pwint Phyu Phyu Myint, 32, a nurse clinician who has worked at TTSH for 12 years. "We feel very happy... (and) no matter how tired we are, we manage to go on."
Ms Jeyanthi Raju, 39, a senior staff nurse with 17 years' experience, said: "We don't need thank- you cards or food items to make us feel appreciated. Just a word of thanks or a smile - (that way) we know we have made someone else better. Isn't that what nursing is all about?"
In Singapore, Nurses' Day is celebrated each year on Aug 1, the day that nursing began here. Most countries celebrate it on July 12, the birth date of Florence Nightingale.
"Some people may think that nursing is not a glamorous job, but I have come to realise that it is so admirable," said Madam Chai. "Thanking them is something I should do."