'A lot of poo, even on me, but no regrets': NSF who helps out with Covid-19 patients

Lance Corporal Khairul Nizam Abdul Rashid (left) assisting in engaging a patient in a physiotherapy exercise session.
Lance Corporal Khairul Nizam Abdul Rashid (left) assisting in engaging a patient in a physiotherapy exercise session. PHOTO: TTSH

SINGAPORE - He had faeces all over him as he helped an elderly male patient clean up after a bout of diarrhoea while in bed.

All the nurses were busy, so Lance Corporal Khairul Nizam Abdul Rashid had to manage it all on his own - changing the patient's clothes and soiled bed linen.

The full-time national serviceman (NSF) who volunteered to help at a Covid-19 treatment facility (CTF) recalled: "There was a lot of poo everywhere, even on me. I had to change him all by myself. It was almost lunch time and everyone else was busy.

"He was a huge guy, not very mobile. It was difficult to remove his shirt, the sheets. With my PPE (personal protective equipment), I was sweating buckets."

But has never regretted volunteering for the job after the call for help went out to the Singapore Armed Forces (SAF).

He forms part of a 70-strong team deployed by the SAF to help out in two CTFs run by the National Healthcare Group - one run by Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) in Ren Ci Community Hospital, and the other managed by Woodlands Health in NTUC Health Nursing Home (Tampines).

Lance Cpl Khairul, 21, a combat medic in national service (NS), said he volunteered to help, although he had been a bit apprehensive as some of the patients were still Covid-19 positive.

"It would give me a very meaningful experience and it also defines NS, which is serving the nation," he added.

As a combat medic, he has been trained for wartime medical emergencies, including dealing with chemical and biological incidents - but not nursing seniors in a hospital environment.

Before he was deployed to TTSH's CTF, he and the other soldiers went through orientation and on-the-job training on how to manage geriatric patients. The ages of the patients at the CTF range from 46 to 102.

Lance Cpl Khairul was pleasantly surprised when he first stepped into the ward and found a very "friendly environment" where he had time to talk to the nurses and patients.

There are always at least 18 people - six teams of three people led by a registered nurse and supported by two enrolled nurses or SAF paramedics - caring for the patients.

This has helped ease the manpower strain at the National Healthcare Group, which has sent hundreds of trained staff to man the National Centre for Infectious Diseases and the extra intensive care unit beds opened to cater to severely ill Covid-19 patients.

For Lance Cpl Khairul, a typical day in the wards starts with taking the vital signs of patients, such as their blood pressure, heart rate and oxygen levels. He helps male patients shower, and feeds those unable to eat on their own.

Later in the day, he assists physiotherapists and occupational therapists as patients go through their exercises, or accompanies a patient who needs to go for X-ray or other tests.

When he has free time, he chats with patients, or joins them in solving puzzles to keep them mentally alert.

"These are happy moments," he said, to see patients cheer up and laugh as they interact.

Most of the elderly patients are Mandarin-speaking, so Lance Cpl Khairul has brushed up on the little Mandarin he had learnt from watching gongfu movies as a child.

He noted that in the two months since he has been helping out at the CTF, his medical skills and spoken Mandarin have improved.

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