Nurse manager who's worked during Sars, H1N1 takes Covid-19 in her stride

Ms Prema Harrison, senior nurse manager at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, attending to a patient.
Ms Prema Harrison, senior nurse manager at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, attending to a patient.PHOTO: TAN TOCK SENG HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - Ms Prema Harrison, unit nurse manager of wards in level nine at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH), went through the Sars epidemic in 2003 and the H1N1 crisis in 2009.

In April, TTSH was identified as a Covid-19 cluster with 48 cases linked to it. Ms Prema, 44, her colleagues and the nurses under her charge were served quarantine orders. They work on the same floor of ward 9D, ground zero of the cluster.

Said Ms Prema: "We understood the need to be quarantined, and we were just waiting at home for the calls to convey us to the quarantine hotels."

But the most nerve-racking period was when the nurses had to isolate themselves at home and wait for the ambulance, which would ferry them to the quarantine facilities.

She said: "We didn't know what time the ambulance would come. For some of us, it came within hours, and for others, it came a few days later.

"We were all waiting with our bags, we'd changed our clothes, and at night, we didn't know whether to bathe and go to sleep, or continue waiting."

Before being quarantined, the nurses were placed on a leave of absence.

Some with children sent their kids to live with their grandparents during the period, said Ms Prema, who lives alone.

The 14-day quarantine also coincided with Mother's Day and Hari Raya Aidilfitri, which was painful for some nurses in isolation.

Ms Prema said: "During our daily Zoom session on Mother's Day, we could see the mothers tearing up, and it was very sad."

To cope with isolation and loneliness during quarantine, the nurses had Zoom chats twice a day, alongside virtual yoga and zumba sessions.

When the nurses returned to work in May, they were greeted with a "Welcome home level 9" banner, and one of the hospital's deputy directors of nursing gave them red eggs, symbolising luck.

When asked if the pandemic was the most challenging period of her 20-year career, Ms Prema said she is taking it in her stride.

She said: "When you join nursing, you are there to take care of patients, regardless of the situation and the circumstances.

"Covid-19 has given us the opportunity to answer the nation's call to care for those who need it, despite whatever fears and uncertainties that lie ahead."