The Pro

She massages the pain away

Physiotherapist empowers patients by telling them how lymphoedema can happen

Ms Hozaidah enjoys the rapport she has with her patients. She also teaches manual lymphatic drainage to healthcare professionals
Ms Hozaidah enjoys the rapport she has with her patients. She also teaches manual lymphatic drainage to healthcare professionals. ST POSED PHOTO: NIVASH JOYVIN

Q I specialise in manual lymphatic drainage because...

A In 1996, I attended to an 18-year- old breast cancer patient whose left arm was swollen after mastectomy because of lymphoedema. It is a condition that causes swelling of a limb, due to the accumulation of lymph fluid.

Although her shoulder movements improved with physiotherapy, my colleagues and I could not fully reduce the swelling.

So I applied the new techniques I had learnt in my lymphoedema course on her. This encourages pressure changes within the lymphatic system, hence draining the lymphatic fluid to areas with lymph nodes.

Though there was some residual swelling, her arm returned to almost the same size as her right arm. This made me realise the importance of seeking out treatments and reading medical literature widely to help patients.

  • Bio Box


    Age: 42

    Occupation: Senior principal physiotherapist at Singapore General Hospital

    Ms Hozaidah's interest in physiotherapy was piqued during a voluntary stint at the then Spastic Children's Association of Singapore (now the Cerebral Palsy Alliance Singapore).

    She saw the children taking part in activities that looked more like play. She found out that the therapist had devised the activities to achieve certain therapy goals.

    This inspired her to enrol in the physiotherapy diploma course at Nanyang Polytechnic, where she graduated in 1996.

    While working at Singapore General Hospital that year, she did a distance-learning course and obtained a physiotherapy degree from Curtin University two years later.

    But, disappointed with conventional physiotherapy methods that did not fully alleviate swelling in the body for some patients, she attended more lymphoedema courses and took up the Basic Teacher training offered in Austria in 2010, which she described as "an arduous journey".

    She is now the instructor for the Basic Vodder Course under the SGH-Postgraduate Allied Health Institute, teaching manual lymphatic drainage to healthcare professionals such as sports trainers.

    This is a hands-on technique - similar to massage - that encourages pressure changes within the lymphatic system to reduce swelling and pain.

    Ms Hozaidah has five children aged between three and 15. Her husband, 43, is an engineer.

    Joan Chew

Q The lymph nodes are fascinating because...

A They remove dead cells and extra proteins that cause lymphoedema, and help with the body's immune system. They can be as small as a pin or as big as a kidney bean.

Q I have come across cases...

A Lymphoedema affects all age groups when there is an imbalance in the lymphatic system or when it is compromised. For example, swelling from a sprain happens because of the micro tears in the lymphatic vessels.

I have treated patients with extensive swelling in their limbs due to lymphoedema and poor blood circulation.

Q A typical day starts with me...

A Waking up at 5am to prepare my children for school and going to work by 6.15am.

I spend half a day with patients and being a mentor to my colleagues. I try to finish work by 5.30pm. Sometimes, after work, I may be required to attend meetings at the non-profit organisations that I volunteer with.

I'm also kept busy with talks to support groups in the evenings or during the weekends.

I enjoy the precious time I have with my children, when they are not busy with school activities or religious classes. We try to have meals or catch a movie together.

Q One fact about patients with lymphoedema is...

A Many of them think they have to live with the condition because they were told nothing can be done.

We can empower patients by telling them how lymphoedema can happen and what steps to take to reduce the risks.

It is best to listen to the patients as they know best when they have a swelling. If they say their arm feels swollen, we need to look into it even if there is no visible swelling.

Q I love patients who are...

A Committed to their treatment goals and forthcoming about their concerns.

If I know my patients have some personal issues such as financial difficulties, I can advise them on what assistance is available so that they can fully focus on recovery.

It is important for patients to set realistic treatment goals as they are then more self-motivated, and this can improve their chances of recovery.

Q I have seen patients who...

A Become upset when their concerns are not properly addressed. In such instances, I keep calm and listen carefully to them.

Q Things that put a smile on my face are...

A My children sleepily mumbling "good morning" to me and personal messages from my hubby.

And my colleagues and friends who buy me comfort food when I have a trying day at work.

Also, I like the rapport I have with patients who trust me enough to share their concerns with me.

Being alive and having the ability to make things better is gratifying for me.

Q It breaks my heart when...

A I see family members at a loss over how to help their loved ones.

Besides asking them to give moral support to the patient, I show them how they can also help to massage the affected area.

Q I wouldn't trade places for the world because...

A I love my life, with its ups and downs. It has taught me to be resilient and optimistic, and shown me ways to live a fulfilling life.

It has also led me to people who are now my family, and to others, whom I call friends.

Q My best tip...

A Patients should seek help early or empower themselves by reading up on their condition, attending talks and clarifying any doubts with their doctor or therapist.

Patients with any swelling can ask for a lymphoedema therapist as almost every restructured hospital now has a lymphoedema-trained physiotherapist.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 15, 2016, with the headline She massages the pain away. Subscribe