Small gestures keep love alive for couples battling Covid-19

Mr Afiq Ashraf Ra’im, an Emergency Response Team operator at the Singapore Police Force, and his wife, Ms Khairunnisa Suwarno, a senior staff nurse at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.
Mr Afiq Ashraf Ra’im, an Emergency Response Team operator at the Singapore Police Force, and his wife, Ms Khairunnisa Suwarno, a senior staff nurse at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.ST PHOTO: ARIFFIN JAMAR

SINGAPORE - For one week, when the police officer fetched his wife, a nurse, from the hospital, she would cry all the way home because of the stresses of the job.

Mr Afiq Ashraf Ra'im, an Emergency Response Team operator at the Singapore Police Force (SPF), wanted to hold his wife's hand or hug her.

But he could not because the couple had to shower first before having any physical contact.

Mr Afiq, 30, told The Straits Times how he and his wife, Ms Khairunnisa Suwarno, 32, a senior staff nurse at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, coped.

"She would be really exhausted from her shift...

It pains me to see her cry. I try to be strong for her, treat her well and listen to her worries and frustrations," he said.

The married couple of two years, who do not have children, have rarely seen each other in the past year as Mr Afiq works at the counter-terrorist arm of the SPF, where officers can work shifts of up to 12 hours.

Ms Khairunnisa works various shifts to plan the care for patients and assist those who are unable to carry out their daily activities due to health issues.

When the Covid-19 outbreak worsened last April, Mr Afiq was deployed to handle operations at migrant worker dormitories while Ms Khairunnisa assisted at the hospital's intensive care unit.

Their long and irregular hours meant that they could not even go grocery shopping together.

And even though she works in a hospital, where there is the risk of medical staff catching the coronavirus, Ms Khairunnisa worries about her husband getting infected instead.

"As a nurse, I am well equipped with all the medical equipment in the ward and already know what the patients in the hospital are suffering from. My husband is out there on the ground meeting people with unknown medical backgrounds or histories."

To cope, the couple pray daily for each other's safety and send caring messages reminding each other to stay safe.

Mr Afiq said: "Sometimes, she will cook dinner for me. That alone will be my strength to carry on as I look forward to spending time with her when I'm home."

Thought of living apart

When the pandemic hit Singapore, Dr Tay Jun Yang and his wife, Dr Elaine Low, both 32, worried about the health of their then three-month-old daughter.

Dr Tay Jun Yang, a senior resident at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, his wife, Dr Elaine Low, a general practitioner at Tampines West Medical Clinic, and their 15-month-old daughter Eliana. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

Dr Tay, a senior resident at the National Centre for Infectious Diseases, works in the Covid-19 outbreak wards.

Outside of those wards, he also sees patients with infectious diseases in hospital inpatient wards and clinics, and patients referred for infectious disease consultation.

His wife, a general practitioner at Tampines West Medical Clinic, sees patients for both acute and chronic ailments, as well as acute respiratory illnesses.

Amid the pandemic, the married couple of four years considered living apart to minimise the risk to their now 15-month-old daughter, Eliana.

They eventually decided against that as it would be tough on the family. Instead, they took extra precautions, like separating their laundry from their daughter's and showering immediately after reaching home.

The demands of working on the front line have taken a toll on the sleep-deprived couple, who work 10- to 12-hour shifts daily.

Dr Tay said: "The greatest challenge is not having enough couple time and having to juggle work, studying for my final specialist exam and caring for a young daughter."

He said they used to go to the cinema a lot but no longer do so. The last movie they watched together was 2019's Avengers: Endgame.

Dr Tay also covers night and weekend shifts, and was once away from his family for two days.

And, dressed in personal protective equipment, it is difficult to text or call his wife, who would be caring for their daughter at home.

Dr Low said: "Being in the healthcare sector has allowed us to be more understanding about the demands of each other's work.

"Sometimes, we know what each other is feeling or thinking without even saying it out loud."

Baby plans on hold

For years, Ms Siti Adhawiyah Mohamed Ali, 40, and her husband, Mr Muhammad Nazarul Jamil, 41, had been trying to have children.

But the married couple of eight years have decided not to have children for now.

Mr Muhammad Nazarul Jamil (left) and his wife, Ms Siti Adhawiyah Mohamed Ali, outside the Changi Exhibition Centre last July. PHOTO: COURTESY OF SITI ADHAWIYAH MOHAMED ALI

Ms Siti, a manager in the special outpatient clinic ambulatory operations department at Raffles Hospital, was assigned to set up and manage the operations of a vaccine centre at Tanjong Pagar Community Club, where she works shifts of up to 15 hours.

Mr Nazarul, 41, a senior executive in the same department of the hospital, monitors and reports cases coming from the hospital's emergency department.

Ms Siti said: "We want a family, but at this stage, I'm very much involved in my work and ensuring that things run smoothly."

Before her posting to the vaccine centre, when the couple worked separate shifts in July last year at a community care facility at Changi Exhibition Centre caring for migrant workers, they would occasionally bump into each other.

But working long hours and on weekends meant that their favourite activity of cycling together from Pasir Ris to Marina Barrage had to be shelved.

Mr Nazarul said: "Ever since Siti was deployed for this on-site vaccination project, we've hardly had time to cycle together."

Still, he drives from their Pasir Ris home to Tanjong Pagar each day to fetch her from work at 10pm before they have a late dinner together.

She said: "I'm very lucky he's always there to listen to my troubles. Ever since we've been working apart, we have learnt to better value the time we have together because of how limited it is."