Nurses on Covid-19 front line share their sacrifices and triumphs

(Clockwise from top left) Ms Katherine Leong, Mr Nathaneal Tan, Dr Hoi Shu Yin, Mr Patrick Lin and Ms Noor Ayu Mohamed Amin cared for Covid-19 patients. PHOTOS: GAVIN FOO, MS NOOR AYU MOHAMED AMIN, DESMOND WEE

For many nurses, the past seven months have been the most challenging they have experienced, as they battled on the front lines of the Covid-19 pandemic. This Nurses' Day, Shabana Begum speaks to some of them about their experiences.

Treated patients as brothers

National University Hospital Assistant director of Nursing and Advanced Practice Nurse Katherine Leong. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

The migrant workers who streamed out of the buses and stood in front of the community care facility (CCF) in Tuas South looked dazed and nervous.

But they seemed more at ease when they saw the group of healthcare workers, clad in thick personal protective equipment (PPE), waving to and welcoming them.

Ms Katherine Leong, 49, who led the nursing team at the Tuas South CCF, knows a smattering of Bengali and Tamil from meeting patients and families as an advanced practice nurse with the Khoo Teck Puat - National University Children's Medical Institute at the National University Hospital (NUH).


No hugs, no kisses... for now

National University Hospital, Emergency Medicine Department Senior Staff Nurse Nathaneal Tan. ST PHOTO: GAVIN FOO

It has been seven months since Mr Nathanael Tan, 29, has held his sons - who are aged one and three - close.

"No hugs, no kisses. It is very emotionally distant for my two kids, especially because they like getting goodnight hugs and morning kisses," said Mr Tan, a senior staff nurse at the National University Hospital's Emergency Medicine Department (EMD).

Being in the first line of defence against Covid-19, Mr Tan has attended to EMD patients who were later found to be infected with the coronavirus.


Impressed by Sars 'courage'

Tan Tock Seng Hospital Chief-nurse designate Hoi Shu Yin. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

During the Sars outbreak in 2003, Dr Hoi Shu Yin was a junior nurse in Tan Tock Seng Hospital's Intensive Care Unit (ICU).

Like other healthcare workers then, she was worried about her safety as medical staff were getting infected as well.

But when she saw a senior doctor and nurse calmly intubating the ICU's first Sars patient, treating the person like any other patient, it left an impression on her.


A stand-in son or brother

National Centre for Infectious Diseases' Intensive Care Unit senior staff nurse Patrick Lin. ST PHOTO: DESMOND WEE

Cold, white and silent. Patients sedated and hooked up to multiple lifelines. The occasional beeping of machines and call bells.

These are the sights and sounds of a typical intensive care unit (ICU), but senior staff nurse Patrick Lin, 30, does not want to describe his workplace as sombre.

Instead, he recalled his most memorable Covid-19 patient in the ICU of the National Centre for Infectious Diseases (NCID), whom he described as a "cheerful but slightly breathless gentleman".


Care, generosity and sadness

Singapore General Hospital senior staff nurse Noor Ayu Mohamed Amin. PHOTO: MS NOOR AYU MOHAMED AMIN

When Singapore General Hospital's Ward 68 nurses found out that migrant workers who were being discharged from the hospital to community care facilities did not have uncontaminated clean clothes to wear, they combed through their own wardrobes to donate clothes to the workers.

"This caught the migrant workers by surprise, that we already provided them with care and now they are receiving new clothes as well. They were very appreciative," Ms Noor Ayu Mohamed Amin, 36, said. The senior staff nurse at Ward 68 added that it was satisfying to be able to connect with the patients, as it was not easy to communicate with them.

She remembers checking in on a migrant worker in an isolation room. She was puzzled to find him watching TV and looking well as her colleague had told her that he did not pick up her phone calls.


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