Spore's 3rd Covid-19 death: SGH doctor talks about man's extraordinary fighting spirit

The team who cared for Mr Chung Ah Lay at the Singapore General Hospital. PHOTO: SINGAPORE GENERAL HOSPITAL

SINGAPORE - Former yong tau foo seller Chung Ah Lay, 70, spent nearly a month in the intensive care unit (ICU) after he was confirmed to have Covid-19 on March 2.

On Sunday (March 29), the father of three children and five grandchildren succumbed to complications due to the infection, making him the third person to die from the virus here.

During his time in the intensive care unit (ICU), his family received hourly updates almost every day from Dr Yvonne Chia, a medical officer at the Singapore General Hospital's department of respiratory and critical care medicine.

Mr Chung's family said Dr Chia had gone beyond the call of duty, and called her "a real hero".

Dr Chia shared her experience with The Straits Times on Tuesday.

Q: As a healthcare professional, you treated Mr Chung during his 27 days in the ICU. What was it like?

A: I was part of the ICU team that cared for Mr Chung. It was a difficult journey for both Mr Chung, the healthcare team and the family; and I was grateful for the constant guidance and support from my seniors.

Mr Chung's condition was challenging to manage given that little is known regarding the optimal treatment for severe Covid-19 infection. We had to keep ourselves updated with the latest information and treatment recommendations for patients, and there were multiple discussions between specialists as to the best management option for Mr Chung.

During his stay with us, it was both physically and emotionally demanding as the entire team tried our best to give him the best outcome possible. There were times when we were hopeful that he was improving; only to be disheartened when he succumbed to a complication and deteriorated further. I was fortunate to be part of a dedicated and cohesive team that involved medical, nursing and allied health staff; who consistently worked hard and placed the patient's interest before their own.

His journey with us is something that I will deeply remember throughout my career, and the lessons learnt will hopefully aid me in becoming a better doctor.

Q: Is it protocol for the doctors in charge of Covid-19 patients in ICU to provide hourly updates to the patient's family?

A: For critically ill patients in ICU, we aim to give at least daily updates to the family, providing more frequent updates when there is a change in the patient's condition.

In Mr Chung's case, communication with the family was even more vital as he was cared for in the isolation ward and the family was not allowed to visit. I could empathise with the feelings of loss and uncertainty regarding his condition from his loved ones, who were unable to physically see how he was doing.

For them, the only glimpse they had into how Mr Chung was progressing was through our medical updates. Hence, I felt that it was my duty to provide the family with timely and relevant information.

To help them understand Mr Chung's situation, I tried my best to update the family each time there was a change in his progress, explaining to them in great detail about his condition and the rationale for our proposed management plans.

In the midst of caring for the patient in front of us, we sometimes forget the family behind the patient and I hoped that through my attempt at narrating Mr Chung's condition, it could allay any anxiety they may have had, and help his family journey through this difficult period together.

We were all greatly saddened to learn of Mr Chung's passing. Spending 27 days in critical care was not easy and the extraordinary fighting spirit that Mr Chung demonstrated during those periods will be forever remembered by the team. Our heartfelt condolences to Mr Chung's family.

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