Six months ago, an invisible, deadly enemy hit our shores and those of our neighbours. As the scourge of the Coronavirus proliferated globally, many countries imposed lock downs for citizen safety. As we were confined to our homes, we witnessed human acts on both ends of the spectrum ; the good and the ugly.
As we celebrate our National Day this August 9th, ISawtheScience (ISTS) blog felt that it was fitting to cast a spotlight on our community heroes. These extraordinary people raised our spirits and gave us strength to overcome a very challenging year for all of us. We reached out to our community friends, Ng Teng Fong General Hospital and got to “live” a day in the life of one our heroes; SG Proud Healthcare Workers through this interview.
Speaking to us today is Nurse Clinician Tan Soo Hui. Soo Hui works at the Emergency Department of the Ng Teng Fong General Hospital. With 17 years of nursing experience and having gone through SARS, Soo Hui shares with us, her work at the frontlines of the COVID-19 pandemic.
ISTS: What is a typical work day like for you, and how has COVID-19 changed your work day?
Soo Hui: Since the start of the pandemic, we have segmented our Emergency Department (ED) into different zones. We have dedicated zones to treat patients suspected of having the infection and who require isolation while we conduct the swab tests. We also have other zones for patients who are seeking treatment for non-COVID-19 conditions. To ensure the safety of our patients and our team, donning on of full Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is mandatory in certain zones. Given our tropical weather, we often find ourselves soaked in our own perspiration, as early as 15 minutes into the start of our 8-hour shift. Some of us developed heat rash and headaches brought on by the heat and/or by wearing safety googles and masks for long hours. As we are all gowned up, we have also learnt to recognise our colleagues by their eyes!
ISTS: What are some misunderstood facts about COVID-19 that you would like the public to know?
Soo Hui: One misconception is that “wearing gloves will prevent an infection”. On the contrary, ensuring proper hand hygiene such as washing hands with soap and water or disinfecting hands with a handrub is a must to keep the infection at bay.
Another misconception is that “life is back to normal and it’s okay to go out and socialise freely in phase 2 of safe transition”. I would strongly advise the public that our fight against the pandemic is far from over, as we need to continue to stay vigilant and be socially responsible by staying away from crowded places, practice safe distancing and good hand hygiene and always wear a mask.
Some may also think that “it can’t happen to me”, but the reality is that no one is spared from the risk of being infected if they fail to observe safety measures and guidelines to keep themselves safe.
ISTS: What has been the most difficult thing – be it physically, mentally or emotionally at this point of the pandemic?
Soo Hui: It has been six months since we starting fighting this global pandemic with the mental and physical challenges that we face as we care for our patients. I sometimes wonder where is the light at the end of this tunnel and when will we see an end to the pandemic?
ISTS: Do you have any fears working with COVID-19 patients? If yes, how do you overcome your fears?
Soo Hui: I am not fearful as we have stringent infection control measures in place at the hospital which includes donning the full PPE when caring for Covid-19 patients. I find it more worrying to be in crowded public areas than at work.
ISTS: Have you experienced any warm or touching moments you during this pandemic period?
Soo Hui: We see many people stepping forth during this difficult time to support one another. A group of our ED nurses spearheaded a “Help-a-Brother” initiative on their own accord to seek donations (clothing and basic necessities) for the migrant workers in the dormitories. When the donations came in, they stayed back after their long shifts and even came back on their rest days to pack the care packs for the workers. It was touching to see these acts of compassion and kindness among my colleagues.
We ourselves were also recipients of the kind gifts and appreciation from the community. We have and continue to receive drawings and cards bearing encouragements, treats and even packs of hot food and beverages. These encouragements spur us on and reminds us that we are all in the same fight.
ISTS: What keeps you going through your work shift?
Soo Hui: Simply put, it is about being there to help a patient, especially at the ED where it is often very traumatic for the patient and their families. Being a part of their journey to recovery makes it very rewarding and adds value to my work.
ISTS: Are there personal sacrifices that you have had to make during this COVID-19 period?
Soo Hui: During the initial phase of the pandemic, I moved out of my home for about two months as an added precaution for my family. When we were apart, it was difficult and we had to rely on telephone and video calls to keep in touch. I subsequently made arrangements for my parents to stay with my sister so that I can return home without worries.
ISTS: What would you like to tell the people of Singapore at this time?
Soo Hui: We have come this far together – please do not be complacent and let your guard down. Everyone has to do their part to keep all of us safe. Please be socially responsible by staying away from crowded places, practice safe distancing and good hand hygiene, and wear a mask.
Nurse Clinician Soo Hui in her daily work
ISTS blog is grateful to Soo Hui for taking time to answer our questions. We hope that Soo Hui and her team mates can catch a break too as they care so tirelessly for us. What we can do as responsible citizens is to heed the advice of our medical community and Government. We need to keep up with personal hygiene and practice safe distancing. As Singaporeans unite to pull the country through this trying time, let us take time to thank our healthcare heroes with a smile! 1 August is also Nurses Day, the team of ISTS would like to wish all nurses a belated Happy Nurses Day.
Illustrations by Toh Bee Suan