Beyond first aid

December 2018

My days as a Red Cross Youth cadet in secondary school not only piqued my interest in first aid but brought out the humanitarian in me! So, it was only natural that I applied for nursing at the Institute of Technical Education College (ITE) East to learn how to better care for others.

Like many of my peers, you probably think that being in Red Cross gives me a leg up compared to my classmates from other co-curricular activities. Well, it is true to some extent – I am more familiar with the cheem medical jargon taught in class. However, what I have learnt in first aid only skims the surface of the vast ocean of healthcare knowledge. As a first aider, I can only provide basic help before professional assistance arrives. It is only when I am armed with proper healthcare knowledge can I truly touch the lives of others and their loved ones.

If there is just one myth I hope to bust after joining nursing, it will be that nurses do a lot more than just cleaning and serving medication! Naysayers may see them as unskilled chores, but they are actually essential duties that help me better understand my patients' conditions. Cleaning my patients help me evaluate their physical state while serving medication is not as simple as it seems – as nurses, we need to understand the effects of all medication and intervene accordingly if complications arise.

Tracy (middle) with fellow volunteers during National Day Parade 2018.

I remember fondly a young patient I met during my two-week clinical practice at a community hospital. She had just undergone a craniectomy, which is a procedure in which part of the skull is removed to allow room for a swelling brain to expand. Her condition made her fully dependent on others for her daily living activities. Each time I am tasked to feed her, she would look at me with a very grateful expression and mouth “thank you” after finishing her meals. I felt compelled to do more to aid in her recovery and was not alone in thinking this way; my group mates shared the same sentiments.

To lift her spirits, all of us would chat with her whenever any of us were on shift. She could only reply very softly at first. However as the days went by, she grew stronger, became chattier and shared her personal stories with us. We learnt that she loves the outdoors and used to be an active mountain climber. On some occasions, we would even let her wield her utensils so that she can learn to feed herself again. Guess what? She eventually did!

Seeing her regain her abilities made me realise that nurses truly make a difference. We have the privilege of contributing to and playing a part in our patients' recovery. Each time I think about this, I get a warm fuzzy feeling in my heart.

Tracy (left) and her classmate were shown the Heli-Ambulance while visiting the UnityPoint Health facility at St Luke’s Hospital, Cedar Rapids.

In September this year, my classmate and I were selected for a prestigious one month Global Exchange Programme to Iowa in the United States of America. Only two students from the cohort get selected for this programme! During the programme, we were brought to many healthcare facilities, including those for the elderly and the mentally ill.

Of all the places we visited, the University for Iowa Stead Family Children’s Hospital was the one which left an indelible impression. There, we learnt about the Iowa Wave, where football fans would wave to patients and their families in unison. It represents hope, strength and support for these children who are fighting for their lives.

How did it come about? Well, the hospital building has a “Press Box” on its top floor and is located right behind the Kinnick Stadium. Its strategic location provides an almost perfect view of the stadium, allowing patients and their families to show their support to their local football team on match days – usually Saturdays – from the box.

Tracy (left) and her classmate at the “Press Box” of the children’s hospital which overlooks the iconic Kinnick Stadium.

To show their support, fans who are watching the match at the stadium would turn to wave to the children during the end of the first quarter. Hearing the story made me realise that every single person has the power to bring joy and comfort to those who need it the most. I am really glad I went for this eye-opening trip!

Today, in between being a nurse in training, I volunteer regularly with the Singapore Red Cross as a first aider for events such as the OCBC Cycle, Southeast Asian Games and the National Day Parade. On some weekends, you can even catch me at East Coast Park providing first aid to injured parkgoers under the First Aider on Wheels programme. The accumulation of experience from these events has sharpened my first aid skills and helped me grow into a well-rounded nurse and first aider.

My name is Tracy Koh, a Year 2 nursing student from ITE College East and I aspire to be an emergency nurse someday.

Tracy is the current President of the Red Cross Youth Chapter in her school and is also the Assistant Head of First Aid in Curriculum Planning & Development Team of the Singapore Red Cross Youth.

For being a selfless and caring individual, Tracy was one of the five recipients awarded the Harvard Prize Book (Singapore) 2018. This award honours deserving high school students from all over the world who, over a sustained period of time, have gone beyond their call of duty to perform acts of kindness and have influenced peers to do likewise. We are proud of you, Tracy!