During the SARS outbreak in 2003, I was working alongside fellow nurses at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. That invaluable experience gave me the confidence and strength to care for COVID-19 patients at the Medical Isolation Ward in the Institute of Mental Health (IMH) today.
Uncertainty was prevalent among healthcare workers in the early days of the pandemic. I worried not only for my patients’ well-being, but that of my staff and colleagues. What helped me overcome my fears was the drive and determination to fulfil my duty as a nurse. Call it a nurse’s instinct, but seeing my patients recover and get discharged gives me a great sense of satisfaction.
In the beginning, things were really fluid and we had to be quick to adapt. Constant staff engagement and refresher trainings on infection control measures, proper waste disposal and linen management reassured all of us that we can overcome this with teamwork, a pinch of confidence and a touch of positivity. Otherwise, how could we have tahan (endure in Malay) together in the last eight months (laughs)?
As nurses, we become our patients’ eyes and ears… which is a good thing! You will get to understand your patients and provide better care for them. Some patients can get restless while awaiting their test results, especially since they are mostly placed in single rooms for isolation. To allay their fears, my nurses and I often engage with the patients and update them as soon as their results are in.
Once, I had a patient from a dormitory who refused to undergo swab testing; he was fearful. When we asked him why, he said he had done the test multiple times and felt some discomfort. I reassured him that it was normal to feel some discomfort or tickles. I also emphasised the importance of the test and even offered to hold his hand throughout the process! Eventually, he relented and we proceeded to take his swab specimen.
In another incident, I cared for a recovered COVID-19 patient who was admitted to IMH’s Medical Isolation Ward after being diagnosed with depression and adjustment disorder. Even though he didn’t speak or understand much English, we managed to communicate with one another. This made it easier for us to encourage him and lift his spirits as he underwent treatment. Slowly, his mental health improved – he even understood the importance of medication to keep himself well! Just before he left the ward, he put his palms together and said: “Thank you, nurse”. This warmed my heart.
Things are much better now that we are in Phase 2 – the nursing team is more adept and experienced in managing COVID-19 patients. When we had entered Phase 1 in June, most of the workflows were already established. We only had to make minor changes to the policies and processes in preparation for Phase 2.
This pandemic has caused turmoil in our healthcare system and the community, but there is a silver lining. To me, COVID-19 has reiterated the importance of maintaining good infection control practices and safe distancing to prevent the spread of infection to myself, my family and the community. This is one of the things I cherish most about being a nurse – there is always something new to learn!
I am Mullath Bijuh Sukumaran Nair, a Nurse Clinician from the Institute of Mental Health. Nursing is truly a noble profession that demands dedication and an extraordinary amount of compassion and selflessness. Every patient has his or her own story to tell. Seeing the smiles on my patients’ faces when they get better inspires me to provide the best care for them, and this is why I still look forward to coming to work every day – even after 26 years in the profession.