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Appreciating Nurses

In my previous post, https://speakspokewritewrote.wordpress.com/2012/11/12/broken-bone-wholesome-spirit/ I wrote about breaking my leg and my subsequent hospitalisation. It was during my stay at Tan Tock Seng Hospital that my awareness of the nursing profession was heightened. It also increased my appreciation of their work

There was this sweet lil’ old lady whose bed was diagonally across mine. When in a good mood, she had this smile that had the power to soften your heart and made you want to go “awwwwww”. Then Mya, a wonderfully cheerful nurse from Myanmar made her approach. “Ah Ma, jiak yeouk” (Granny, time for medicine). Before long, Mya made a hasty retreat.

“What happened, Mya?” I asked.

“She phui at me – see my uniform is so dirty. She also clawed me – see got blood.”

From Ah Ma’s bed, we saw her glare at Mya, and in her forceful yet feeble voice, we heard a string of Hokkien swear words. “CCB, Cb lang….”

Ah Ma is, I believe, suffering from dementia, and we can forgive her aggression. Mya and I just laughed. But many able minded patients are also demanding and lack appreciation. And their demands ain’t funny.

In my ward at Tan Tock Seng hospital, I saw nurses who did not walk. They ran from patient to patient. The call bell never stopped ringing. There was so much to do. I, for instance, had to have my vital signs checked every hour. I was immobile, so they had to come with bed pans every so often, and had to clean me up. I could not move, so even when I needed a drink of water, they had to help get me the glass. Then there was the checking of the drip, sponging me, taking blood for tests…ad infinitum. Multiply that by 6 patients in the ward and further multiply by 3 since two nurses look after a minimum of 3 wards per shift and you can imagine the amount of work they had to do.

I have huge respect for their professionalism. Most served me with a smile. I made it a point to thank them, to know them by name, to apologise for calling them. I tried to wait until they were in my ward before I signalled them for whatever I needed rather than reach for the call bell at the drop of a hat. I felt humbled that they cleaned me up with so much grace. I admired their skill at finding my elusive vein every time they had to prick me with the needle. Their skills range from the menial – cleaning the patient after their pee and poo, to the mundane like taking blood pressure, to what is highly skilled like inserting the drip needle . No matter the work, they have to serve without complaining.

Sometimes they are at the receiving end of complaints. Family members can be very curt. In the case of the old lady, a family member complained that the bed sheet was not changed. The old lady was so antagonistic at one point, the nurse put off the changing of sheets til later and probably forgot in the busyness of the day. There was no protest from her – she just got clean sheets and proceeded to change the sheets as was demanded of her. Talk about longsuffering.

I came into contact with many nurses during my 11 day stay. It was a mini United Nations in the ward. The nurses came from Malaysia, India, China, Philippines, Myanmar…There were very few Singaporeans.

One evening, when my husband visited, I remarked, “We do not recognise the professionalism of the nurses enough. In defining meritocracy in academic terms, in some ways we have forgotten our hands-on workers, workers like nurses.” He agreed.

Given the choice, a student with stellar results would prefer to be an engineer than a nurse. The system and concerned parents would have convinced them that nursing is “dirty” work. “Must clean backsides one you know. You still want to be a nurse?” For many years, the salary was also not attractive. In our short-sightedness, we forget that nursing is an integral part of healthcare. We had so few institutions that trained nurses. Perhaps that is the reason for the disproportionate no. of foreign to local nurses in my ward.

This goes beyond nursing. Those who are athletic and are also academically inclined must be able to choose between the two without feeling that athletics is way down the meritocratic ladder. Likewise for plumbers, electricians or chefs. We need to redefine what falls within the meritocratic umbrella or else what we deem to be blue collared workers will never have the salary that commensurate with their skills, and parents will be willing to go to the poorhouse just to ensure their children make it to better recognised professions – never mind what their interests are. It also means that we will have to perpetually rely on foreign workers for less prestigious jobs while many of our Singaporeans become unemployed because there are not enough white collared positions available.

Apart from passion, what incentivises us to stay in our careers? Is it not recognition from society that our jobs are meaningful, coupled with a salary that gives us a decent livelihood? How do we get these? We need to redefine meritocracy and let it be more inclusive.

As for me, the nurses have done a wonderful job and they deserve praise for their work. Thank you nurses of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ward 12C. I’d like to quote a conversation I had with Mya.

Mya came in looking a little frustrated but still smiling.

“I miss this ward.” She was assigned to a different ward – a male ward with several very demanding patients.

Me: Mya why are you always smiling?

Mya: If I don’t smile, how can I help my patients to smile?

Mya is not the only nurse like that. It’s difficult to smile, still they do it for the sake of their patients. Thank God for nurses like them.

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Categories: Uncategorized
  1. November 20, 2012 at 8:01 am

    Rest well, and get well soon.

  1. November 24, 2012 at 6:56 am

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