The pandemic has brought on new challenges for nurses, here’s how some of them get through this difficult time.
Since the start of the pandemic, our frontline workers have been working tirelessly to keep the pandemic under control. But it hasn’t been an easy road for them.
On top of having to don uncomfortable personal protective equipment (PPE) during their shifts, adjusting to the many new safety measures at their hospitals, some nurses have also unfortunately dealt with cases of discrimination against them.
I spoke to five nurses who have worked during the COVID-19 pandemic to understand how it has been for them and what has helped them get through this tough time.
Natalie Ngin Li Xin, a recent nursing graduate and incoming full-time nurse, shared that because of the new safety protocols at hospitals, there is often a lot more work for nurses to do.
“Things like having to swab each new patient who comes in and having to don PPE for very routine procedures like nasogastric feeding, really adds to the overall workload,” said the 22-year-old.
Ng Rong Rong, 30, an operating theatre nurse from the National University Hospital, said that having to wear an N95 mask throughout her entire shift can make breathing difficult.
“It’s also now protocol to treat every suspected case like an actual COVID-19 case, so we have to wear full PPE when coming into contact with them and we need to clean the entire room after their procedures. This all adds up to a lot more time and work,” she added.
Working as a nurse during a pandemic is not just physically draining, as some nurses also share the mental toll that it has taken on them.
Kimberley-Ann Tan, 25, is a general medicine nurse at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) and often interacts with elderly or bed-bound patients.
She said that during the time when TTSH was still an active cluster, no visitors would be allowed to visit.
“My heart really hurts, especially for the patients who have passed away and weren’t able to spend their last few days with their loved ones,” she shared, adding that she often had to facilitate video calls with dying patients and their family members, finding it hard to hold back tears behind her face shield and goggles.
“On top of the already heavy workload, we also carry the responsibility of being the only link between the family and the patient whose days are numbered. We try to go out of our way to support the family and patient through this time,” she added.
Jake, 25, who is a nurse at a public hospital, has witnessed his own colleagues having to deal with their own grief and continue working through the pandemic.
“Some of the foreign staff have had family members back home who perished because of COVID-19 and have had to continue working here,” said Jake, who chose not to reveal his last name.
He also shared that he has seen foreign nurses here cry when FaceTiming their children back home, as they are unable to travel home to visit them.
“Not being able to have pre-COVID-19 methods of relieving stress like travelling has also taken a toll, as it feels like I’m constantly working and cannot fully escape the stressful hospital environment,” he added.
For Natalie Rodrigues, 23, an incoming nurse, hearing about the recent cases of discrimination against nurses has been difficult.
“The news of discrimination has been disheartening to hear as someone who is going to enter this field,” she said.
Kimberley also shared her disappointment in hearing about some of the experiences that her colleagues have faced.
“I’ve had colleagues who have tried to book Grab rides to the hospital, but their rides would get cancelled. I’ve also had colleagues who didn’t want to wear their uniforms to work so that they could avoid getting looks from people in public,” said Kimberley.
Jake shared how some patients or family members have been verbally abusive to nurses, as they don’t understand the new restrictions and policies that have been put in place because of COVID-19.
“Shouting wouldn’t change the policy, and there’s usually nothing that nurses can do to change the situation. All these kinds of actions towards nurses will harm the community in return, as it may make healthcare workers leave the profession,” added Jake.
Despite the tough times, some nurses shared that having good support systems have helped them get through this period.
Natalie Ngin shared that she is thankful to her family for being understanding and caring when she gets home tired from work.
“My family will try to cook for me because they know I don’t like hospital food, so I’ll have nice food to bring to work,” she said.
Natalie Rodrigues shared that she opted to self-isolate from her family during the final weeks of her attachment at TTSH, as she was worried about the cluster that emerged during her time there and about passing the virus to her grandparents.
“The acts of support from friends and family who would call often and deliver food really comforted me,” said Natalie.
Rong Rong shared how her hospital’s management makes them feel supported through the different phases of the pandemic.
“They try to provide whatever is needed so we don’t have a lack of protective gear or equipment. All the management and upper management often get together to come up with proper guidelines that we can easily follow. Such things really do make us nurses feel safe and prepared coming to work,” she said.
Jake shared that he feels supported by good friends and family who show concern for him, as well as having a good team of colleagues.
“There have also been more mental health resources available to us, so that’s been very helpful when we need to talk to a professional about the stresses and problems we face,” he added.
Facing these new challenges and dealing with discrimination can be demoralising for nurses, but here are things Singaporeans can do to help nurses feel supported.
Natalie Rodrigues said: “The general public may not be able to completely understand the hardships nurses face but I think it is important to have empathy and to take a moment to put themselves in nurses’ shoes.
“Small gestures of appreciation are enough for the nurses to know that the public is behind supporting them and that they can focus their energy on fighting the virus,” she added.
Natalie Ngin said that she’s encouraged by the news that salaries for nurses will increase as part of Budget 2021, recognising that healthcare workers often work long and hard hours.
Natalie Ngin also shared that small, personal gestures can go a long way when it comes to showing support for nurses.
“I have a neighbour, who whenever she sees me in my uniform, will thank me for doing the job that I do,” she said.
Rong Rong said that the public can help advocate for nurses if they come across people being rude towards them.
“Nurses are actually probably cleaner than the average person on the street. We are constantly in protective gear, we are always washing our hands and we have our masks on. It’s good if people around us can help to inform others of what they are mistaken about nurses,” she added.
Kimberley suggested that sharing online posts about what nurses go through is a good way to reach someone who doesn’t understand.
“Even though this seems like a simple thing, knowing that so many people support nurses and would send us words of encouragement does help us feel appreciated for the work we do,” she said.
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