The Straits Times (30 November 2019)
In the course of her career, Ms Teo Mui Hiang has cut the hair of over 100 persons and sewn costumes. But the 48-year-old is neither a hairdresser nor a seamstress – she is a nurse who has constantly gone the extra mile to improve the lives of her patients and fellow staff.
For these efforts and more, she received the Tan Chin Tuan Nursing Award 2019 yesterday. It honours nurses for professional and behavioural competencies, and professional and personal contributions.
Ms Teo, who has been a nurse for 26 years and is currently a senior assistant nurse in Tan Tock Seng Hospital, explained that she often cuts consenting patients’ hair even though it is not part of her official duties, as it helps them feel better.
“I want to help them look nice and tidy. If you’re unhygienic, sometimes you’ll feel sicker.” She also sewed a “God of Wealth” costume, complete with beard and hat, for her colleague to dress up and bring festive cheer to patients during Chinese New Year.
But that is not all she has stitched together. Earlier this year, Ms Teo was behind an initiative to help fellow nurses handle the multiple pieces of equipment needed for their duties. The large number of items often results in pieces of equipment being dropped or misplaced, she explained.
So Ms Teo bought some cloth to sew pockets onto the vests that the nurses wear while making their rounds, providing them with a place for their equipment while attending to patients.
And when some colleagues complained the vests were too uncomfortable, she bought more cloth and sewed crossbody slings, which were lighter and more breathable, to hold their equipment.
She does all this in her spare time and pays for the expenses out of her own pocket.
It is not the first initiative she has taken to help improve the lives of fellow staff. As blood pressure cuffs needed to be accounted for but tended to get misplaced, she came up with the idea of attaching Velcro strips to the walls above patients’ beds that nurses could stick the cuffs to. She even did this for other wards on her floor that were not under her purview, to make things easier for the staff there.
Ms Teo’s nearly three decades of nursing have been full of challenges.
As a nurse during the severe acute respiratory syndrome or Sars crisis in 2003, she had to overcome her fears, and those of the public, to carry on with her duties.
She recalled she and her colleagues would not wear their nurses’ uniforms in public as others would avoid them, and taxi drivers would refuse to drop her off at the hospital. But she persevered regardless, for the sake of her patients.
“If everyone fled, who would care for them?” she said.
How does she handle those patients who are not always easy to deal with? For instance, Ms Teo has to find ways to accommodate patients who have dementia and insist on going home. In such cases, she and her colleagues would sometimes go through the motions of pretending to take the patient to wait for a taxi. Then, acting as though no taxis were available, they would coax them to return to their ward to “wait” for their family to come and pick them up.
Tiring though the job may be, Ms Teo has never thought of quitting.
“When you see patients smile and they thank you, it’s worth it.”
Calling the award a surprise and “a bonus”, Ms Teo intends to continue in nursing for as long as she is healthy and able. She said: “You must have patience and passion...
It’s not easy but if you have the heart for it, you can get through it.”