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Strong and compassionate

Senior nurses Alicia Ng and Maria Harrison are the backbone of the multidisciplinary team that cares for patients in TTSH’s Intensive Care Unit

 

For Ms Ng (left) and Ms Harrison, seeing patients get well and truly out of danger
is the most rewarding part of their job in the ICU. PHOTO: SAM YEO
 

The Straits Times (1 August 2016) - AS SENIOR nurses at Tan Tock Seng Hospital’s (TTSH) Intensive Care Unit (ICU), Ms Alicia Ng, 28, and Ms Maria Harrison, 44, care for the most severely ill patients who have to rely on machines to take on basic bodily functions.

For instance, the patients’ low brain activity means something as simple and natural as breathing has to be regulated by respiratory equipment.

Not all patients are sedated, so those who are alert and lucid can feel extremely uncomfortable being unable to move or breathe on their own. But it is looking after patients in their most vulnerable states that makes Ms Ng and Ms Harrison’s jobs rewarding and challenging at the same time.

Ms Ng — who has worked at the ICU for almost five years since graduating with a nursing degree from the National University of Singapore — says the small nurse-to-patient ratio meant having to monitor every single detail of the patient and be able to make critical decisions.

As for Ms Harrison, who has been an ICU nurse for 17 years, her interest stemmed from knowing she can support patients who could not even open their eyes or move.

She was a paediatric nurse at KK Hospital before she pursued an advanced diploma in neuroscience from Nanyang Polytechnic in 1999.

Meaningful and rewarding

Both of them point out that the duties of a nurse go beyond merely monitoring patients’ conditions. In fact, the nurses take on a counselling role too.

“ICU patients are more critically ill, thus more care is required. It also means their family and loved ones would be more anxious.

“In that sense, there are more demands on us when it comes to taking care of these patients and their families,” says Ms Ng, who learnt to speak tactfully to a patient’s family when explaining medical conditions or offering emotional support during tough times.

With all-round care needed for ICU patients, nurses often have to work in shifts, which can deter those who are considering a nursing career, as maintaining a work-life balance would be challenging.

Sometimes, nurses get overwhelmed with the sheer number of cases coming through.

Also, the death of a patient, while part of one’s medical career, is always hard to bear with, even for veteran medical staff. This is especially so if the patient has shown signs of improvement previously.

“It does hit you when they suddenly deteriorate,” says Ms Ng.

We see them at their worst. When they get better, they get transferred to the High Dependency Unit. And eventually, we see them walk and talk. Some of them remember and thank us. That makes it all worthwhile.

- MS MARIA HARRISON senior nurse Intensive Care Unit Tan Tock Seng Hospital

The most rewarding part of being an ICU nurse is seeing patients get well and truly out of danger.

“We see them at their worst. When they get better, they get transferred to the High Dependency Unit.

“And eventually, we see them walk and talk. Some of them remember and thank us. That makes it all worthwhile,” says Ms Harrison, whose biggest lesson she has drawn from her career is to never take the simplest things for granted, and be grateful for good health.

When Finance Minister Heng Swee Keat recovered from a stroke in June, he gave due credit to TTSH’s ICU medical staff who cared for him in what he believes were the toughest weeks of his life.

Ms Ng and Ms Harrison are two members of the team assigned to attend to him while he was admitted.

“We would consistently care for him, so we knew his case and we knew the doctors well. Most of the time we were rotated, so it was a privilege working with the same few people and experiencing that kind of rapport,” says Ms Ng.

Every medical staff member is a team player to ensure smooth work operations to facilitate the recovery of patients.

And providing the backbone of the multidisciplinary team that cares for patients in the ICU are nurses who “dispense comfort and compassion, and are the eyes and ears of patients and families battling a critical illness in ICU”, says Dr Wong Yu Lin, senior consultant of TTSH’s Department of Anaesthesiology, Intensive Care and Pain Medicine.


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Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.