What Can Nurses Who Care For Terminally Ill Patients Teach Us About Emotional Labour?

Unlike nurses who work in hospitals and collaborate closely with doctors, Community Nurses usually work alone and devise a care plan for their patients independently. This is because they take care of patients who have been discharged from hospitals, but still require rehabilitative support or a continuation of care; a majority of these community patients are the elderly. Thus, nurses in the Community Care sector also provide palliative support to patients during their last stages of life.

We wanted to find out whether the constant interaction with illness and mortality-especially during a pandemic that is disproportionately fatal to the elderly-has changed Nishantini’s and Chin Poh’s perspectives on life.
Some of their responses have been lightly edited for length and clarity.
Nishantini’s typical work day involves performing necessary daily procedures for her clients, such as wound management, changing of the urinary catheter, reviewing the Seniors’ Mobility and Enabling Fund to make sure they can afford their medical fees, and so on. Aside from these medical procedures, she stresses that emotional care is an important component of nursing as well: she makes sure to “chat with clients to see how they are doing and ask them about their day”.
Chin Poh is 50 this year. Prior to taking on a nursing role, Chin Poh was an Assistant Engineer. Before the pandemic hit, he was a palliative care nurse at Bright Vision Hospital (BVH), where he cared for patients who suffer from terminal illnesses. (He is currently stationed at Sengkang Community Hospital’s rehabilitation ward.)
Echoing Nishantini’s emphasis that caring for patients involves more than medical attention, Chin Poh explains that his duties as a palliative nurse included giving patients “physical, emotional, and psycho-social support”, and even to family members of the patients, in cases of bereavement. As Chin Poh says, “It can be heartbreaking after the demise of a loved one. The team tries to relieve some of the emotional burden felt by the family and close friends in any way we can.”
Nishantini: My mum, who is a health attendant, has always told me stories of how she helped people around her, especially the elderly. Under her influence, I grew to love helping others too. Hence, I decided that I want to be a nurse. In a way, I am fulfilling my mum’s dream on her behalf as she always wanted to be a nurse.
I wanted to be a home care community nurse because I hope that the elderly can receive the best nursing care in their own homes. Having been in this field for 9 years, I have heard many seniors saying that they would want to spend their last moments in their homes with their loved ones around.
Chin Poh: I graduated as a Registered Nurse from Nanyang Polytechnic (NYP) after a two-year Professional Conversion Programme in April 2005. I was an Assistant Engineer before this for nine years and decided to join the healthcare sector to follow my desire to make a difference in the lives of others, especially the elderly.
Picking up new skills was not easy for me during my early years in Nursing but I had guidance and constructive feedback from my mentors and colleagues along the way.
How did your family and friends respond when you decided to be a nurse in the Community Care sector? Has their reaction changed since the pandemic?
Nishantini: My family and friends were very glad and supportive of my decision as they knew that it has always been a dream of mine. Being able to work flexible working hours as compared to shift hours is also helpful as I am able to spend more time with my family and child.
They are still as supportive, if not more. In fact, they are proud to know someone in the family who has a part to play in the fight against Covid-19.
Chin Poh: I received great support from my family and friends, especially from my wife and two kids. They are very understanding about my passion to care for others and are very proud of me for being a nurse.
To be honest, apart from the support I received from my colleagues and mentors, my family too played an important role in contributing to my success as a nurse all these years.
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