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Helping hands in an emergency

  Sunday, 01 l 08 l 2010 Source:  The Sunday Times   
By: Jackie Au Yong

Staff nurse Toh Hui Xian copes with the ups and downs in the fast-paced environment of the emergency room to alleviate suffering and save lives

THE patient’s mobile phone rang, but instead of picking it up, staff nurse Toh Hui Xian stood still, almost transfixed on the screen as its shrill sounds echoed in the emergency room.

The patient — a Chinese man in his 40s — had just been pronounced dead after failing to be resuscitated from a heart attack.

helping handMs Toh, 24, who has been working in the emergency department of the Singapore General Hospital since 2006, quickly recovered and answered the patient’s mobile phone. It was his wife on the line.

“I could only ask the patient’s wife to come to the hospital as soon as she could. I could sense the anxiety of the wife when she learnt that her husband had been sent to the hospital. She kept asking me if her husband was all right.

“I felt terribly sorry that I could not reveal the truth to her over the phone. At that moment, I felt so helpless as there was nothing I could do,” recalls Ms Toh, who was one of the recipients of the HealthcareHumanitarian Award this year.

That episode happened just a few weeks after she joined the department. Since then, she has been through several more of these incidents, but “it is still very heart wrenching every time I am faced with the death of a patient”.

Emotional experiences like these are what nurses in the emergency departments go through as part of their everyday work.

Ms Toh, who was inspired to become a nurse after witnessing what happened to helpless patients during the Sars period, works in shifts that are rostered monthly, and different duties are rotated among all the nurses.

“For example, one day I may be assessing patients when they come in at the triage area to quickly gauge their problems, another day I might be in the critical care area for patients in need of urgent treatment.

“I am also trained to help in the resuscitation area for the most serious cases, like people who are brought in after a serious road accident.

“Each area will require me to wear a different hat within the role of a nurse in order to provide the most suitable patient care or support to the doctor,” she

Besides being well trained for the many aspects in emergency care, certain attributes are required too, she says.

“I have to be a reliable worker whom my colleagues trust or count on. “I also need the ability to multitask and think on my feet as the work environment is ever changing.”

She also faces challenges like managing the expectations of tired, worried and anxious family members of the patients.

“It is common for us to face anxious relatives who can be demanding and nasty towards us. We need to be patient and compassionate when dealing with these situations,” she says.

“The dynamic work environment in the emergency department also means that we need to be versatile and knowledgeable about our work."
- Staff nurse Toh Hui Xian, emergency department of the Singapore General Hospital

“I am glad that the department sends me constantly for upgrading courses to equip me with up-to-date skills and knowledge.”

As part of her training and voluntary work, Ms Toh also went on humanitarian missions to Sri Lanka after the 2004 tsunami, and to Myanmar two years ago to render aid to cyclone survivors.

Clearly, no two days are the same in Ms Toh’s line of work and she relishes it.

“The fast-paced environment keeps my adrenalin going and I know that I will never get bored in such a dynamic, yet satisfying, working environment,” she says.

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