MANILA – Jenny, a Filipino nurse at a Singapore hospital, used to work in a ward that had only four or five patients at a time prior to the pandemic.
“Now, we have 14 (in our Covid-19 ward), and we are opening another one,” said the 34-year-old nurse, who requested anonymity for reasons of privacy.
Each nurse is now taking care of two patients, and even their supervisors are helping out, she added.
Referring to patients in the intensive care unit (ICU), she said: “They are scared. They keep reaching for their call bells.”
It takes time to get to them when they are calling for help because nurses need to put on personal protective equipment (PPE) and other gear, which takes about five to 10 minutes.
They also have to bathe the patients, change their diapers and turn them face down on their beds to ease their breathing.
One needs to be strong mentally to work in an ICU ward, said Jenny, as all the patients are seriously ill. Their vital signs are so bad that the most doctors and nurses can do for them is keep their oxygen level at 88, far below the 95 needed for healthy breathing, she said.
“We have been intubating patients every day,” said Jenny, who has been working at the hospital for two years. “We have a heavy workload now.”
She said she has had shifts when one patient was intubated because of breathing difficulties in the morning, then another one in the afternoon, and then a patient died just before she ended her shift in the evening.
“Then someone else would be rolled in,” she added.
For Jenny, the longest that a patient in her Covid-19 ward managed to survive was 14 days. Nearly all who died were in their 60s or older, with a host of underlying medical issues. But there were a few in their late 30s who died.
Jenny does not mind the heavy workload, saying that she could “feel the appreciation for the work we do”. She said the hospital recently gave her a raise and a $4,000 one-time bonus. She is given meals while on duty, as well as vitamins and test kits.
She said she has been overwhelmed by public support for front-line health workers. Hotels, grocery stores, restaurants and gyms have been giving them discounts, vouchers and “appreciation cards”.
Jenny said she received a 50 per cent discount for a three-day, two-night stay at Marina Bay Sands. Anytime Fitness offered health workers a 20 per cent discount on gym membership, and FairPrice supermarket distributed $10 vouchers for Nurses’ Day.
Jenny, who is married, has not returned to the Philippines for more than two years.
When the pandemic began spreading across the globe, she wanted to return home, but her boss persuaded her to stay in Singapore. Back then, the Philippines was gripped by a surge of infections, while Singapore largely managed to control the spread of the coronavirus.
Her boss told her that she would be more at risk and would probably find herself unemployed if she returned to the Philippines. So, she decided to stay on in Singapore.
She has not regretted that decision.
“We knew little about the virus last year. Now, we know how to better manage it, how to use our resources more effectively,” she said. “Besides, there is no place really where you can hide from this virus.”