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“Precious Gems 13″ – Many hands make light work
30 May 2017

We rang the doorbell of Grandpa Tung’s* house. It took a while before the door was opened by a little boy peering cautiously behind it. Our nurse exclaimed “Hello boy boy, I am the nurse who is coming to see your Grandpa. I am a good person, don’t worry. Just open the door for us!” I asked our nurse, “How do you expect boy boy to believe you?” and we all laughed. Small light moments to alleviate the highly emotional stresses our nurses face everyday. Our nurse then explained that she had been here several times and four year old Ben should know her. We could hear Grandpa frailly asking Ben to open the door. Ben struggled to plug the door stopper on the heavy door and then brought us a bunch of keys. He could not reach the padlock and we had to open the gate ourselves.

Grandpa was in a wheelchair with a urine drainage bag at his side. His swollen feet were propped up. He has biliary tract cancer. He complained that Grandma was still not home and was taking too long to collect her dentures. While our nurse was asking after Grandpa, Grandma soon appeared at the door. She was sweaty, a little harried, but otherwise in control. She felt bad that she was not at home ahead of our arrival. She swiftly explained that Grandpa felt pain whenever he urinates, his urine was dirty and he did not eat much. He regularly used his inhaler and takes 2.5cc of morphine whenever he is breathless or feels pain. 

Grandma promptly laid a mattress protector on the bed, turned on the fans and lifted Grandpa on the bed. Grandpa was quite breathless and our doctor recommended that an oxygen concentrator be brought in. Our doctor checked the catheter and found that it was misaligned. This had caused the pain when Grandpa urinates. Our clinicians realigned the catheter and Grandpa was all comfortable again. All throughout Grandpa’s examination, Grandma was running in and out of the room. She gave Ben a box of fruit and gave him instructions to get ready for school. 

Our Medical Social Worker (MSW) then arrived at short notice, as our nurse had called her to help Grandma with the loan of an oxygen concentrator and also with potential caregiving issues. While chatting with her, Grandma excused herself, shuffled into the kitchen, placed a few pots on the stove and started preparing lunch for Ben. After that, she ran into the bedroom to hear from our doctor and nurse. When she next hurried into the kitchen, she managed to dish a bowl of porridge for Ben. In between she was picking up used tissues from the floor and tidying the house, which was spick and span. Whilst she was cutting an apple for Ben, Grandpa called out to her. She shouted “Coming!” and commented to me that Grandpa was always looking for company and ran into the bedroom. She came out to get medication for him and was back in the room again. 

Grandma did not once lose her temper. Our doctor, nurse, MSW and I were awestruck by her efficiency, but we were more concerned about her ability to keep this up. When our MSW asked to get Grandma some help, she explained that the June school holidays were approaching and her daughter, who is a teacher, would be taking care of Ben. She would then be able to take better care of Grandpa. She apologised profusely to our MSW for making her come all the way and refusing any help. When asked what will happen after her daughter goes back to teaching, she said ruefully in Mandarin that she will “walk a step, count a step” – take things as they come and not think too far ahead.

Grandma is a very strong woman and a wonderful caregiver. Kudos to Grandma who is a gem of unparalleled quality. But I also want to shine the light on the gems from HCA – the members of our multi-disciplinary team, who dedicate so much effort to make things better for our patients and their caregivers. Not all of them are our staff – our doctor is a volunteer who dedicates her Thursdays to HCA. Thank you to these wonderful people who do this for the passion and love of our beneficiaries.

*not his real name