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A Day in the Life of a HCA Volunteer
26 December 2017

With a heart of gold, patients are gems to volunteers like Mrs Ong.

2017 is the designated Year of the Volunteer for HCA. It seems only fitting to round up the year by taking a peek into the amazing work that our volunteers do week after week in the lives of the beneficiaries and their families.

Volunteering for a hospice care is like how the movie character Forest Gump described life: you never know what you’re gonna get. It takes both courage and compassion to face the uncertainties in caring for people who struggle with life-limiting illnesses.

Meet Mrs Ong Kwan Han, a Medi Minder with Star PALS, HCA’s paediatric palliative care service. Medi Minders are volunteers who provide respite care service for beneficiaries’ caregivers, allowing them the opportunity to take some time off to simply recharge or run errands.

Our story follows Mrs Ong as she visits one of our Star PALS patients, Wee Yang, at his home. Our Medi Minder is on assignment to provide his mother, Mdm Ong Kim Huay, some respite – she needs some time to help out at her husband’s grocery store.

I see myself as Wee Yang’s ‘hands’ and ‘feet’.

Parents’ little gems

Mrs Ong takes her Medi Minder duties very seriously. Even before her official duties begin, her efforts start in her very own kitchen, as she makes effort to cook or bake her charge’s favourite food. On the menu today is moist chocolate cake for Wee Yang.

MRS ONG PUTS HER BAKING SKILLS TO GOOD USE, MAKING FESTIVE PANETTONNE FOR OUR STAR PALS BENEFICIARIES.

Building strong bonds with patients and gaining their parents’ trust is very important to her. “They (Star PALS beneficiaries) are their parent’s little gems who are very precious. Therefore, we need to be very careful during caregiving in order to gain this trust.”

“When they see that you are able to handle their child, they will slowly entrust the child to you.”

MRS ONG’S ATTENTION TO DETAILS IS ONE OF THE KEY ATTRIBUTES THAT MAKES HER AN OUTSTANDING MEDI MINDER.

She makes it a point to observe the behaviour and preferences of each individual patient.

“Wee Yang prefers his little pillow to be positioned with this little knob on the cover just below his chin,” Mrs Ong points to the little blue ball on the teddy bear pillow.

“There are also certain positions that will help relieve the discomfort in his arm when he sleeps.”

MRS ONG MASSAGES WEE YANG’S LEGS TO HELP PREVENT NUMBNESS.

Mrs Ong usually spends three to four hours with Wee Yang each time. “I see myself as Wee Yang’s ‘hands’ and ‘feet’. I fetch him a drink when he wants and if his hands are numb, I give them a good massage,” she smiles.

From caregiver to volunteer

Her confident demeanour today is a far cry from her initiation into the world of caregiving. In 2015, she became the main caregiver for her father who was diagnosed with end stage lung cancer and placed under HCA’s home hospice care programme.

“On his first day back home (from the hospital), we were not ready for his bowel incontinence. As a result, there was watery and smelly mess all over the house! I didn’t know what to do. I wanted to cry but couldn’t even afford the time for that,” Mrs Ong recalled that trying time.

THROUGH HER DEDICATION, MRS ONG HAS BUILT A STRONG BOND WITH WEE YANG.

“One day, I was so frustrated and stressed that it showed. My father asked me, ‘If you don’t help me, who will?’”

“It was only then that I realised how much my dad depended on me. I decided to adopt a change in mindset. I could not afford to be stay negative anymore.”

Mrs Ong took time to develop her caregiving skills, spending many hours practicing and learning from her initial attempts at diaper changing and tube feeding.

A few months after her father’s passing, her father’s primary care nurse from HCA mooted the idea of Mrs Ong volunteering as a Medi Minder. She eventually took up the offer after much consideration.

Ups and downs of a Medi Minder

Being resourceful and resilient, it did not take long for Mrs Ong to learn the ropes. Now, she even does her own research on the medications administered at her beneficiaries’ homes to gain a better understand of each’s intent and side-effects.

MRS ONG EXAMINES WEE YANG’S FINGERNAILS CAREFULLY FOR THE BEST WAY TO TRIM THEM.

However, being a Medi Minder is not without its heartbreaks. Mrs Ong fondly remembers a five month-old baby whom she took care of.

“Her condition was very volatile. She made it through Hari Raya Puasa and passed on one week later. After she died, I asked her parents to let me carry her one last time to say my goodbye,” her voice broke as she recounted the experience.

MDM ONG CHECKING WEE YANG’S COMPLEXION TOGETHER WITH MRS ONG.

“Even though we encounter sad moments during volunteering, I constantly remind myself each time before I enter a beneficiary’s home that there are only two things I can bring home with me – memories and experience.”

“All I need to do is simply give my best during those few hours (of volunteering) and accept the circumstances over which I have no control over.”

Helping others as a life purpose

Three hours fly past. Wee Yang’s mother, Mdm Ong comes home, tired from her work, but still breaks into a big smile when she sees Mrs Ong. The two have a quick discussion about Wee Yang before Mrs Ong waves goodbye to both mother and son and heads out.

As she walks home, she shares candidly about her plans for 2018, “If time permits, I am planning to go for a Manual Lymphatic Drainage course.” One cannot help but notice the glimmer of interest in her eyes as she says this.

there are only two things I can bring home with me – memories and experience.

An adjective comes to mind when one sees Mrs Ong: purposeful. For her, helping others is not just a hobby, job nor passion. She has made it her life’s purpose to ease the burden of caregiving off someone else’s shoulders.

For more information on how to become a Medi Minder and other volunteering opportunities, do drop us a mail at volunteer@hcahospicecare.org.sg. Remember: you too can make a difference!

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