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Fleeting Yet Unforgettable Friendships
31 August 2020

HCA Day Hospice Nurse Manager Siong Meei Jeng shares about the joyous and meaningful friendships forged with her patients in her course of work, one of whom is our Day Hospice patient, Soh Ah Khek. Above: Day Hospice Nurse Manager Siong Meei Jeng (left) joyfully poses with her friend and Day Hospice patient, Soh Ah Khek (right). Ah Khek, who has to use a respirator frequently to help her cope with her breathing difficulties, has no choice but to wear her face mask as such.

Language Barriers

By Ruth Chua, HCA Community Relations

After Meei Jeng carefully helps Ah Khek settle down, adjusting her respirator so that she can breathe better during our interview, I pose Ah Khek the question: “How is your friendship with Meei Jeng like?”

A look of confusion flashes across her face and she immediately turns to Meei Jeng for enlightenment. “What is she asking about? I don’t understand.” Ah Khek says in Mandarin, frowning.

Meei Jeng explains the question to her in Mandarin, and she laughs.

“The question you asked is too broad!” Ah Khek says. “Something more specific will help. Also, I find it very difficult to talk with you as you don’t speak Mandarin well…” she laments.

Meei Jeng offers to translate and we begin chatting.

Missing in Action

As the saying goes, “Friendship is all about trusting each other, loving each other, helping each other, and being happy together.”

This holds true for the pair, who have gone through some interesting circumstances together since their friendship began two years ago.

Meei Jeng pats Ah Khek’s shoulder occasionally, while she recounts the time Ah Khek did not attend Day Hospice for a week and was uncontactable. That had everyone at the Day Hospice worrying greatly, especially Meei Jeng and the medical social workers.

As Ah Khek lived alone, possible scenarios of her slipping or fainting at home crossed Meei Jeng’s mind and prompted her to contact Ah Khek’s younger sister.

With no response from her sister, Meei Jeng nearly wanted to make a police report. Fortunately, with the help of a few of Ah Khek’s neighbours, Meei Jeng was relieved to discover that Ah Khek tended to be out of the house for most part of the day and would only return in the evening.

“See, we were so concerned about you, that I nearly resorted to calling the police to help us locate you, if we didn’t find out from your neighbours.” Meei Jeng chides gently.

Ah Khek smiles. “Yes, yes, now I know I must call you in future, if I’m not coming to the Day Hospice!” she says.

Potted plants outside Ah Khek’s flat, nurtured by her ‘magical’ green fingers.

Cheerful Camaraderie

On other occasions, as Ah Khek is not fluent in English and is most comfortable with speaking Mandarin, Meei Jeng is the first one she turns to for help.

When Ah Khek’s motorised wheelchair was broken, she expressed concerns over it. So Meei Jeng, together with Adeline, HCA Senior Social Work Associate, saw that it got repaired.

At the Day Hospice, Meei Jeng would monitor Ah Khek’s breathing issues closely and her other needs, such as assisting her during nature’s call and massaging her neck and back.

“I’m very old already! I need help in everything, and *Mei Zhen Jie is very good with that,” chuckles Ah Khek.

“She loves to call me Mei Zhen Jie, but I’m younger than her,” Meei Jeng says.

Sisterhood

Meei Jeng describes Ah Khek as someone with a “very strong character”.

“Ah Khek is very independent,” Meei Jeng explains. “She tries to solve her own problems before turning to us for help. As she has no children, she has been coping with living on her own.”

In turn, Ah Khek is very content with calling Meei Jeng a “very good” nurse and her “sister”.

“She is the easiest to talk to,” Ah Khek says. “I have difficulty conversing with others as they can’t speak Mandarin.”

They both share the same sentiments about the friendships forged at the Day Hospice. “We are like a big family. Everyone is very good to me,” Ah Khek says, sounding pleased. Meei Jeng nods in assent.

Meei Jeng attends to a patient during her consultation with a doctor.

Through Leaps and Bounds

Throughout Meei Jeng’s years as a nurse at various hospitals, Meei Jeng has forged many meaningful friendships with patients, from all walks of life. She recounts one which served as a good reminder for her to remain optimistic and resilient.

“It was a lady patient I met 30 years back, about my age,” Meei Jeng says. “She was paralysed from buttock down after she fell from a tree.”

“She was very positive and worked very hard to rehabilitate herself. After a year of rehabilitation, she was able to move around everywhere on her own, on a wheelchair.”

The lady adapted with a stay-home job and was eventually able to attend Meei Jeng’s church wedding.

“It reminds me to be positive and to never give up easily in difficult times, or on ‘difficult patients’,” Meei Jeng reflects.

*Mei Zhen: Meei Jeng’s name in Mandarin

*Jie: a term for “sister” in Mandarin