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Gone but still in MY heart and mind
20 January 2016

Featuring the work of photographer Kerry Cheah, this article showcases Nurse Serene at work as she shares her pains and gains through lessons learnt from her patients at Star PALS, a paediatric palliative service for children with life threatening or life limiting conditions.

“We cry, I cry a lot. It’s not a taboo to cry, it only shows that my heart is always with the patients,” says Serene as she shows a personal record of her patients’ death anniversaries on her phone.

Serene’s heart has always been for the disadvantaged. She started her career teaching children with special needs for nine years, nursing came into the picture when she decided on a career switch. She joined the palliative care service two and a half years ago and has never looked back since.

Serene starts her day with administrative work and phone calls. Then, in contrast with her gentle disposition, she scoots off in her Vespa with her medical bag seated in the front to visit her patients.

“It is not a sad day every day, I do enjoy my visits. For me, the connection with families brings a great sense of satisfaction.”

Serene finds it a great privilege to be invited into the house of her patients. Thus, she does not misuse her designation as a nurse to dictate what the families do. Instead, journeying and supporting the families’ decisions are more important.

“They have all the rights to chase us out and reject our service,” says Serene who treats every first step into the house of a family a privilege. Her senses are all hyped up the moment she enters, she starts to identify the dynamics of the family, their problems and issues that she could help tackle. Her main concern is the patient and the concern also extends to the other family members – providing a holistic care.

“Patients and families sometimes turn us down due to the myths and disbeliefs of palliative care. There is only so much we can do for them to trust us,” says Serene as she recounts a few painful experiences with patients who passed on without the comfort that palliative care could provide. “Palliative care is one that I hope everyone can receive when diagnosed.”

Being quick to readjust to moods and environment is important in the work that Serene does. She may be visiting a dying patient in the morning and attending a birthday celebration in the afternoon.

“It’s so real. One moment I’m feeling the loss and the next moment, I celebrate an added year to a child’s life,” says Serene. Every relationship is an intimate, sacred and delicate experience. Her heart wrenches whenever she witnesses a child yearning to run and play outdoors yet trapped in a physically disabled body.

“It pains my heart even more when I leave the house of a suffering child and family, only to see everyone else in the surroundings living life as per normal,” says Serene who finds an even greater purpose and is certain about the work she does.

Serene does not stop when her patients pass on, she continues to foster a close relationship with their loved ones. Her time with each individual is a precious and uplifting moment.

She cries, pray and laugh with the families, sharing beautiful memories of those who had left. It always touches her when families treat her as one of their own – On one occasion, a family surprised and celebrated her birthday with a homemade cake.

“I’m tired after a day’s work but I’m always happy to be able to touch someone’s life,” says Serene who finds strength from her faith and family. “What warms my heart? Wishes of patients and families fulfilled before and after death.”

You may wish to drop a word of encouragement for Nurse Serene at communications@hcahospicecare.org.sg. Stay tuned to the next story of Nurse Serene’s patient under Star PALS – a sharing by Mdm Hermien and her baby’s beautiful death. Star PALS is a paediatric palliative care service dedicated to improve the quality of life for children with life-threatening or life-limiting conditions, in the comfort of their homes. Visit http://www.starpals.sg/ to find out more!