Multi-lingual, multi-skilled and an infectiously positive attitude are a few traits that one would describe Ms Alice Heng, Senior Palliative Care Nurse. At age 63, retirement is far from her mind. “I would feel extremely restless if I were to retire,” she tells us. Alice shares that the fulfillment from serving her patients is what keeps her passion alive having previously worked 15 years with HCA Hospice (HCA).
“Since young, I was very curious about the four stages of life – birth, sickness, old age and death. As a child, I wondered where babies came from. My mother used to tell me that babies came from the rubbish bin.” Alice laughs heartily.
At the young age of 18, Alice embarked on what would be the beginning of her discovery to her questions about life. Her first job was a mid-wife. She then studied nursing and was seconded to Civil Defence as a Paramedic for 11 years. “Though I enjoyed the working hours, I felt I had lost touch with the medical industry, so I took a course in Gerontology. I thought it would be useful knowledge given that my mom rather advanced in age.” Alice spent the next four years at Home Nursing Foundation (HNF) as a nurse.
Alice prepares for her home visit by checking her patient’s history
“While I was at HNF, I was touched when I saw a group of nurses and doctors caring for our patients with gentleness and kindness. That was when I realised they were from a hospice.” In 2001, Alice found her way to the HCA office and enquired about palliative care nursing vacancies and the rest was history.
It is clear that Alice takes great satisfaction in her job. “I love my job because I can empathise with my patients and I learn so much from them.”
Currently, Alice is also HCA’s Home Hospice Caregiving Course Trainer, a role that is rare for a home hospice setting. She makes special home visits to train and equip caregivers with essential skills to provide optimum care for their loved ones. She clarifies that this home-based service is only available for caregivers who are unable to leave the house. The courses for HCA’s weekly Palliative Caregivers Programme are usually held at the respective satellite centres.
Alice greets her ‘students’ for the day at their home
“Good afternoon!” Alice’s bright and chirpy voice breaks through the unfamiliar atmosphere as she stands at the gate of Uncle Tim’s* house. Uncle Tim and his wife, Aunty Mag* respond with delighted smiles on their faces.
Beyond caregiving, Alice shares with Uncle Tim about the grant subsidies
Alice wastes no time in explaining the purpose of her visit.
Uncle Tim, evidently comfortable with Alice, began sharing about his pain points and discomfort. “Nurse, you know, my leg hurts when I try to bend it like this”, he demonstrates to her, and Alice encourages him to share more about his observations. He also gestures animatedly about his recent fall and how his domestic helper, Janice* tried to assist him, but caused more pain as she lifted him up.
Uncle Tim watches intently as Alice demonstrates how to rise from a fall safely
After having a clearer understanding of Uncle Tim’s symptoms and challenges, she began her presentation to the trio who sat around the coffee table, listening intently to the lesson. She switches with great ease from English, to Mandarin, to Hokkien and Bahasa when explaining to Janice.
An interactive lesson on hand-washing hygiene
“Ok, can you now show me the seven steps to hand-washing hygiene?” Alice asks Janice to demonstrate the seven steps to hand-washing hygiene. Janice diligently repeats the steps.
Alice explains about the possible scenarios Uncle Tim may face when his condition deteriorates and the tools he has available to help him.
Alice uses everyday household items to aid in her presentation
Alice also demonstrated how one should administer a subcutaneous injection with the aid of a roll of kitchen towel, should the need arise. Adaptability is clearly her strong suit as she sought out materials readily available within the home to use as teaching tools.
Alice demonstrates the correct posture when aiding a patient off the floor
The experienced home care nurse assesses the home’s high fall risk areas and watches like a hawk as Janice assists Uncle Tim to the washroom. Given the deteriorating condition of his physique and strength, Alice wanted to ensure both Aunty Mag and Janice knew the correct method in supporting Uncle Tim when he moves around the house or helping him up when he falls.
Janice puts her newly acquired bed transfer skills to practice
“Sorry Alice, it is past my afternoon nap time” apologises Uncle Tim as Alice begins to wrap up her class for the day. Although the training was catered for Aunty Mag and Janice, Uncle Tim shared that he had learnt a lot over the few hours and felt more prepared for the journey ahead.
The energy and passion that Alice conducts her lessons with, leaves one feeling empowered and comforted. When asked what she enjoys most about her job, she smiles brightly “I like that besides teaching, I can also help our patients and caregivers ease their anxieties and fears during this stressful period, by clarifying their doubts.”
When asked where she gets her boundless energy, she admits “There are times when it gets tiring. But that’s ok, because at the end of the day, it’s worth it.”
*Names have been changed to protect their identities.
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