Most of us do not give much thought to our feet, even though they take us to different places each day, quietly and steadfastly. Similarly, at the end of life, the feet are usually one of the most neglected areas of the body, overshadowed by other pressing medical issues.
A confluence of factors – immobility, medication and neglect – often lead to ingrown toenails in patients at the end of life. If left untreated, these can cause infection and pain, requiring the services of professional podiatrists like Fiona Hu.
Fiona is one of the few podiatrists in Singapore, an expertise she has put to good use for our patients over the past 10 years as an HCA volunteer. For Fiona, podiatry is not just a career, but also a work of love for our patients, and a means to restore their dignity at the end of life.
Fiona working on a patient’s ingrown toenails at his home.
Nails tend to curl when they are very long, which makes it difficult to trim. “Caregivers are often afraid to hurt these patients, who are very fragile and frail,” Fiona explains. “They tend to have thickened toenails and thin skin as well.”
A Feat of Love
Fiona’s volunteering journey with HCA began a decade ago, when the HCA Star PALS team reached out to the Podiatry Association for podiatry services. Ingrown toenails are a common condition for many Star PALS patients, as most are bed- or wheelchair bound, which can cause water retention in the feet.
The mother of three has a particularly soft spot for children. Fiona vividly remembers the first patient she attended to, a young girl afflicted with cerebral palsy. “I remember how her mother meticulously converted the room into a hospital ward, and it really tugged at my heart strings,” she shares.
Subsequently, Fiona moved on to serving adult patients in their homes. Beyond treating the condition, her efforts also bring comfort for patients’ families, to see their loved ones being attended to so meticulously. One of her patients was an elderly lady who had ingrown toenails and feet overgrown with dead skin.
“After the session, her daughter told me that it felt so good to see her mother’s feet in such good condition,” she recalls. “It is an emotional thing to see their loved one being cared for.”
Despite juggling her own busy practice and caring for three young daughters, Fiona always makes time to take on referrals made by our clinical team, for patients who require podiatry services. In addition, she also volunteers her skills and time at a nursing home, and for migrant workers.
It is Fiona’s way of giving back to the community, for all the opportunities she had been given. “I did not come from a well-to-do background, so I am thankful for the opportunity to study podiatry abroad on scholarship,” Fiona shares. “Since I found what I like at such an early age, I think I need to give back sooner too.”
“Volunteering is like a CCA (co-curricular activity) for me,” Fiona jokingly quips. “It is a privilege to give back to the community, if I can help, I should do so.”
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