“You are unlike the rest, you really do care,” Amin* said. “I don’t believe in giving information if they are not going to help.”
For HCA Senior Medical Social Worker Yap Ching Sian, these valuable words of affirmation were a significant breakthrough.
A slew of prior negative experiences with social workers had left Amin and his family wary and sceptical of the social services in general. When Amin’s mother, Mdm Sharifah*, was referred to HCA, the team faced an uphill task to win the family’s trust and build rapport.
Ultimately, it was the team’s utmost sincerity and professionalism that changed their minds. “I made sure to follow through with all of the requests and to be upfront about the outcomes of the various applications, even if they were not successful,” Ching Sian shares. “Together with the family, we would come up with a Plan B and discuss about how I could support them.”
On Ching Sian’s first few visits to their home, she noticed that Amin was overwhelmed by the intense caregiving responsibilities he had to shoulder. Amin had put his career on hold, to care for Mdm Sharifah, who was battling advanced Follicular Lymphoma and was also attending to the daily needs of his elder brother, who is differently abled.
“Amin had little social interaction outside of the home,” Ching Sian shares. “He was also very close to his mother and could not imagine how life would be after her passing.”
Following Ching Sian’s social screening and assessment, she got to know the rest of Amin’s siblings. “I decided to rope in one of Amin’s sisters, who had been very consistent in caring for her family,” she explains with regard to building a social support structure for Amin.
When Mdm Sharifah’s condition deteriorated rapidly, the family decided it would be better for the elderly lady to move in with her daughter, as Amin was finding it increasingly difficult to cope.
After Mdm Sharifah was transferred to a different HCA satellite centre, Ching Sian requested to follow through with the case, in order to continue supporting the family.
There are few things in life as painful as words left unsaid and wishes left unfulfilled. Ching Sian encouraged Amin and his siblings to talk to their mother often and express what they needed to say. Fulfilling their mother’s wishes, also brought about emotional comfort, knowing they had done their best for her. “When she requested for her favourite brand of iced lemon tea, they made sure she got it as soon as possible,” Ching Sian shares. “It might have been a simple wish, but it was meaningful.”
That element of familial love was gently imbued in all of the siblings’ interactions with their mother. A doting and expressive mother, Mdm Sharifah would tell her children how much she loved them. “She made the effort to acknowledge Amin’s efforts and thank him for taking care of her,” Ching Sian shares. “On days when she struggled to speak, she would squeeze Amin’s hand reassuringly.”
Being able to spend quality time with his mother, helped Amin come to terms with her impending death. “He said, ‘I have no regrets and I know she will be watching over me until the time comes for me to join her,” Ching Sian recalls.
Mdm Sharifah’s precious legacy of love was extended to Ching Sian as well. After Mdm Sharifah’s passing, Amin invited Ching Sian to attend the Muslim last rites, which are typically reserved for family members only.
“I felt honoured to be invited but I didn’t want to intrude,” Ching Sian explains.
Her concerns were dismissed by Amin, who resolutely told her: “My mum would have loved for you to be there. I am very sure about this.”
Ching Sian was irrevocably moved by the solemn and intimate ritual, as the family prepared for the final farewell.
“It was a very significant gesture; they really regard her as a sister,” says HCA Nurse Manager Ng Wan Ru, who was one of Mdm Sharifah’s nurses. “Ching Sian was able to develop a close relationship with Mdm Sharifah, even though the latter was hard of hearing and did not speak much English.”
Ching Sian and fellow medical social worker, Xian Xiong. Teamwork is crucial to ensuring the best care for patients and their loved ones.
Ching Sian emphasises the importance of teamwork, in providing the best care for patients and their families. “We update each other frequently and I will also keep them in the loop,” she says. “The synergy of the team gives me 200% more motivation to work hard on any case.”
Amin subsequently penned a beautifully written and eloquent letter to HCA, praising Ching Sian, the nurses and doctors for their dedication and compassion. “I express my deepest and greatest sense of gratitude for all their hard work and their medical expertise during our most difficult time,” Amin wrote. “No words can further express my immense gratitude for everything the team from HCA had done.”
“Ching Sian took the time to understand us fully, on our struggles and despite the short tenure, she has been through with us, on every emotional rollercoaster. I believe that if she were not assigned to us, I reckon I will not be able to stand on my two feet after the recent loss of my mother.”
*not their real names