Serene at the Nurses’ Merit Award ceremony, accompanied by HCA CEO Angeline Wee (left), HCA Star PALS Nurse Manager Lily Li (second from right) and Director of Nursing Angela Tan (right).
HCA Star PALS Senior Palliative Care Nurse Serene Wong is an endurance runner – literally and figuratively. Clocking 200km in the Monster Ultra 200 in 2017, Serene demonstrates the same resolve and tenacity in her journey as a nurse.
Serene’s spirit is near unbreakable, holding sturdy in the face of inclement weather and daunting work challenges. While caring for children and young adults with life-threatening illnesses is undoubtedly difficult, there is a beautiful paradox within.
“Despite the challenges my patients face, they continue to fight and live their lives to the fullest,” Serene shares. “I find strength and courage in them, to always persevere, to never give up.”
For Serene, the seeds of compassion were sown in the distant past, when she decided to venture into the Special Education industry. “I was a special education teacher for nine years,” Serene says. Fuelled by the drive to serve even further, Serene decided to make a career switch to nursing, applying for the Diploma in Nursing (Accelerated) at Nanyang Polytechnic.
It has been more than a decade since, and Serene has never looked back. “To me, nursing is a fulfilling job where we can touch lives and bring comfort to the suffering,” she enthuses.
Serene has a ready smile for everyone she meets, colleagues and patients alike.
In conversations with HCA’s nurses like Serene, a common theme often emerges: a desire to walk the last journey with their patients and loved ones, in the familiar comfort of their own homes. It is an intimate glimpse into the personal lives of those facing life-threatening conditions at their most vulnerable and sharing in their struggles and hopes.
When Serene’s patient Branda*, 15, passed on suddenly in the middle of the night, her parents were devastated. Branda had suffered fatal spontaneous tracheostomy bleeding while her parents were asleep. The respirator had caused Branda’s blood to spatter all over her room – a grisly scene that shocked her parents when they entered her room in the morning.
Confronted with the reality of her daughter’s death, Branda’s mother became hysterical and she frantically called Serene for help. Despite being stricken with dengue fever then, Serene responded immediately by activating her team’s doctor and medical social worker to head down to their home.
Later that day, Serene personally paid a visit to Branda’s house to console the family. There were no magic words to soothe the pain and grief, but the presence of a trusted friend provided some reassurance in times of loss.
Most professionals in the healthcare industry can attest to the physical, emotional and mental challenges that entail facing illness, dying and death on a near-daily basis.
Serene is no exception. “I have to acknowledge that I don’t have the answers to many of the sufferings that the patients are going through,” she says candidly. “There were times when I met with some challenges at work, and I questioned whether I was suitable for nursing.”
Gentle and attentive, Serene’s presence often brings much comfort to her patients and their loved ones.
The support from her family, friends and colleagues keeps her going. “I am very thankful to have like-minded colleagues to spur each other on in this challenging work that we do in paediatric palliative care,” Serene says. “Our organisation is very supportive of continual learning and encourages us to grow and improve.”
But what heartens Serene the most are the purest displays of affection and encouragement from her young patients. “I have a little six-year-old patient, who has a brain tumour. Whenever she hears my voice at the door during home visits, she shrieks with delight,” Serene shares. “She told me once, ‘Nurse Serene, when I grow up, I want to be just like you!’”
*not her real name