A FALL, a fracture, severe pain. Not exactly the ideal situation to make a career choice. But, for 12-year-old Chow Ying Leng it was in such adverse conditions that she fell in love with nursing.
The year was 1971 and the young Ying Leng was being tended to at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). “The nurse who cared for me was like an angel, and I wanted to be just like her. Immediately after my O-levels, I pursued nursing,” Madam Chow, now 57, recalled.
In 1976, aged 17, she joined the School of Nursing and went through training and attachments at various hospitals. Seven years later, she was deployed to SGH as a fresh nursing graduate. Marriage in 1984 led to her moving to National University Hospital (NUH) as it was close to her new home. It was a move that led to a year of training (July 1990 to July 1991) in oncology nursing at The Royal Marsden Hospital in the United Kingdom. On her return to Singapore, she cared for the cancer patients in NUH for over 20 years.
Madam Chow had her challenges as an oncology nurse. A cancer patient’s husband once took offence when Madam Chow smiled and greeted the patient. He had misinterpreted Madam Chow’s friendliness and assumed she was gloating over his wife’s plight.
Instead of defending herself, Madam Chow chose to turn the situation around: “I made the husband a cup of coffee and took him aside. I learnt that he was upset as he didn’t know how to cope with his wife’s cancer. Then, I shared with him how he could support his wife better.
“I encouraged him to hold her hand as she would be in pain. I also urged him not to get angry in her presence as it would affect her emotionally. The next time the patient came in with her husband, he immediately looked for me to administer the chemotherapy.”
She has also lost a colleague – a doctor whom she used to work with – to cancer, and finds it most challenging to watch young cancer patients battle the disease. “One five-year-old leukaemia patient told his mother, ‘Mummy, don’t worry, I will endure the pain (of the treatment).’ It was heartbreaking for me to hear,” Madam Chow recalled.
In these low moments, Madam Chow and her colleagues offer emotional support to one another. “It can get very depressing, especially when patients expire. So, we console and support each other,” she said.
In 2008, Madam Chow pursued a Post-Graduate Diploma of Higher Education (PGDHE) in nursing at Nanyang Technological University (NTU). After she graduated, she ran courses as a senior nurse clinician and educator at NUH. These included an oncology nursing course and a blood transfusion safety workshop.
Six months ago, Madam Chow joined Ng Teng Fong General Hospital (NTFGH) as a Senior Nurse Educator. She now runs courses such as foundation programmes for new nurses and the Clinical Instructor Course for nurses with at least three years of post-clinical experience.
“I’ve developed a passion for teaching. When the nurses learn and apply what they’ve been taught, it gives me great satisfaction,” said Madam Chow.
She teaches her nurses how to deal with deaths and shares her experiences during her time in oncology.
“I tell them, yes, you can cry for that moment, but be strong afterwards, as you still have to care for other patients.”
Despite the challenges, Madam Chow loves her job. “Being able to alleviate patients’ pain and suffering and seeing them recover bring me satisfaction. I find it rewarding when I can share my experiences and mentor nurses,” she said.
Outside of work, the feisty senior enjoys watching Hong Kong drama serials and cooking for her family. She is also very close to her six siblings and they travel together at least once a year.
“My family has a wonderful time together whenever we travel.. it’ll be very noisy wherever we go, but I thoroughly enjoy our quality time,” Madam Chow said with a smile.
After each holiday, Madam Chow creates a video montage for her family to remember the wonderful holiday memories. She even adds music and subtitles! When praised for her video-editing skills, the active senior said: “When I have a keen interest in something and don’t know how to go about it, I ask for help, or use Google – I did that when I first started making videos. I think it’s important to be tech-savvy!”
Most importantly, Madam Chow believes in maintaining an optimistic outlook in life: “Be positive in order to move on from setbacks and live well. You can’t achieve much if you’re negative.
She is living proof of that, given the painful introduction way back in 1971 to her chosen profession.
This story is part of an 'Everyday Heroes' series. To read our previous story featuring Senior Staff Nurse Rahjee Chalson, who works at Outram Polyclinic, click here.