Nursing Heroes Part 6 - Colleagues’ support helped her overcome grief

NURSING has helped Chua Yan Hoon through some of the most painful moments in her life. In 1968 she lost her elder brother to leukaemia. The three months before he died were traumatic for her as he was in agonising pain. The Senior Nurse Manager at Bukit Batok Polyclinic said: “I witnessed how much my brother was suffering… he would constantly groan from the intense pain. It was heartbreaking.”

“I recalled how the nurses had nursed my brother when he was very ill, caring for him until the end of his life. So, I told myself - I want to be a nurse. I want to be just like them and look after the sick,’’ said the 65-year-old.

Inspired, the young Yan Hoon signed up for a midwifery course at Kendang Kerbau Hospital, now known as KK Women’s and Children’s Hospital (KKH), as a pupil midwife in 1970. After passing her midwifery course in 1973, she worked at Toa Payoh Hospital’s labour ward until 1974 (Toa Payoh Hospital merged with Old Changi Hospital in 1996 to form New Changi Hospital which has since been renamed as Changi General Hospital). For 2½ years, she trained as a student nurse at Singapore General Hospital (SGH) before moving to Alexandra Hospital’s (AH) medical ward in March 1977.

However, tragedy struck her life again in 1978 when she was 27 and five months pregnant. This time, she lost her husband in a car accident. “My husband usually drove to work but that fateful day, his friend gave him a lift. The car crashed into a stationary bus… he passed away several hours later at 12.40am,” said Madam Chua.

Losing her husband was terrible for the soon-to-be mother. Fortunately, Madam Chua had the support of her superiors at AH, who were understanding and empathetic throughout her toughest moments. “My Principal Nursing Officer (PNO) called me into his office and told the Higher Nursing Officer (HNO), ‘Let her decide where she wants to work. Whichever department she wishes to be transferred to, let her go there.’”

Madam Chua opted to work at the specialist outpatient clinic at AH as she wouldn’t have to work shifts. Her nights were spent looking after her child and mother-in-law who had lost her only son in the accident.

“I was a mother, a father, a daughter, a daughter-in-law, and a nurse. It was terrible giving birth to my son, knowing that he wouldn’t have a father. Without the strong support from all the Matrons (the Director of Nursing used to be known as Matron), Nursing Officers, Clinical Heads and my family, I wouldn’t have pulled through. I am strong because of them,” Madam Chua said.

She worked at the AH Specialist Outpatient Clinic until 1983. One year later, she was ready for a change and transferred to AH’s Accident & Emergency (A&E) department. After her Community Health Nursing course in 1988, she worked in Queenstown Polyclinic before moving to Bukit Batok Polyclinic (managed by the National Healthcare Group Polyclinics) in 2002. She has been working at the polyclinic ever since.

In 2010, Madam Chua switched to part-time nursing to spend more time with her three grandchildren. Now, she assists the Head Nurse at Bukit Batok Polyclinic to oversee the running of the polyclinic. She also assists in training new nurses to perform developmental assessments for children visiting the polyclinic.

The twin tragedies of losing her husband and brother are still fresh in Madam Chua’s mind, but she faces each day with optimism and dedicates her life to her family and work.

Work might get hectic but Madam Chua makes it a point to frequently communicate with her nurses. “As a leader, establishing rapport with my staff is very important,” she said.

Madam Chua’s efforts to cultivate good relationships with others extend beyond the workplace. Outside of work, the cheerful senior enjoys spending time with her active grandchildren who constantly keep her on her toes. “The kids like to run around the playground… so I have to follow them and run around too!” she said with a laugh.

Juggling work and family is tough but Madam Chua has no plans to stop working soon. “Working keeps the mind active. Continue to upgrade your skills and acquire new knowledge by attending courses related to your work and personal interests,” she said.

Smiling, the active senior said: “As long as I can contribute, I will continue to work.”

Article published on: 26/9/2016