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Giving of oneself is the heart of nursing
22 December 2016

By Rose Ramli

A profile of Esther Chong, HCA Hospice Care Nurse Manager

ILTC Service Quality (Gold) Award Winner 2016

Healthcare Humanity Award Winner, 2014

Mahatma Ghandi once said “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”.  This is certainly an apt service mantra for those who choose the dedication of being a palliative care nurse.

In recent years, the nursing profession has been extensively profiled with promotional activities aimed at drawing more into the field. But nursing is far more than a profession.

Many nurses go beyond the call of duty, giving the best of themselves to those in need. True nursing goes beyond technical abilities and work skills. It requires a deep well of empathy towards others, a stout heart ready to face anything, and a certain toughness of mind and spirit to forge on and give continually.

Esther, who has been with HCA Hospice Care (HCA) for more than seven years, is a nurse who exemplifies the true spirit of palliative care.

When you first meet Esther, you will the see the professional persona – bustling, efficient, well-equipped and familiar with every patient’s case. She exudes an air of competency that is the hallmark of a well-trained nurse.

When you get to know her better, the soul behind that professional façade emerges.

Esther is a mom of two children – a 15 year old son and 13 year old daughter, whom she clearly adores. Although they may not really understand what it is she does as a palliative care nurse, she believes that exposure to the realities of life-and-death make children more likely to be caring adults.

That combination of sensitivity and pragmatism also rings true in her relationship with her patients. Esther’s work goes beyond the routine of home visits and bedside care. She is also a trainer for caregivers.

Recognising the importance of ensuring that caregivers are equipped with some basic skills to better handle patients under palliative care, HCA runs a five-hour Palliative Caregivers Programme covering among other areas – basic infection control, personal hygiene, tube feeding, symptom management and managing emergencies.

Although one of the objectives of the programme is to provide training for specific care giving skills related to palliative care, the programme also aims to promote self-care and empowers caregivers to deliver their responsibilities with confidence.

Esther shares, “It is essential to ensure that caregivers, whether family members or not, are able to continually provide both physical and emotional support in what would be a draining and perhaps long-drawn process.”

She says, “Although domestic helpers are sometimes given the task of primary caregiving and sent to attend these sessions, I try to make sure that family members are also present, so as to minimize communication issues and to ensure that the family is also committed to the caregiving process.”

What makes Esther’s sessions special is that she weaves in her own personal experiences in order to make the learning resonate better with the caregivers. She tells us, “I tell them ‘stories’ which I cull from my years of experience and these are actual experiences that have taught me lessons in compassionate care.”

These lessons are not about the “do & don’ts” or the “how-to” of caregiving, but about the much more difficult issues of communication and learning to let go. “The key message here is that communicating with love can help patients and families achieve closure,” Esther advises.

A case in point is a story about a patient who concealed her diagnosis from her family members. Unaware of the patient’s terminally-ill condition, the daughter berated Esther for not teaching them the necessary skills to deal with her “illness”. In fact, what they really needed to know was the palliative care that was required for the patient.

Esther knows that she often needs to be the listening ear or a shoulder to cry on for caregivers to work through their worries. They come to her with a list of questions after every class; questions she patiently answers although this means the class may run past the finishing time.

But she will address all their underlying fears, gently counselling them about the difficult issues of impending death.

These sessions are exhausting, but Esther still retains her sense of humour at the end of a tiring day. For those fortunate enough to encounter Esther, they will know that she has found her true calling and her patients are blessed to have a nurse who gives so wholeheartedly of herself.