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40 years – this is how long Nurse Clinician (NC) Pearl Wee from Ward 56 has dedicated her service and commitment to nursing and healthcare.
NC Pearl shared that her affinity with nursing started when she was a little girl. Then, the 12-year old was awe-struck by the nurses’ professionalism and knowledge when she accompanied her mother to the polyclinic for her pregnancy check-up. That lasting impression led her to apply for nursing school several years on.
After graduating from her post basic course in critical care nursing in 1979, she spent 13 years in the Coronary Care Unit (CCU). The rest, as they say, is history.
Stories from the Heart chats with Sister Pearl on her memorable journey.
What were your fondest memories of being in NHCS?
When I joined CCU in 1979, NHCS was not formed yet. The departments of Cardiology and Cardiothoracic Surgery were then still a part of SGH. I will never forget those good old times at CCU. Whenever the work became tough, we (nurses) would lend each other our shoulders to cry on. Over the years, even as we each gained more work experience and some of us have left, our bond remains tight to this day.
(L-R): Sister Pearl in her first staff photo taken in 1987 (Oh my, that nursing cap!); With fellow CCU colleagues from almost two decades ago (spot familiar faces?); and a shot taken at CCU in 1987. What were some of the challenges of being a nurse back in those days?
In the ‘80s, resources were limited and as a result, a lot of our medical instruments such as needles, glass syringes, kidney dishes, forceps and sponging towels had to be re-used. To sterilise these instruments, believe it or not, we used boiling water. When stainless steel needles became blunt, we also had to sharpen them on sharpening stones! Same goes for dressing gauze and cotton balls – we had to manually fold them and send for autoclaving. Thinking back, we have come such a long way!
Have you encountered anything particularly difficult which made you want to give up?
The SARS pandemic in 2003 was without a doubt, the most challenging time of my career. Thanks to those valuable experiences in SARS, we are now well-prepared for a pandemic like Covid-19 and are familiar with donning Personal Protective Equipment (PPE). Back then, it was the first outbreak encounter for majority of us and everything was new to us.
I was deployed to the neurosurgical ICU (Intensive Care Unit) then, and we had to don full PPE and PAPR (Personal Air-Purifying Respirator) when carrying out suctioning for patients. We also wore N95 masks throughout the entire day at work. Many of us were concerned of infecting our loved ones so we had to shower and change out of our scrub suits before going home. I also soaked my uniform in Dettol when back at home. Until today, I continue to wash my uniform separately from my family’s.
I vividly remember that one of my colleagues insisted to stay on with us to fight SARS despite the persuasion from her mother to return home to Malaysia. I realised then that nursing is not just a profession but a calling – no matter how fearful I was, just like my colleagues, I should never leave my job and my patients.
Conversely, can you share with us some of your proudest moments of your career?
During my tenure in CCU, there was a patient who left a deep impression on me. The patient had a percutaneous coronary intervention procedure done and was transferred to the ward. When transferring him from the trolley to the bed, I noticed he was unresponsive, and immediately the team initiated CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Subsequently, an urgent coronary artery bypass graft was performed and we were delighted that the patient finally made a full recovery and was discharged.
Unexpectedly, the patient and his family returned to CCU to thank all of us. Till now, his words - ‘If we did not resuscitate him in time that day, he would not be still around today’- deeply touched my heart. This was definitely one of the proudest moments in my four decades of nursing.
Indeed, four decades is a long time, what keeps you going every day?
Nursing is a unique profession - everyone may have different experiences. For me, I derive contentment from caring for others. By helping others get better, in turn, helps me to overcome difficulties in my daily life. It is these positive experiences that keep me going all these years and help me stay positive. I am also glad that the experience I had from SARS has come in handy to help me handle the current pandemic as well as guide my junior nurses to cope better.
(L-R): What the nursing uniform looked like in year 2000! A group shot with NC Anne Tok (left) and NC Lim Siew Eng (middle); A group photo taken during in-camp training when Sister Pearl (front row, middle) volunteered as a Nursing Officer (Reservist) in 1989.
(L-R): Receiving her National Day Award 2012 – Efficiency Medal Award from the Health Minister; Fun times with fellow ward and nursing colleagues at NHCS Nurses’ Day and Appreciation Day 2019. Nursing is a multi-faceted job. The most challenging part of nursing is to be able to work under stress. Besides caring for patients, nurses have to manage situations such as handling difficult patients/ families, rendering support in coping with deaths, and also handling hazardous materials such as contaminated needles and fluids. Despite the busy working environment, we always remind ourselves to stay healthy physically and mentally, so that we can continue to care for our patients.
“Today, nursing is a vast and varied field with multitude of opportunities for nurses to specialise and advance in their career. Increased autonomy and upgrading opportunities aside, being in a united team matters. To still be standing strong as a nurse now, I believe I have chosen the right path and the right organisation,” said Sister Pearl.