In 2009, Bee Cheng was a nurse working in the ICU, where she met one of the first few H1N1 cases in Singapore. Unknown to her, this patient would end up being one of the most impactful encounters in her career.
The patient had been admitted to the ICU due to respiratory and cardiac failure. After her heart and lungs began to fail, the healthcare team had to connect her to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine that would manually support the functioning of those organs.
The patient ended up spending over a year in the ICU to recover sufficiently, during which she had to undergo multiple surgeries, take many medications, while the team tried their hardest to wean her off the life support machine. Her long stint in the ICU also meant that she was vulnerable to new infections, which resulted in a long, arduous road to recovery.
"At one point, she wanted to give up - she asked us to remove all the life-saving machines from her," Bee Cheng shares. "She would say things like, 'Leave me alone, I don't want to suffer like this anymore!' It was a really tough period for her, and really heartbreaking for the team to see."
"But we saw how far she had come and knew she had a good chance of survival. So we kept encouraging her; telling her that, 'we won't give up on you if you don't give up on yourself!' With the team's dedicated and unwavering care, the patient was eventually transferred out of the ICU to a general ward to complete her recovery.
This experience opened Bee Cheng's eyes to better understand the impact she could have as a nurse. "Sometimes, we can get so caught up in looking at our patients' physical condition and health, that we forget that they are people too. How they're doing emotionally & mentally can play a big role in helping their recovery. Our job doesn't just stop at providing the right treatment or hooking them up to the right machine – it's about being there for our patients; journeying with them each step of the way, no matter how hard it gets."
Asked if she has any advice for aspiring nurses, Bee Cheng says, "Just like any other profession, there will be challenges in healthcare. I try to see these as a form of exercise – that each obstacle I overcome, only makes me stronger. I would encourage my fellow nurses to always remind yourself of your hopes, goals and passion for nursing. Of course, having a good team is also important – when times are hard, it helps to have someone else radiating a positive attitude for you to bounce off. That's how we keep each other motivated!"