The roller-coaster of supporting a family member battling COVID-19 in the frontline
By S Preethiba, Associate Commentary Editor
On one evening, as I was studying in my room, my mother had just gotten back from work and about to take some rest. Shortly after, I heard my mother’s phone ringing. Afterwhich, my mother told us that she needed to go back to work. Despite the look of tiredness on her face, I knew she had to go. As such, she gathered her things and hastily told us that her colleagues needed help - the ward she is in-charge will have to start accommodating COVID-19 patients. Her team would have to work swiftly to get the necessary facilities prepared. Worried about her health, I discouraged her from going but she smiled and left home for the hospital.
As I awaited her return home, my heart swelled with anxiety and panic, not knowing what was going on and what the situation was going to evolve into.
My mother works as a senior nurse manager at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and is part of the frontline team in Singapore helping to fight off the pandemic. While most of us were worried and panicked when the virus spread in Singapore intensified, some of us who have family members and relatives working in the frontline of COVID-19, like me, have been more worried than others.
Not the first health crisis
When the pandemic arrived on the shores of Singapore on January 23rd, I was not that anxious because I did not understand the situation well enough. Especially because of all the uncertainty about the virus, I thought that it would go away if we imposed travel restrictions and the necessary precautions.
However, as the number of people infected in Singapore began to skyrocket, I witnessed the greater stress my mum was under. As she returned home from work each day, I became increasingly distressed too. For as her daughter, I worry about her safety and health.
Even though Covid-19 is not the first health crisis the world has been confronted with, and neither is it the first for me and my family. The first encounter had been SARS, back in 2003.
Because I was only five years old then, I had no memory of what the experience during the crisis was like. That was when I decided to ask my mother about her experience during the SARS pandemic, and she could still vividly remember how she felt at that time.
“In 2003, you and your sister were still young and I was treating SARS patients directly, so I was constantly anxious and concerned. I had to take extra precautions.”
There was a look of uneasiness and dread on her face as she described how she had to disinfect herself thoroughly before entering the house, and that she was always worried as to whether she had cleaned herself properly to not pose a risk of infecting both my sister and me.
Many years on, the same dedication
17 years on, the world is facing a pandemic that is likely to have far worse and long-lasting effects on the global economy and how people work, play and live everywhere, compared to the period after SARS.
Every day in the news, I have seen the impact of COVID-19 on various businesses and shocking figures of infection and death rates all around the world and the most recent is a possible resurgence and a second wave of the pandemic.
On a more personal level, while I might not have endured these experiences, I have seen my mother’s dedication and passion as one of the frontline workers in battling COVID-19. I recall from the conversations I had with her about her responsibilities at work becoming more intense.
In addition to the increased administrative and managerial work, my mother’s responsibility now is to ensure that there are enough supplies of personal protection equipment (PPE). At the same time, she also had to provide emotional support to her staff, especially those from other countries. Her foreign colleagues might have been overwhelmed by the situation, worsened by the travel restrictions, for they are unable to be with their loved ones.
Another important lesson I have learnt from the whole experience with COVID-19 and from my mother is to help one another and stay strong in the face of adversities.
One night, as the news of infection rates soaring in Singapore echoed in the background of my living room, my mother shared with me that there will be plans to accommodate infected foreign workers in her ward.
“My ward could be converted to a COVID ward. I don’t know whether it will happen, but I must be prepared,” she said.
I was a bundle of nerves at the end of the chat, thinking about the safety of my mother. I also had several late-night conversations with my sister, panicking and thinking about the worst. Not wanting to add to my anxiety, my sister calmly reassured me that things would be fine.
Days after that conversation, my mother rushed off after returning from work to help out her colleagues, that was the evening when my mother received the phone call mentioned above.
Thinking back on that night, I thought I was rather selfish in wanting her to stay home and rest, especially when her colleagues and patients needed help. Through the complex feelings of dejection and anxiety about her decision then, I realised that she had made the right decision to be selfless and resolute in times of difficulty. And I am proud of her.
Words of caution and encouragement
Before the end of the circuit breaker, my mother and I talked about the COVID-19 situation once again. Even as we were both glad that the situation had been under control, my mother quickly cautioned that I should not let my guard down.
My mother shared that this is only the start of sustained efforts to overcome the pandemic, and everyone should remain cautious. While the circuit breaker ends and we progress towards Phase One, we should continue to abide by the social distancing rules and stay clean.
Finally, I have endless appreciation and gratefulness in my heart towards everyone in the essential workforce, especially healthcare. My family and I are also heartened by all the support the public has given to the essential workers since the start of the pandemic.
Using the words of my Mom, "I am extremely grateful and appreciative of all the support given not only to me but all the frontline workers out there. I am also delighted to see us fighting this as ‘one Singapore’."
Preethiba is a Year 2 Economics major. She likes reading and catching up on current issues and discussing political and economical issues. She is also an avid football fan, you go Liverpool fan!