When staff nurse G.Peremkumar first told his mother that he was going to volunteer to fight COVID-19 on the frontlines as part of the team deployed by his hospital to the EXPO Community Isolation Facility (CIF), she burst into tears.
“I was initially hesitant to inform my parents that I was volunteering for the EXPO project. But eventually, I decided to tell them as they are my loved ones and deserved to know,” explained the 28-year-old Malaysian.
“My mum cried over the phone and tried to convince me to withdraw but I refused. She even stopped talking to me for over a week.
“But being the loving mother, she still gave me a call a day before I reported for duty at EXPO and told me to take good care of myself.”
Mr Peremkumar hails from Penang and has been working as an Endoscopy Nurse at the Mount Elizabeth Hospital for the past five years. However, when COVID-19 cases started to peak towards the end of March, more nurses were required to combat the situation and he decided to step up by volunteering to be deployed to the EXPO CIF for more than a month.
Working on the frontlines was no mean feat as testified by Mr Peremkumar and he provided some insights into his job at EXPO CIF.
He revealed: “During my time at EXPO CIF, I worked on a staggered 8-hour shift either between 9am to 5pm or 11am to 7pm. My regular day would consist of tasks such as performing the regular swab tests on patients and assisting at the sick parade station.
“At this station, we would be running medical camps similar to a GP clinic and attending to any medical emergencies. We would also be responsible for following up on a patient’s condition and would report to the doctors if there were to be any changes.”
While Mr Peremkumar is a seasoned nurse with years of experience behind him, he was still left with butterflies in his stomach on his first day at EXPO CIF, given the magnitude of the task he faced.
“On my first day at EXPO CIF, I did feel a little terrified and nervous. Even though I was a very experienced staff nurse, there was still some fear in me, knowing that I will be dealing with patients diagnosed with COVID-19,” he admitted candidly.
“But I decided to take a leap of faith by stepping into the unknown and I felt more at ease a few hours later as I started to adapt to the new working environment.”
As if stepping into a completely new and potentially life-threatening working environment was not tough enough, Mr Peremkumar and his team of frontline workers also had to deal with other difficult challenges that came along their way.
“One of the major challenges we faced was the communication barrier between us and our patients,” he conceded.
“As most of the patients were foreign workers, they were unable to communicate in English. Therefore, we had to communicate using sign language and there were also times where their friends, those who were able to understand English better, would be helping us with the translation.
“Other than this, one of the toughest challenges that I faced personally was wearing the personal protective equipment (PPE) for long hours as it caused me to feel dehydrated and dizzy.
“However, despite all these challenges that we faced, our morale remained high and we continued to show amazing teamwork and were always looking out for one another.”
With the spotlight firmly placed on frontline healthcare workers during this pandemic, many heart-warming stories have emerged. The general public has already come together twice to clap and show support for the healthcare workers from their homes. There have also been videos surfacing online which showed nurses clapping together in joy when the COVID-19 patients that they have been attending to were finally discharged.
And Mr Peremkumar has also personally experienced some of this warmth as a nurse fighting on the frontline.
“I had a patient who came to thank me personally before he left and that gesture really meant a lot,” he shared.
“Witnessing patients who have won their battles against the coronavirus really motivates us. It makes us feel like all our efforts have paid off and it motivates us to continue nursing our patients back to recovery.
“My friends were also very encouraging and supportive when I was doing my duties at EXPO CIF. Some of them even sent food deliveries and masks as a show of appreciation.”
However, beyond their pristine white uniforms and radiant smiles, nurses are only mere mortals just like the rest of us. They too have their emotions and struggles. And for a frontline nurse like Mr Peremkumar, it is no different, especially given that he is working in a foreign country far from home.
“Honestly, being away from my loved ones is never easy. But being away from them and fighting COVID-19 has made it even tougher as video calls and phone calls will never replace the physical presence of our loved ones. The first thing I will do once this pandemic is over would be to visit my parents and girlfriend in Penang. I also really miss the water and I can’t wait to indulge in some diving,” said Mr Peremkumar, who counts scuba diving, rock climbing and photography as some of his main hobbies outside of work.
“This pandemic has taught me a lot. I have learnt not to take simple things in life for granted, such as spending quality time with our loved ones. It has helped me grow personally and to have a different perspective towards life.
“I have also learnt that accurate and sound judgment is so important in decision making in healthcare, especially when we are dealing with a pandemic. Cooperation and teamwork from every individual play such an important role.”
With the pandemic far from over, he hopes that everyone involved will continue showing the strength and character to fight on.
He added: “To everyone who have stayed home, thank you for all the sacrifices you have made in your daily lives. To patients who are battling COVID-19, stay strong and have faith in your journey to recovery. Lastly, to my fellow colleagues on the frontline, your dedication, commitment and courage deserve our utmost gratitude and admiration. Let’s not give up and fight this together. #SGUnited!”
Coping during COVID is a new series by danamic. that features people from different walks of life to find out more about how they have been coping since the pandemic hit the shores of Singapore. Have a person you’d like us to feature? Write in: [email protected].
Photos courtesy of G.Peremkumar.