From the first outbreaks to today’s surge in cases, a frontliner shares her story
Beatrice with a team of doctors and nurses back in 2020 when Singapore experienced its first surge of community cases. All photos courtesy of Beatrice Phoon.
Beatrice Phoon has worked as a nurse for the last 5 years, but she has experienced some of the most trying times over the last 2 years due to her role on the frontline.
Reflecting on how she finds the strength to fight Covid-19, the 28-year-old tells us what daily life is like in the A&E.
Being a nurse in the hospital’s accident and emergency (A&E) department is an undertaking that comes with much worry and fear.
I fear becoming an asymptomatic carrier who would unintentionally spread Covid-19 to my family, friends or any of my colleagues who are much-needed manpower during this pandemic.
This fear has been present since Covid-19 first hit our shores in February last year.
I was part of the first team to be deployed into “Hot Zones” (isolation zones). I was also in the first team to be delegated to the “White Tent” (outdoor areas for isolation) when the numbers requiring isolation far exceeded our nation’s infrastructure.
Many suspected Covid-19 cases walked through our doors, sometimes swarming us in huge batches. I assisted doctors who required help with PCR swabs as well as educated patients on their medication and how to manage their symptoms at home.
I have since been delegated to work in “Clean Zones”, the area for patients who do not require immediate isolation upon presentation to the A&E.
However, the risk of infection has increased. Those walking through our doors today are mainly confirmed Covid-19 cases, many of whom could be asymptomatic.
I occasionally still get assigned to the “Hot Zones” too. Due to the recent surge in cases, the number of patients coming to the A&E has also massively increased.
This has taken a physical toll as the stretch in manpower requires many of us to work 12-hour shifts. We even return to work on days off and have to cancel our annual leave.
Having to adapt to newly developed workflows and protocols almost daily also contributes to how mentally challenging the entire pandemic period has been.
NOT JUST PHYSICALLY CHALLENGING
In addition to fighting against Covid-19, our core work continues in our daily battles to save the lives of patients who come through our doors.
A particular incident this year that heavily bruised my heart was when a migrant worker was admitted to our A&E for a severe heart attack. He was alone and needed an intervention to save his heart.
Following standard procedure, we asked him to contact his absent family to keep them informed and to allay their worries. The migrant worker proceeded to open his WhatsApp, but hesitated to do anything more.
I gently asked if he would like to send a voice message instead. However, he shook his head and switched off his phone, telling me: “No, they will cry. I message them after finish.”
He was never able to make that final call. I struggled to not break down in front of other patients as I vividly recalled that look on his face.
A look that carried the responsibility of being the pillar of his family. The burden he wanted to bear alone, out of fear of making his loved ones who were many miles away cry.
The moment I was able to retreat into a quiet corner, sorrow and grief engulfed me and I wept.
I was completely lost for words and could only cry out to our Father for my patient’s salvation, and for Him to bring comfort and assurance to the patient’s surviving family members back home.
Ever since then, I have feared that another similar incident would occur. Unfortunately, it is a fear with a very real possibility of coming true, especially with the recent surge in Covid-19 cases.
Besides the increased risk, 2021 has also brought additional challenges.
We have had to step up on our personal protective equipment. Wearing unbearably suffocating N95 masks, tight goggles and occasionally, an additional protective gown throughout our entire shift.
There have been numerous times I struggled with thoughts of giving up due to how incredibly demanding and overwhelming it felt.
On those days I went home feeling tired, discouraged and completely defeated.
HOW I WAS LIFTED UP
But through all these struggles and fears, I have taken comfort in God’s Word.
When I first started my nursing journey, I held onto Joshua 1:9, which has continued to anchor me this entire pandemic. The verse constantly encourages me to keep going despite my fears, as I know God will be with me.
I was also given a timely and assuring word from Psalm 18:19 before I was called into the “White Tent” to serve last year; it still holds true today!
God has also sent people into my life to provide me with support.
I have my wonderful family whom I can return home to. They constantly pray for me and with me, and I can always honestly share my emotions and burdens with them.
There is my church community too, such as my cell group and close church friends. They always keep me in their prayers and occasionally drop messages to encourage me or check in on me. Some have even sent me care packages filled with items to cheer me up.
I have also recently joined a Christian fellowship with other healthcare workers, where we have been able to resonate with one another’s struggles and point each other back to Christ while battling this pandemic. All these things have brought me lots of comfort and assurance.
LOVING THE PEOPLE AROUND ME
Experiencing God’s loving hand and support in my life throughout this pandemic has also grown me into a more loving and patient person.
He has placed in me His heart of compassion and mercy, which has led me to tangibly bring Christ’s love to my patients through my work.
For instance, there was once our A&E received a young male late at night. We had to be extra cautious around him as he had tested positive for Covid-19, and I believe he was aware and hurt by this fact.
When it was time to transfer him to the ward, I was reminded of how Jesus treated the sick. He even reached out to those whom society avoided (Mark 1:40-42).
This convicted me to show love, so I consciously made the effort to give him a reassuring pat on the shoulder.
After my encounter with the migrant worker who was unable to send his last words to his family, God has also led me to become more understanding towards patients who wish to communicate with their family members.
Whenever possible, I try my best to assist patients in getting what they want from family members and help them give family members thorough updates over the phone.
Besides my patients, God has prompted me to love and serve my foreign colleagues who have selflessly stayed behind in Singapore to continue the battle with Covid-19.
As they struggle with being away from their families, He led me to be a friend who will reach out and extend care in love and compassion.
Whether it’s bringing home-cooked food to a colleague serving her stay-home notice or even buying simple gifts to brighten up their day, this has given me the chance to be God’s blessing to those around me.
Occasionally, on our days off, we would also spend time with each other. It is such a privilege and joy to share in their lives and bless them, just as they have sacrificially done so for our nation.
Covid-19, while being a huge disruption to our lives, has blossomed beautiful friendships in an unexpected time and in unexpected places!
REALISING WHAT MATTERS IN LIFE
Coming face to face with illness and death has also taught me to value life and treasure the moments spent with people who matter.
My family and I take long walks in parks or reservoirs, where we take time to talk to God while appreciating every single part of nature He has created.
Spending this precious time with my loved ones has shown me how to have a heart full of joy and thanksgiving for all the little blessings God has placed around me.
Being more active has given me greater stamina to deal with this year’s increasingly physically demanding hours at work too.
God has also planted in me a deeper desire to be more prayerful, and this journey has undoubtedly brought me closer in my relationship with Him.
In my weakness, I am continually drawn to seek the Lord as well as His strength and presence, especially while battling on the frontlines.
In these troubling and challenging times, I have been driven to my knees in prayer multiple times every day. I know that only God can lift me out of the uncertainty and fears, along with the physical and emotional exhaustion.
As I lay bare before Him my struggles, worries, doubts and also victories and joys, I have confidence in coming to Him with my requests.
I also find hope and take comfort in seeking safe refuge under His mighty wings.
PLEASE PRAY FOR US
With no end in sight for the pandemic, I would like to ask fellow Christians to pray.
Not just for nurses and doctors, but also for the housekeepers, patient service associates, porters and everyone else on the frontlines.
Pray for God to:
- Give us courage, calmness and clarity to serve during challenging moments.
- Use us as His vessels of compassion and care.
- Refresh us daily with sustenance and perseverance throughout this long battle.
- Continue to offer His divine protection.
I would also like to seek your understanding.
Healthcare workers are currently coping with many different requests from patients. At the same time, we also want to ensure that medical and nursing care is appropriately and properly given.
So while waiting times may be longer, please be gracious and bear with us. By practising being a loving and gracious community, the Church can be a light to the wider community.
To my fellow Christians working on the frontlines, we can also support one another by reminding each other of God.
A family friend once told me that every part of our work as a nurse or frontliner is in sync with the heart of Jesus who wants to touch lives and wants to heal.
This thought motivated me, as I was reminded that I can deeply experience God’s pleasure in every task I perform or encounter I have. I hope it encourages you too!
I would also like to comfort you with a reminder that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18).
No matter how challenging our current situation may be, let us offer all we do as a fragrant offering to God, relying on His grace, as well as the support from our brothers and sisters in Christ, to pull us through.
THINK + TALK
- Do you personally know anyone currently working on the frontline? How can you support them?
- How have you seen God working in your life during this pandemic season?
- What are some ways you think God can work through your life to help others during this difficult time?