After the annual Nurses Day Mass held in the Church of Christ the King, 2019. Photos: Catholic Nurses Guild

Laura Tan, President of the Catholic Nurses Guild, shares nurses’ experience of carrying the cross of Covid-19.

When the Covid-19 pandemic first hit Singapore, we nurses knew that we would be caring for patients infected with an unknown pathogen. We were afraid and uncertain.

We had to work as a team to ensure strict compliance with hand hygiene and personal protective equipment (PPE) protocols before and after attending to patients. We had to thoroughly disinfect equipment and the environment, and review infection control standards, regularly. We were instructed to maintain social distancing, split ourselves into teams and be hospital/cluster conscious to avoid spreading and contaminating each other. This prolonged vigilance and isolation on top of our normal daily routines left us completely exhausted.

Circulars from the Ministry of Health were also constantly being updated regulations adjusted as new information on the virus came in. Disseminating information and fine-tuning of standard operating procedures (SOPs) was very challenging. Covering for peers who were unwell, ensuring prompt deployment of staff to the dormitories and community facilities, issuing travel advisories to affected staff and keeping their morale high were top priority – there was no time to think of ourselves.

There was also a shortage of nurses required to manage home clinical care for the elderly. Many of them could not cope with isolation, and constantly expressed feelings of loneliness and sadness, so we started a hotline service. It was amazing how a listening ear eager to hear their concerns and a friendly voice could reassure them during the two month-long Circuit Breaker.

Keeping our faith alive

We had to keep physically and mentally strong to support our patients, their families and our own families back home. But, as time went by and we gradually got to know more about the disease and saw our patients recovering and returning home to reunite with their families, we felt more confident and less fearful. Of course, we also survived our trials because of our faith, including:

  • Community spirit: parishioners cooked and delivered home-cooked food to us in the wards and delivered groceries to homes. We were also overwhelmed by the outpouring of love and concern from the community, from strangers to colleagues, family and friends who collaborated to make our wards, clinics and home a happier and breathable place. Little did we expect the comfort and support we rendered to others to come back to us as love, joy and peace in our hearts! God’s commandment “love your neighbour” certainly came alive for us!
  • Resumption of Masses: we joined Father Stephen Yim, the Catholic Medical Guild and the Digital Church team in putting safety measures in place, as well as do mask-fitting for priests. We were happy to contribute in this small way protect our priests and parishioners.
  • God in creation: we took to enjoying walks on our days off, discovering our various neighbourhoods while getting fresh air and open spaces.
  • Virtual gatherings: Although initially all activities were restricted to our own teams in our own wards, social media enabled us to share and pray with, and encourage, one another. We even started Zoom zumba exercise classes!
  • Faith formation: we attended online Masses celebrated by His Grace Archbishop William Goh as often as possible. We started our daily devotions by praying the Divine Mercy Chaplet and the Holy Rosary for all nurses and health care workers in active duty, the community in Singapore, our Church, and the government.

Now it is January 2021. The pandemic is not over yet, but we know our Lord has won the victory. As Janet Chong, my CNG Vice-President says, “Faith always finds its way!”

As Psalm 112:6-8 says: “The righteous are not afraid of evil tidings; their hearts are firm, secure in the Lord. Their hearts are steady, they will not be afraid; in the end they will look in triumph on their foes.”

A Catholic nurse’s prayer

O Lord our God, when I falter, give me courage,

When I tire, renew my strength;

In my weakness, inspire me to greater length.

If doctors and patients become too demanding

And days are too short for all my duties,

Help me to remember that I choose to serve

With grace and spiritual beauty.

In humility, Lord, I labour long hours,

And when I sometimes fret,

my mission is mercy.

Abide in me, that I may never forget. AMEN.

Our Lady, Health of the Sick, pray for us.

Saint Elizabeth of Hungary (1207-1231)

St Elizabeth is the patron saints of nurses. As the daughter of the King of Hungary and the wife of a German nobleman, Elizabeth did not live a life of luxury but one of prayer, sacrifice, and service to the poor and sick. “How could I bear a crown of gold when the Lord bears a crown of thorns? And bears it for me?” she said.

She and her husband Ludwig were renowned for their generosity and love, taking bread every day to hundreds of poor people, and building a hospital where she fearlessly tended to lepers. During a famine, they generously distributed grain from their storehouses, and when disease and floods struck their land, Elizabeth cared for the victims.

After six years of marriage, Ludwig died en route to the Crusades. Grief-stricken, Elizabeth joined the Secular Franciscan Order, spending the remaining few years of her life caring for the sick and the poor in another hospital which she founded in honour of St Francis of Assisi. She was canonised just four years after her death at the age of 24 from ill health. Her feast day is on Nov 17.