#PeopleStories: Angels Of The ICU

Those who take the path of a nurse are in for a walk to remember. Wong Han Chia revealed what it is like to be a staff nurse in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Assunta Hospital.
Wong Han Chia
Staff Nurse at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at Assunta Hospital

Apart from the soft beeps of heart-rate monitors and the occasional rattle of sliding doors, the ICU ward at Assunta Hospital is filled with the sound of silence. 

'At the ICU, each nurse pays special attention to one patient at a time,' Wong explained. 'Although I am only looking after one patient at a time, there is a lot to deal with due to their critical condition. Here in ICU, my nursing skills are pivotal to the patient's survival and my role continues to evolve.' 

On the job

Moving quietly along the corridors, giving care to the patients, collecting and preparing medicine, sending meals and exchanging reports, critical care nurses are exposed to many challenges in the fast-paced environment.

'For me, the busiest shift is the morning shift,' Wong began. 'I usually wake up at around 5.30am to get ready for work.' Her morning routine involves a hearty breakfast before sitting though the traffic from her home to the hospital.

Work starts at about 6.30am with a handover session. 'Although my shift starts at 7.00am, I need to get to the hospital at least an hour earlier so that the nurses from the previous shift can update me on the current condition of the patient.' The handover usually last for 30 minutes to one hour, depending on how many changes happened to the patient the night before.

Wong starts her rounds by checking her patient and the doctor's orders. She looks at what is written on the patient's report and carries out what is necessary. It is crucial to monitor the patient's progress and report to the doctors on any changes of the patient's condition. 'We are the one as the doctor's "5 senses", and through the observations, that's where doctors' treatments came in.

Patients in the ICU usually have their life hanging by a thread. Any changes can lead to a life or death situation which requires immediate action. Hence they require special attention around the clock. 

'These individuals have very complicated health problems so I must pay attention to their breathing patterns, skin condition, injuries etc,' Wong said. She then notes down any abnormalities in the patient's condition so that the doctors can decide if they need any special observation or treatments.

'I spend all my time with my patient.' Wong continued. 'It is an adventure, a continuous learning process that I embark on each day, in search of life-changing events and miracles. Touching the lives of others is a treasure that can be overwhelming.' 

Sometimes the biggest changes in nursing over the years are the advancements in the technology and medications, as well as the patients themselves. 'Many patients I care for in ICU would not be alive 10 or 20 years ago. New technology and meditations give more patients a chance to survive and live longer. The problem is that when they come to me, patients are now more acutely ill than ever before,' she explained. The bottom line is that patients now need more care and attention from nurses.

For Wong, the experience of being an ICU nurse is a fine example of what nursing is all about. 'Every day I learn new things and deal with procedures and instruments that are rarely seen outside of the ICU. I need to learn to deal with situations with extreme alertness and speed.' ICU nurses must react quickly in all kind of situations as patients may not able to wait. So, continuous learning is also a must for them, in order to give the best care to the patient. 

Like traffic controllers, ICU nurses watch over their patients, making sure they remain safe and don't 'crash'. 'We are the surveillance system for our patients. I not only monitor my patient's condition, I am also the pilot who delivers complex technological care on a minute by minute basis. I am responsible for the patient's survival from the moment he or she comes into my care and making sure that care is continuously tailored to meet the patient's needs.'

The life of a nurse

Wong's routine and sleeping patterns depend on her next shift but she makes sure she gets at least seven hours of sleep a day. After hours, she spends her free time watching movies, swimming, shopping, reading, doing chores and spending time with friends. 

Addressing the common misconception that nurses are hospital maids, Wong disagreed with a passionate 'No!' For Wong, nursing has heavily altered her outlook on life and helped her mature and become a better person. 'Nursing is more than a profession of integrity and compassion - it measures my values as a human being and the responsibilities granted to me with the precious gift of life.'