During my battle with SARS, I told myself one thing: “I will fight on, survive and carry on my work to save lives if it’s not my time to go.” And fight I did, even as my limbs turned blue and my body burned from the deathly respiratory disease.
When the outbreak occurred in 2003, I had cared for the first SARS patient, her mother as well as fellow colleagues who were admitted for flu-like symptoms at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. However, I never thought I would fall victim to SARS. I began to suffer from back pain but dismissed it at first, thinking that I had simply worked too hard during the busy period. However, I experienced high fever within the same day and the back pain became unbearable. That was when I realised it was something more sinister.
During my battle with the disease, I suffered from high fevers, giddiness as well as weight and hair loss. I also became really breathless. At one point, even walking to the washroom from my bed left me panting and unable to speak. I never felt so afraid and helpless – I was supposed to get married that year!
It was my mother’s unwavering love and support that carried me through. Even though she was only allowed to visit me once for five minutes, her words gave me the strength to fight.
“If I can take your place, I will.”
Thankfully, I survived the ordeal. While I initially feared that the disease would leave me barren, time has proven otherwise. I am a proud mother of six today!
After my brush with death, I stopped telling patients that I understood how they felt. Before, I would always tell my patients in the respiratory ward that I understood how they felt whenever they complained of breathlessness. It was only until I experienced it for myself that I realised I had never truly understood them.
This incident has taught me the importance of doing the best for all patients under my care. I nurse my patients like how I would want myself or my parents to be treated – by taking time to interact with them, know their concerns and meet their basic needs. As a clinical instructor, I also share my SARS experience with students to teach them to walk in the shoes of their patients.
Things have changed in the hospital since the nation’s encounter with SARS. Instead of working in silos, there is now more communication and teamwork among different healthcare professionals. Nurses are also accorded more recognition and respect.
I am Tan Tock Seng Hospital Clinical Instructor Ashirdahwani Asmawi, and I am heartened to see improved public perception of nurses after SARS. I hope that with this, more will join the lifesaving profession.