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Nursing is a lifetime of commitment, compassion

My first "experience" with a nurse was when I was five.

She was a dour-faced matron. She wasn't real but a character in General Hospital, a black-and-white soap on TV. I thought all nurses were like her.

Luckily, my impression of nurses took a 180-degree turn in my adult life.

I have spoken to several as a news reporter and found them to be different from my TV matron.

One of them told me: "Nursing is more than a backbreaking job. It is a vocation that requires a lifetime of commitment and compassion."

A recent fall in Borneo gave me the chance to put the statement to the test.

I sustained multiple fractures in my right leg and was evacuated to Mount Elizabeth Novena Hospital, where I underwent three operations to repair the leg, and had to stay in a ward for about a month.

In that month, I was relying on the nurses even for my basic needs.

Despite running ragged at times as the ward was full, never once did any of them scowl. They always had a smile no matter how hard or dirty the task.

In that month, I learnt about the sacrifices many of the nurses at Ward 12 had to make.

Ms Sumathi Govindaraj, for one, looks forward to night shifts, knowing she would be getting three consecutive days off after a five-day stretch. This so she can fly home to India to see her young children, left with her parents.

Then there is Filipina Paule Mary Grace Ang, who returned to work a couple of months after having her daughter. It must have been hard for her to leave a baby that young.

Their stories are repeated in the wards of the different hospitals here.

At the beginning of this year, I interviewed nurses from the National University Hospital about accusations a patient had made against them.

Throughout the interview, the three nurses peppered their answers with nice things about him, even though the patient was one from - dare I say it - hell.

He hurled vulgarities, even food trays, at them during his long stay. Despite that, the nurses continued to do their best in managing his health.

I recently came across this poster online: "Nurses are being scorned at for being late with the medicine. Yet, they are holding their bladder because they don't have time to use the bathroom or starving because they missed lunch."

Before you berate the nurse for not answering your call, please think: Would you be able to do her job?

I know I can't, and for that, I need to thank all nurses for doing what they do.

- JUDITH TAN

Share your views with Judith at juditht@sph.com.sg