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SHE CARES FOR THE DYING

DIGNITY: Palliative care nurse Sim Lai Kiow. TNP PHOTO: KIAT TAN

Her dying patient's last wish: To see her youngest daughter getting married.

Knowing the old woman could not hold out until the actual day, palliative care nurse Sim Lai Kiow, 57, arranged for the wedding to be held by her hospital bedside.

The patient died three days later.

"It was very heartwarming. As a mother myself, I could relate to how she would want to see the momentous occasion. It was good closure for her," said Madam Sim, who works with the Department of Geriatric Medicine at the Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH).

Madam Sim has two grown-up sons.

While most nurses focus on helping patients on the road to recovery, Madam Sim has been accompanying hers on their last journey for the past 12 years.

For that, Madam Sim received the President's Award for Nurses last night from President Tony Tan Keng Yam at the Istana.

"Even though I'm honoured, I still feel I don't deserve this award. There are so many nurses out there also in palliative care," she said.

INSPIRED BY MUM

Madam Sim was spurred to become a palliative care nurse after her mother died within two months of being diagnosed with advanced cancer in 2001.

"We were spending so much time looking for a cure that we neglected to spend my mother's last moments with her," Madam Sim said.

Also, when a doctor expressed his surprise that as a nurse she did not know anything about end-of-life care, it upset her enough to take on a career in palliative care.

In 2002, she became the first palliative care nurse at Alexandra Hospital and is a founding member of the Chapter of Palliative Care Nurses, which organises continuing nursing education activities for palliative care nurses here.

She is also a member of the multi-disciplinary Palliative Care Service at KTPH, which handles up to 500 cases yearly.

Madam Sim subscribes to this daily mantra: "Everyone celebrates a birth. When a baby is born, he is not alone. So even in the worst circumstances, no one should die alone."

Work is a 10-hour shift spent in the hospital her patients and their loved ones.

She also makes it a point to pay her last respects to her patients who have died.

If given a chance to do it all over, Madam Sim said she would not do anything differently.

"Patient care is a priority for me. I will continue to look for ways to improve it. To me, healthcare is basic care.

"Dying patients do not ask for much. They won't ask you to extend care beyond what you can do.

"All they want is comfort and to be kept clean," she said.