Singapore

'All that matters is what the patient wants'

A medical social worker's story

Terminal illness means family and friends face the reality of having to witness a loved one deteriorate before their eyes.

For issues closer to the heart, it requires a person, not a pill.

Ms Lola Ng, 35, describes her profession as one "in a constant state of flux", and not without reason.

As a medical social worker with HCA Hospice Care for the past five years, she soon realised that her role involved wearing many hats.

Her job centres around providing social and emotional support for the terminally ill and their families.

Helping patients come to terms with their illnesses, seeking out eligible grants and subsidies and providing bereavement management for families are just some of her day-to-day duties.

But the unpredictable nature of her profession also means that she undertakes responsibilities that fall outside her remit.

This includes tracking down estranged family members, arranging funerals or being the only person at a patient's bedside during his or her final moments.

In essence, her job is to tie up the loose ends of a patient's life.

She is also the bridge between patient and medical staff.

A common occurrence is how the terminally ill, having come to terms with death, see no point in taking their medicine.

Doctors and nurses turn to the medical social worker for intervention.

"Naturally, doctors see all medicine as important," says Ms Ng.

She readily admits that it is a tough balancing act.

"On one hand, I have a dying patient who just wants to live out the rest of his life on his own terms.

"On the other hand, I need to remain professional. I'd be lying if I said it was easy.

"The only thing that matters is what the patient wants. Nothing else."

Often, patients appreciate having somebody outside of the family sphere to share their hopes and fears with.

COMFORT

In fact, the mere presence of another person can be a source of comfort. "There were a few times where a particular patient of mine and myself would just sit together in silence," says Ms Ng.

After five years, outright rejection from patients or their families have become part of her everyday life.

She has a theory as to why this is the case.

"Doctors and nurses have clearly defined roles. But there is not much awareness of what a medical social worker does. Patients and family members don't really understand my role. Often, I am not given a chance to explain."

Palliative careDeathSingaporehospiceUncategorisedDoctorsIllness