Trishaws, five-kilogram metal briefcases and the Royal Air Force Hospital (RAF) – Susan Lim has experienced it all during her professional career, and more! From her private office today, Susan reminisced the early days of nursing. She started training in Kandang Kerbau Hospital and specialized in midwifery. Kandang Kerbau - where many Singaporeans were born - has today moved to a nearby location and restyled itself KK Women and Children’s Hospital (KK).
After years at KK Hospital, Susan moved on to Saint Mark’s hospital at Telok Kurau and later the RAF Hospital at Changi, which was significantly better run than the local hospitals. These two hospitals are long gone, having changed hands or merged with other institutions, but the sites remain, and continue to serve as hospitals with a different purpose and outlook.
Susan later moved to the Ministry of Health, and was posted to the Kreta Ayer clinic. Those were exciting days: “public health” meant “district work”, which translated into rural trips for nurses, reaching out to villagers deep in the jungles, and risking getting chased by dogs! Several nurses would pool resources together to rent a trishaw. Taxis were too expensive in them days, while buses were not practical because Susan had to lug a metal briefcase with her. The briefcase contained not only her standard nursing supplies but also starter kits for expectant mothers, which comprised of various items and supplies they would need in the course of pregnancy and postnatal care. Susan once had to travel up 20 floors, somewhere in the Tanjong Pagar area. Unfortunately, the elevator had broken down, so she had to carry her heavy load up the stairs, resting along the way.
Life in public health was interesting for Susan, but not always easy. She recalled that sometimes, despite their training and best efforts, an ambulance was simply unavoidable, even after the nurse had cut the umbilical cord. Other times, the houses were very difficult and even scary to travel to, deep in the dark jungles with rough unpaved roads. Nonetheless, the people she came across were nice and appreciative of her services… until, as part of her duties, she mentioned birth control, which didn’t go down well with everyone, especially those who treasured their pregnancy. Over time, the public health system changed, and the deployment of nurses in clinics also went the way of the dodo. All the better because clinics in those days were not necessarily safe places for nurses who had to stay overnight on call.
For Susan, the biggest change was the start of the Polyclinic system. This was when Susan had one close shave that she remembers to this day – a lady suffering from postnatal depression. Awareness of postnatal depression was quite different in those days, so thankfully Susan referred the patient to a Polyclinic doctor, who in turn referred to a specialist as well as social welfare services. Susan conducted follow-up visits not just to provide postnatal care, but also to talk to and console the patient as well as the patient's mother-in-law. The outcome was great, considering the patient was nearly suicidal. They kept in touch long enough to know that the patient had a second child, but that was the end of it. To this day, Susan doesn't know what else had happened.
These days, she continues to share her postnatal expertise as an experienced and careful coach for new parents! Susan draws upon her expertise and strengths when volunteering with Silverspring. Many of her appointments come from, you guessed it, KK Hospital. Susan’s pregnancy and postnatal services often involve three visits of between an hour and a half to two hours each. She guides new mothers through the confusing new world of postnatal health, proper diet, breastfeeding and pump methods, bottle sterilization, spotting special health issues in infants such as fever (as it's never normal for babies to run a fever), handling jaundice, baby care, and much more. These are followed by hands-on assisted practice and observed practice - hence the three visits. Susan's postnatal coaching sessions are very much like a crash apprenticeship for new parents.
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