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Outside view from NCID screening centre during daybreak

"People had posted photos of healthcare workers (HCWs) unmasking after their shifts - deep strap marks cut across their faces with blisters and handiplasts. No doubt a visceral image to the public. But I am more interested in the chord progression. What had transpired when they began to feel the friction rubbed against skin? What remained unseen when they are unmasked? The title asks such questions. Sometimes I think there is such a thing as ‘The HCWs Guilt’. People keep telling them that HCWs are good and needed. But the HCWs are dissuaded to tell people how good they are. Understandably, to protect patient privacy and minimise media and legal blowbacks. That’s why interviews with HCWs can be arduous. For every 3 stuff, they couldn't share the other 7 stuff. Perhaps that’s why HCWs mostly hang out, and marry each other. With that Guilt, I like to share my night shift by NOT going into work details. One thing I had trouble adjusting to in managing outbreak, was the information overload. Blow by blow, minute by minute update of newest developments, directions and orders. It were both exhilarating and loathsome. I squirmed a little whenever my phone pinged. In the morning of my night shift, every text and photo had pointed that it was going to be a hard shift. Night shifts conventionally have lesser reinforcement and slower rescue time. Looking at whatever the day shift could dug and threw at the situation, I could not imagine any easier way out for mine. With that, I dragged my feet to the hospital. We spoke very little, took a walk outside the queue line to assess the situation and activated the standby nurses. Goggled and gowned up in the quiet clean zone, then auto doors flew open and we were greeted by the chaotic bee buzz of action. Chatters of interviews, orders and clarifications. This was not the first night shift dealing with such a crowd, but what was worrying was the persistent queue at this hour. “I am sorry to pass this to you. I’ve really tried.” Apologised the tired afternoon shift. We assured them it was good enough and would take over. “Just go.” But they continued to put in another hour of work. “How can we leave just like that?” The day shift had to open up other zones to accommodate the situation. It was quite a walk, which meant the team has to be split. I bumped into a colleague and took us a while to recognise each other in our getup. She was the first nurse leader to open the place at the end of January when the outbreak hit us. Her attempt to spent some time with her three kids which she rarely sees these days was disrupted with the recall. “It’s okay. My husband was called back by his hospital as well.” In the midst of clearing cases, I heard another familiar voice. I spotted another colleague who was not supposed to be on at all! It was her sleeping day but she quietly returned, gowned up and threw herself at work. She shushed me, “I can’t sleep anyway. Might as well.” Eight standby nurses, and two nurses deployed from Emergency Department (ED) reported in like cavalry. These standby nurses had completed morning shift in their standby areas and returning to support our night shift. “Thank you and I am so sorry to trigger you guys to come back.” “It’s okay brother, let’s do this!” Near midnight there was a commotion. Malaysia has closed her borders and imposed a lockdown. It felt very close to home and had many implications to our work. But it was not the time to dwell on speculations. When I was arranging for the nurses to take quick breaks, I was alerted that our staff from other shifts has reported sick. I went over, “You feeling all right? I am afraid you caught us at a bad time and it’s gonna be a long night ahead.” “Yeah I understand, it’s okay.” Hours passed and the place remained fully occupied. I was completely drenched inside my gown and my lens were fogging up. The queue had slowed down but things were grounded to a halt. The crowd was growing restless. I had to find the chokepoint. Right at the far opposite end, a lone ranger manned the dispensary. Poor girl had to cope with the high influx of orders and call volumes. She had to travel down to dispense to each case and regrown herself repeatedly to cross zones. We spoke to her and escalated for support from ED. Despite all that she kept her chirpy cool. After a long night you could still felt her smile beneath her mask each time she came over. Further beyond the hospital, we were corresponding with a dispatcher whom we had to check if an ambulance escort is required to discharge the patient. After realising the duty officer was the same dude after several calls, “Hey you are the one I spoke to just now right?” Instead of business talk, I sighed, “It must have been a quite a night for you.” “I…” He paused for a while surprised at this bro moment. “You know what. You have no idea.” He chuckled. I looked at the restless crowd and grinned to the phone, “Yeah, I do.” We quickly resumed back to official business. When the chokepoint was resolved, the mass discharges began. A lady who waited hours then proceeded to thank everyone along her walk to the exit, “Thank you, thank you all for the wonderful work you are doing.” I was floored inside. I had expected the restless crowd to break silence and unfurled their impatience at some point. It was really nice of her. In fact almost all of them had waited very patiently into the wee hours of the night. When we closed the outlier zone and halve the room, it was time for my break. I was freezing as I was soaked inside my gown and it was a huge relief to degown and tear off the biting goggles from my face. I received a text from the staff who had reported sick and was subsequently discharged. She has Grabbed Macdonalds for our nurses, “You all need some comfort food.” The nuggets tasted so good. Before I went back in, I walked past a HCW who was quietly sobbing to her phone. She thought nobody had saw her and jumped when I approached her. I asked if she was feeling all right, or if I should get her help? With wet eyes and quivering lips she told me she was terribly worried about her sick father back in India and she felt so helpless here. Her phone buzzed and after taking the call, she wiped her tears, put on her blue gloves and got back to work quickly. It was only until six am we had almost emptied the place. We reset the chairs, recharged all the equipments and restocked the medical supplies. When our last patient exited at six thirty through the hand-sensor door, the morning sunlight filled the room with such abundance and made every dull edges glistered. It was like the warm white light at the end of a tunnel. An opening to hope and emancipation. I pressed for the door to open again because it felt so right. I secretly took a photo in the shadows because I was worried the public would see me in full PPE, longing to be out there in the beautiful morning. The day crowd began to enter the place. I straightened my yellow gown, closed the door and returned to my duties."--Contributed by Ang Wei Kiat James, as part of the "Documenting COVID-19 in Singapore" collection community call. This photograph shows a view of the outdoors taken at daybreak from NCID Screen Centre. It shows a road and some outbuildings near NCID Screen Centre. Additional description by Library staff.

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All rights reserved. Ang Wei Kiat James, 2020


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