Retired nurse recalls experience of working at Woodbridge Hospital

Retired nurse recalls experience of working at Woodbridge Hospital

SINGAPORE - Wicker shields used to protect nurses from patients, electro-compulsive therapy to deliver electric currents into patients suffering psychotic disorders - these were some of the tools of a trade for a nurse at the old Woodbridge Hospital.

The Straits Times went behind the scenes and spoke to a retired nurse at the old Woodbridge Hospital to find out what was life like back then for a nurse at the infamous hospital.

"My first experience was really frightening because I don't expect a person to be arching when, during convulsion, to be arched in that position. And the twitching and the shaking was someone that was scary initially, because I don't expect a human body to be shaking that much," said retired nurse Madam Catherine Chua.

"Patients who gets a bit upset or disturbed, any items they get a hold of, they just throw. So when they start throwing too many, that's when the staff needs to get this wicker shield to try to calm the patient down by using the shield to block it off before the staff can get nearer to the patient to calm the patient down," she recalls.

The hospital formerly called the Insane Hospital was set up to house and treat the mentally ill in 1841. Renamed Woodbrige Hospital in 1951 after a wooden bridge at a nearby stream of Seletar River, the word "Woodbridge" acquired a negative connotation over the years.

"My first impression was from my husband. He said 'are you sure you are going to work in Woodbridge Hospital?' I said 'Ya, I feel that there is a calling for me to be there'.

"So when I first came in, there was a lot of shock for me as well, because I'm the only person to take care of so many patients. And my self-medication was very, very tough. Because I need to know 65 patients' names which was not possible for me at that point in time," Madam Chua explains.

With more studies done on mental illnesses, the treatment and rehabilitation process has vastly changed over the years.

"In those good old days as well, we do more of occupying the patient, in terms of the social and recreational activities. And these are the activities that also the patients like.

"During those days, we do a lot of farming, a lot of sewing and a lot of woodcraft. So, those were the things that we occupy the patients with, and, honestly, the patients, these are the trades that they have been doing.

"In terms of treatment plans, we did not have much of psychology or social workers, or even case managers. So during those times, those were the things not mentioned at all," she said.

Examples of the different activities that patients took part in during that time, as well as the various items used in the old hospital, can be found at the Woodbridge Museum, located at the Institute of Mental Health at Buangkok.

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