Google Translate saves the day: SGH nurse opens up about frontline struggles

PHOTO: AsiaOne

The coronavirus outbreak came like a bolt from the blue for most Singaporeans. But for nurse clinician Muhammad Syafiq Abdul Manaf, it's something he's trained and prepared for since he started working at Singapore General Hospital's isolation wards six years ago.

Of course, that isn't to say that life on the frontline has been a walk in the park.

AsiaOne visited the hospital on Feb 21 and the 32-year-old opened up about the realities and struggles of being one of the masked heroes caring for Singapore's Covid-19 patients.

With the first confirmed cases hailing from China, one of the biggest challenges some of them faced right off the bat was communication, he said.

"For English-speaking people, if we say 'I want to take a throat swab' they generally open their mouth," he explained. "But for Chinese-speaking patients normally it's difficult to communicate."

Faced with this curveball, they turned to Google Translate.

"My colleagues or even the doctors will translate first before going [into the ward] to see how the Mandarin words will be and how they sound.

"Generally, the patients are quite thankful for that. Because we try to make an effort to make sure that they understand whatever we want to deliver."

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Explaining the patients' daily routines clearly to them and allaying their anxiety are crucial to making sure that they are comfortable, Syafiq said.

After all, patients are confined to a room in isolation while they recover. For some, this could be a matter of days. For others, it could mean spending close to a month in hospital, unable to see their friends and family.

"We can see the type of patient when we look at them from outside the room. [Some of them] are so quiet, they are just lying down. But some are exercising in the room."

While they have distractions in the form of a television set, the occasional newspaper and their mobile phones (there's Wi-Fi), boredom is inevitable.

 
Covid-19 frontline nurse talks isolation ward life

Nurse clinician Muhammad Syafiq Bin Abdul Manaf opens up about life at Singapore General Hospital’s isolation wards and gets candid about his struggles since the Covid-19 outbreak — from missed birthday celebrations to using Google Translate to communicate with his patients. #covid19 #coronavirus #singapore

Posted by AsiaOne on Sunday, 23 February 2020

That's the reason Syafiq makes it a point to engage his patients in small talk.

"It's essential for these types of small conversations to take place so that the patient won't feel that they are being left out," he explained, saying that they are already "divided from the outside world".

At the same time, the virus outbreak has also meant that Syafiq's own life in the "outside world" has had to take a backseat for the time being.

His parents and wife are picking up the slack when it comes to caring for his kids, the father of two tots aged three and one-and-a-half confessed.

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"Normally during 'peacetime', I will fetch them from their school after work. But due to longer working hours, [my family] tries their best to not make me worried about my kids and their wellbeing.

"They make sure that everything in the household is being settled for me."

He even had to forgo his own birthday celebration with his family to work an afternoon shift, he told us with a resigned smile.

But it's the "little things" that motivate him to keep going, from vitamin drinks prepared by his wife to thoughtful reminders from his colleagues.

"Sometimes when we are gowning up, we can hear our friends say, 'Eh, you never tie your gown properly'. Sometimes it's a simple gesture, like 'Brother, eat now lah, you haven't eaten lunch.'"

As Syafiq and his colleagues continue fighting the good fight, there's just one thing he's looking forward to.

"Hopefully when this thing is over, I tell you, we just need rest lah. Ample rest."

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kimberlylim@asiaone.com