Volunteers from FIRST Hand completed a four-week volunteer training program held at Tan Tock Seng’s Communicable Disease Centre.
|PHOTO COURTESY OF CHCSA|
“Helping terminally-ill (HIV) patients lead dignified and meaningful lives through heartfelt care and services.” The mission statement of FIRST Hand comes a full circle for many new volunteers as they received the license to enter the hospital wards to do exactly what the outreach stands for.
These volunteers are dedicated to counseling and care programs for the patients, get-together interactive events, touch therapy to help alleviate pain due to the adverse effects of the condition, and perhaps, most importantly, simply being a friend and lending a listening ear to these terminally- ill patients who are often shunned by society and sometimes even by their own family members.
Terminal illnesses bring with them many over-amplified stigmas to patients. “Providing care for terminally-ill patients is as safe as providing care for any other patient,” said Dr. Lee Cheng Chuan, 46, senior consultant at Tan Tock Seng Hospital and facilitator for the four-week volunteer training program. Health care workers and volunteers alike are trained to adhere to safety guidelines that help prevent any accidental transmission of diseases.
Even still, many refuse to lend a helping hand to such patients in fear of their own safety. “Volunteers have to be passionate,” said Lee, regarding what he felt to be the most important criteria volunteers should have. “If you are passionate, you can easily overcome any obstacle.”
Volunteers are always needed—ones who are willing to overcome social prejudice and put others’ needs above their own. “Volunteers help fill in the gap that sometimes medical workers can’t fill, such as spending time simply chatting with the patients, who are then fulfilled mentally and emotionally,” added Lee.
As much as medical workers try to provide for all of a patient’s needs, the workload from the medical treatments itself is already severely draining on staff. “Often, as medical practitioners, we are focused only on treating the patient due to time constraints, but when I am doing voluntary work, I make sure I take the time to talk to the patient as a friend and care for them,” said Ginny Quek, 21, a medical student at National University of Singapore, as well as a FIRST Hand volunteer.
Quek is one of the volunteers who had just completed the volunteer training program. Her dream is to do humanitarian work overseas, but decided to start locally first. “Why not start in our own backyard? There are many people in Singapore who need our help,” she asserted.
In the area of social health care, about 60 FIRST Hand volunteers have provided befriending services to an average of 221 HIV/AIDS patients in 2009. Since its inception, FIRST Hand has also been providing regular visitations to their client’s homes and at the hospital wards.
This year, 16 new volunteers from FIRST Hand join the ranks of those who are licensed to enter the wards at CDC to serve the terminally-ill patients directly. The volunteer training program is an annual event conducted by TTSH to equip volunteers with the knowledge and practical know-how in terms of administering proper care to terminally ill patients.
The four-week training included topics such as understanding HIV epidemiology and transmission, providing effective emotional support to patients and infection control. There was also a massage technique demonstration.
Particularly noteworthy was a presentation on palliative care, which focuses on symptom relief. Through validating the patient’s achievements and helping them resolve unsettled issues in their lives, palliative care hopes to help terminally-ill patients depart beautifully rather than sorrowfully, and possibly allowing the deceased’s family to accept the loss peaceably.
Besides the weekly ward visitations, FIRST Hand volunteers also go directly to clients’ homes for a visit. Volunteers who have not been through the training program can get to do their part by befriending terminally-ill patients outside the hospital context.
The month-long training program concluded with a certificate and award presentation by the TTSH staff.
For further information regarding FIRST Hand please visit www.chcsa.org.sg/terminally_ill.htm.