The FIRST Hand ministry looks beyond the daunting challenge of providing palliative care to meet the physical and emotional needs of the terminally-ill.
Contributed By Mavis Toh
|PHOTOS COURTESY OF CHCSA
He had been a volunteer in the FIRST Hand ministry for barely a year when his first charge passed away. For months, navy specialist Herman Lim had been visiting the HIV patient and at their last meeting, promised to bring him for a walk at East Coast Park the coming weekend. “But the next day I received a call informing me that he had passed away,” recalled Lim. “He had a cardio attack; everything happened so suddenly.”
That was in 2003 when Lim was still a rookie volunteer with City Harvest Community Services Association’s FIRST Hand ministry, which reaches out to HIV/Aids patients by providing them with much-needed palliative care and emotional support. Now a service head of the ministry, Lim has witnessed more than a few deaths but the 35-year-old is not about to quit. “Every patient has taught me something by sharing their life story with me, and I’ve learned to slow down, take stock of my own life and treasure my friends and family,” he said.
At a certificate presentation ceremony on Sep. 4 at the RELC International Hotel, the ministry welcomed 13 new volunteers on board, all of whom have completed four three-hour training sessions conducted by doctors and nurses from Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Through those four sessions, the volunteers not only learned about the medical aspects of HIV and Aids, but also the other scopes of palliative care including nutritional support and counseling, as the patients come face-to-face with end-of-life issues.
To encourage the newcomers, senior volunteers Robin Neo and Serena Ong shared the ups and downs of serving in FIRST Hand. Recounting the heart-wrenching cases they had encountered over their past five years of service, they underscored the importance of the ministry’s work. “There was a patient in his 50s who had been warded for six months, but no friends and family came to visit him. Each time when he saw the volunteers, he would raise his hand and reach out to us,” Ong said. “That was when I realized that although I was not his family, I could still provide him with emotional support.” The man passed away some months later.
One of the 30 senior volunteers presented with a token of appreciation for their years of service, Ong shared that it was her mother’s battle with stomach cancer three years ago that made her realize the importance and value of the volunteers’ support to the terminally-ill. Though her family members rallied around her mother and accompanied her for every treatment session, there were still times when they found her weeping in despair. “I asked myself, ‘If someone with such strong family support can fall into depression, what about those with no family?’ That was what kept me going in this ministry,” said Ong.
Visits are made to the Communicable Disease Centre as well as the patients’ home every week without fail, where besides befriending and providing patients with emotional support, volunteers also provide touch therapy through massage and music therapy to help patients process their emotions.
Since it first began with only a handful of volunteers in 1998, FIRST Hand has grown into an 80-strong team. When asked what keeps him going in this ministry, Lim says, “We may feel like we’re doing something for these patients. But in the process of serving them each week, I feel that I’ve received and learned much more from them than I have given.”