There are 350 SIA Group cabin crew from Singapore Airlines, SilkAir and Scoot who have taken on the role of care ambassadors (CAs) during the Covid-19 period. The CA programme allows SIA Group cabin crew who are temporarily grounded due to cancelled flights to be seconded to public hospitals to augment the pressing manpower needs brought on by the Covid-19 outbreak.
In the fight against Covid-19, hospitals in Singapore have converted some wards into specialised wards that cater to the needs of Covid-19 patients. At the same time, hospitals continue to provide quality care to all other patients. Cabin crew under the programme will support hospital care teams to carry out duties which include basic care giving procedures, nutritional care as well as patient service management for patients in low-risk wards.
As Singapore puts in place strict “circuit breaker” measures, hospitals have had to restrict visitors for most patients to ensure their safety. Inevitably, this has led to some patients, especially the elderly, feeling lonely. Inflight Manager Norazillah Zayadi (Nora) was posted to the cardiological ward at Changi General Hospital (CGH). In her first week, she saw a patient looking out of the window and crying. The patient could only converse in her dialect, but the language barrier did not stop Nora from trying to provide some comfort to her. When working on board as a cabin crew member, Nora puts herself in the shoes of the passengers. As a CA in the hospital, she tries to put herself in the shoes of the patients. Through empathy – which is a core value of CGH, and a value that SIA cabin crew uphold – Nora won the trust of the patients.
At one point in her life, Flight Stewardess Wong Mei Yoon thought of becoming a nurse. She saw it as a calling to sign up as a CA when the opportunity came along. Mei Yoon is attached to the general ward at Singapore General Hospital (SGH). Her ability to speak Cantonese enables her to serve as a translator between the nurses and patients, and at the same time pick up tips on how to become a better caregiver. As cabin crew, focusing on the little details is important, and they are constantly looking out for one another. In the hospital, Mei Yoon pays close attention to what the nurses do, and tries to learn from and assist them as much as possible. For example, when she sees that medical supplies such as gloves and gauze at her station are running out, Mei Yoon and her fellow CAs will take the initiative to top up their respective stations.
Flight Steward Muhammad Zulhamezan bin Abdullah (Zul) is also attached to the general ward in SGH. His best friends are nurses, and he has heard about the challenges that nurses have faced and the sacrifices they have made in the fight against Covid-19. Zul feels it is an opportunity for him to contribute to society and to learn more about his best friends and their jobs. Like his fellow CAs, he believes that skills such as being observant and paying attention to the details come in useful when caring for the patients. Zul helps the nurses by being a secondary pair of eyes – he looks out for patients who are showing signs of discomfort and gets them the necessary medical assistance.
Although cabin crew are trained to deal with medical situations, Zul has not encountered any cases during his two years of flying with SIA. Having spent some time at the hospital as a CA, Zul feels he has now gained the confidence to manage a medical situation with composure if that day ever comes. Doctors and nurses have remained calm and steady, even in a “code blue” situation where patients require immediate medical attention. Although CAs do not participate in such scenarios, Zul has gained greater knowledge on how to deal with medical emergencies by observing the medical team.
Flight Stewardess Mandi Cheung decided to take up the role of a CA to learn more about caregiving, and to apply the skills learnt during this attachment on board in future. Earlier this year, her husband met with an accident that resulted in a severe injury, and she had to care for him. Mandi is attached to the geriatric ward at the National University Hospital (NUH). It is not completely unfamiliar ground to her, as she has volunteered at a nursing home in the past.
One of the patients Mandi encountered reminded her of the importance of not judging a book by its cover: There is a patient in the ward who seems healthy, but is in fact battling a terminal illness. Drawing a parallel to her job as a cabin crew member, Mandi recalls an incident in which there was passenger who seemed difficult to manage. Mandi tried to find out more from him about how the service could be improved, but he explained his frustration was due to his personal family issues. The empathy and patience Mandi showed eventually won the heart of the passenger, and he even wrote a complimentary email to the airline to show his appreciation for the crew.
Showing gratitude is a value that Leading Flight Steward Fabien Sieh tries to keep in mind. A member of the Cabin Crew Club for Community Care (also known as 5Cs), Fabien signed up to be a CA as he wanted to help to share the load of the healthcare team. He was posted to the surgical ward at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital (KTPH), and working there has been an eye-opening experience for him. One of the things he learnt from the nurses was why certain patients have to be physically restrained – it is to prevent patients from injuring themselves. Out of frustration, the patients may remove medical devices connected to them, and this can endanger their lives, but many have misunderstood the intent of such actions. Fabien has learnt that all decisions made by the nurses are for the welfare of the patients. They may not show it openly, but they do genuinely care for the patients.
Fabien finds this comparable to his work on board, as crew are sometimes misunderstood by passengers when they do certain things for safety reasons. Through such interactions, Fabien and the nurses have gotten to know each other better and fostered a greater sense of teamwork, which allows them to provide even better care.
Apart from CAs, there are cabin crew such as Flight Stewardess Qurratu’Aini (Aini) who have decided to put on their scrubs once again during this period. Before joining the airline, she worked as a staff nurse for two years. After reading news on the Covid-19 situation, she understood that immediate help was required in the healthcare sector and her past training as a nurse would be useful. She will be heading back to the community to provide home care for families.
Although safe distancing has kept us apart physically, the cabin-crew-turned-CAs agree that the pandemic has brought people closer emotionally. They have seen how everyone can put aside their differences and work together as one to achieve one goal – to win the battle against Covid-19. The coronavirus may be causing inconveniences for us right now, but perseverance will lead us to better days.
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