Shahidah was in the Galapagos Islands on a diving-related work trip in January when news broke about Covid-19. The nurse-turned-diving instructor kept an eye on the situation, and when the number of cases kept rising, she knew what she had to do.
She packed her bags and headed home to Singapore, towards the end of March. Until recently, Shahidah – who left nursing in 2017 – had been based in Koh Tao, Thailand, where she was just beginning her marine conservation instructorship course.
“I knew at some point that Singapore would need more nurses. I could have remained in Koh Tao, which has stayed virus-free even till today, but I wanted to come back and help,” she explains.
Two days after she caught one of the last flights out of Koh Samui, Thailand shut its borders.
Initiating donation drives for migrant workers
While serving her 14-day stay-home notice in her family home, Shahidah sent out applications to locum nursing agencies to get a placement. A week after completing her notice, she was deployed to the community care facility at the Singapore Expo, which has about 8,000 beds.
She was there for four and a half months, carrying out a wide range of duties, from administrative work to swab tests.
Even though there was a substantial number of patients at the facility (at one point, there were 10 halls open in total, and each hall could accommodate up to 900 patients), she never felt overwhelmed by the round-the-clock care and the gravity of the situation.
“I was impressed by how everything was set up. The team banded together quickly to complete our tasks, and we worked really well together despite knowing each other for such a short time,” she recounts.
“I worked with strong, talented and highly motivated individuals at Expo CCF, and it fuelled my own drive to give residents my best care.”
She also took it upon herself to bring some cheer to the migrant workers at the facility. For Hari Raya Haji, she sought out donations of new sarongs and prayer mats for the Muslim migrant workers, under the SmileSG project. It was no easy feat, but thankfully, help was rendered by many generous people – one of them was Sathish Naidu, head of Union and Projects at the Migrant Workers’ Centre.
“He heard about what I was trying to do, and was wholeheartedly supportive. He asked how many sarongs I wanted and I initially said 800, but when the number of patients at the Expo increased, I phoned him anxiously, wondering if it was possible to get more.
“He said, ‘Okay, I’ll see what I can do’, and eventually managed to pull together 1,100 pieces from very generous donors. He also included biscuits and hand sanitisers, which I hadn’t asked for. I was extremely touched and immensely grateful for his willingness to help.”
It is perhaps little surprise that Sathish was as inspired by her as she was by him.
“Shahidah’s positive energy is infectious, and I was attracted to her strength and persistence. It was refreshing to see a young person take the initiative to bring a smile to the faces of the migrant workers. Some of them even called to say that they were very appreciative of what she and her peers did for them, and that they felt at home during their stay,” he says.
Making personal sacrifices
“In the very early days, nobody was sure how infectious Covid-19 was. I was afraid of contracting the virus and passing it on to my family, so I took the extra precaution of isolating myself even at home,” she says, adding that it was a challenging time for her. She currently lives with her father and elder brother as her mother is working in New Zealand (also as a nurse), and her younger brother is studying medicine in Australia.
“I’d come home and stay in my room as much as possible. I took my meals alone, so it was a bit lonely. However, I took comfort in knowing that the entire world was also going through the same situation as me. We all had to learn to be alone somehow.”
To cope with the social distancing rules during the Circuit Breaker, Shahidah turned to reading, embarking on online courses, and catching up with friends over calls and video chats.
Incredible work ethic and selflessness
With the tourism-driven diving industry and travel affected by the pandemic, Shahidah returned as a full-time staff nurse at the emergency department (ED) in August, and intends to pick up as many skills as possible while she’s there.
“The skills that I can gain while working in the ED will definitely come in handy when I’m on my dive trips. I want to learn all that I can,” she adds.
I wanted to come back and help.Shahidah Suhaimy
Shahidah’s selflessness certainly leaves a lasting impression. Her long-time friend, Kirsty Magson, agrees.
“She’s an amazing team player and puts the needs and wants of others above herself,” she says.
“She is kind, passionate and courageous, and is someone who has the ability to change the lives of those she meets for the better.”
When asked what motivates her actions, Shahidah says: “I care a lot for people. When I empower patients with the skills and knowledge on how to manage their condition, I feel accomplished.
“At the end of the day, I know I have made a difference, however small, to someone’s life.”