Monday, October 23, 2006 

Hospice care in Singapore

The Assisi Home and Hospice is situated within the grounds of Mount Alvernia Hospital, off Thomson Road. You'll be forgiven if you've missed the hospital completely as it is built atop a small hill and mostly hidden from view from the main road.

The restricted visibility of the hospital and the Assisi Home somewhat reflects the state of awareness towards hospice palliative care in Singapore. A recent survery showed that hardly a third of the local population were aware of the existence of hospice care even though about 70% of patients suffering from terminal illnesses are dying without undergoing hospice palliative care in Singapore.

Organizations like the Singapore Hospice Council aim to promote awareness and synergy amongst the various hospice resources in Singapore. The council seeks to coordinate hospice activities and enhance the level of hospice care through the establishment of training programs to provide healthcare workers, volunteers and doctors with the necessary skills to work effectively with patients.

So, what is hospice care? The mission statement of of the Assisi Home captures the essence of it through a simple definiton, "to maximise patients’ quality of life, right up to their natural end". The home admits patients in one of three categories.
  • Respite care
    To give home care givers an opportunity rest and recover, these patients are admitted temporarily.

  • Sympton relief
    Patients suffering from pain and stress are admitted under this category. When relieved of their symptons, these patients are discharged.

  • Terminal care
    End of life patients are admitted when it is deemed that they have about 3 months of life expectancy remaining. The majority of warded patients at the Assisi Hospice fall into this category.

My visit to the Assisi Home began with a glimpse of life in the wards. Doctors and counselling staff make their rounds in the morning, checking up on patients and determining the course of treatment for the day. Here, a counseller speaks to a patient regarding the progress of her illness.

Statistically, 30% of admitted patients end up being discharged, the remainder will live out their last days within the confines of the hospice.

In recent years, there have been a greater number of children stricken with cancer and to address that need, a children's centre was set up in the Assisi Home. The centre caters to children between the ages of 4 to 15 and provides a number of activities to support the needs of these young cancer patients and those who are in remission.

Such children are confined to their homes while recovering from their illness and oftentimes miss out on a lot of schoolwork. The centre runs several educational programmes to help the children catch up with missed lessons and to also help them with the transition of returning to their schools.

It's not all work and no fun for the kids, a multi-sensory room equipped with various activities provide the fun factor for the children.

A day care centre for adults operate from Mondays to Fridays. It runs several programmes catering to the needs of adult patients which include recreational therapy, emotional and psychological support and, pastoral care amongst several others.

I experienced several poignant moments during home visits where I accompanied Home Care nurses on their rounds to patients located all over Singapore. Some patients choose to remain in their homes where the surroundings are familiar and their families closeby as they live out their last days.

Home Care nurses tend to interact with their charges on a more personal and informal level, and operate almost independently. There were several occasions where the nurses had to determine the best course of action on their own when faced with a difficult situation with a patient. It's no wonder that only the more experienced nurses are trained to be Home Care nurses.

A typical check up includes recording of blood pressure. This old gentleman of 94 years kept recounting the time he learnt of the Assisi home and could not stop singing praises about his Home Care nurse.

One of the more distressing cases I experienced was this severely handicapped girl who was hardly a meter tall, she did not look a day over 10 but her actual age was 17. A Home Care nurse changes her head bandage before arranging for admission to a hospital to treat her infected sores.

Treated to a display of the family album during a home care visit.

The most touching moment of my time spent working on this project occurred at the Tampines home of this old lady as she lay in bed dying of cancer. Her fear of passing on commonly reflects the emotions felt by many other end of life patients. She reminded me of the basic need to have family and loved ones around when the time comes to move on, no one ever wants to die alone.

If you feel moved to want to do something more, there are many volunteer opportunities at the Assisi Hospice as well as the other hospice agencies in Singapore. A good place to start would be the Singapore Hospice Council where one can get an idea of what hospice care is all about and who to refer to regarding queries on hospice services and volunteer opportunities.

Saturday, October 14, 2006 

Uniquely Singaporean 3

Seeing this contraption along East Coast Park reminded me of the many motorized bicycles which were recently the rage with aspiring motorcycle enthusiasts who could not afford a motorcycle. Funny how they all seemed to fall into a certain demographic – older men (perhaps reliving their youth).

These illegally motorised bikes are often decked out with tacky modifications... car-like spoilers, hi-fi systems, flashing lights, flags etc. It was a relief when the local authorities declared them illegal on the roads – along with their bike kits came an alarming Hellrider bravado making them a menace to real motorists.

This specimen was different though. I'd have thought a motor would lie under all his gizmos, but it seemed to be pure leg work powering the bike. With the prices of cars in Singapore, it's no wonder ordinary citizens are resorting to more exotic forms of transportation.

Do check out Uniquely Singaporean 2.

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Monday, October 09, 2006 

Walkabout in Joo Chiat

One of the least best kept secrets in my neck of the woods is the quaint old neighborhood of Joo Chiat. I remember wandering these streets as a kid and not much has changed in terms of the architecture and the laid back feel of the place. Many of the shophouses are still around though most have taken on new roles as boutique hotels, bakeries, eateries, girly bars and commercial offices gradually move in.

The following images are from a recent walkabout through the alleyways and side streets. There's always something new to discover everytime I go out there even though I've lived in the area for over 30 years.

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Sunday, October 08, 2006 

Happy food @ Azhang

It isn't often that I get overly excited after a visit to a new restaurant, maybe somewhat new in this case, but Azhang did make my week after a meal there about 2 weeks back. Formerly located in Joo Chiat, it recently moved to its new premises along Mohd Sultan. Its clientele seemed to have changed to the youngish pre-yuppy crowd or so I've been told, apart from the regulars who make weekly visits to the restaurant.

Its interior is simple and cosy. Eva, part owner and server at the eatery, told me that the surroundings were designed to encourage a sense of homeliness. I thought the front half of the dining hall a little cold, and the real warmth only began past the teak wood sofa in the middle and through the end of the hall. Go down and see for yourself.

One doesn't quite get the sense of the food at Azhang solely by reading the menu. This corn salad tasted nothing like what the menu described it to be. The kernels were grilled to perfection with distinctive spicy smoky aroma about it. Tossed in a light asian-tasting dressing, it caused a lot of oohs and ahhs from our party. It's not often to see people reacting this way to corn. Two servings of the salad later, a third was ordered when everyone couldn't have enough of it.

So happened that the special on the menu that evening was a seafood paella. This was quite unlike any paella I've ever tasted, an eclectic mix of indian spices, seafood curry and chillies. We were fighting for the charred bits which were stuck to the bottom of the pan. For lack of a better word, it was shiok!

Not to be outdone by the paella, this huge grilled platter of jumbo prawns, calamari, meats and fatty salmon belly appeared next. I thought the prawns a bit overcooked, which was a real pity as they were nice and large, and just a little chalky. The rest of the dish was nicely done thought he calamari could have spent about 5 more minutes on the grill. Seasoned with middle eastern spices, this platter was another explosion in taste that characterises the fare served at Azhang. A robust bottle of shiraz would be a great accompaniment.

Chef/owner Patrick appeared several times in the dining room as the night was winding down. We were curious as to how he'd label his cuisine and when asked, he simply remarked that it was "happy food". I wonder if that large goblet of wine in his hand had something to do with it. But really, it is food that makes one yearning for more, and that makes me happy.

Patrick does host a number of social nights where invited diners sample some of items which are not featured on the regular menu. So, get on his good side and he might just let you in on the dates.

6 Mohamed Sultan Road
Singapore 238956

Tel: 6836-3436

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