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The Straits Times
May 8, 2023
Two nurses found themselves at the right place at the right time – not once but twice – to render critical emergency help.
On March 3, Khoo Teck Puat Hospital’s senior nurse managers Ng Siok Qi and Cherie Koh, both 34, were heading for a two-week workshop on Leadership Development under Harvard Business School.
The duo, who were recipients of the Mavis Khoo Nursing Leaders Scholarship, were at Changi Airport and bound for San Francisco when they answered the first call of duty, at Terminal 3.
“An airport employee was pushing a wheelchair with a man in it and a younger man was accompanying them. We noticed the trio only when the younger man shouted for help. We realised it was a medical emergency when the employee lowered the passenger onto the ground, so we went over to help,” Ms Koh said.
Ms Ng recalled: “The man on the floor was coughing and spewing blood. He was also covered in his own blood. There was a cup filled with blood next to him. He must have vomited into it.”
She added that his breathing was shallow, while his eyes were glazed over.
After unbuttoning his shirt, she administered cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) while Ms Koh tilted his head back to clear his airway.
After the first cycle of CPR, Ms Ng said the man had a slight pulse, but he was not breathing.
“I could not give mouth-to-mouth (resuscitation) because of the blood in his airway, so I asked for an AED (automated external defibrillator) to be brought over. By that time, a doctor had turned up, and we took turns to administer CPR,” she said.
Never once did the two women, both senior nurse managers, think the blood could be tainted with infectious diseases.
“We ‘grew up’ with the KTPH ‘can-do’ spirit. We were taught at the hospital that if we can do it, we just do it, and that was what we did,” Ms Ng said.
When a medical team arrived, the women realised it was almost time for them to board their flight.
“We handed the patient over and hurriedly washed up in the toilet. We made sure we cleaned off any blood on our hands before we boarded,” Ms Koh said, adding that it was a good thing they wore dark-coloured blouses.
After the workshop, the duo extended their stay in the United States by a week and spent their holiday in New York before boarding a red-eye Singapore Airlines (SIA) plane back to Singapore.
“It was an 18-hour long-haul flight. We had been in the air for 15 hours when an announcement came over the PA (public address) system, asking if there was a doctor on board,” Ms Ng said.
The two women said they shared a glance. “We couldn’t believe it. Two similar cases in one trip. What are the chances?” she added.
Believing that there was possibly a doctor on board, they did not act immediately. Then, a second announcement was made.
Ms Koh said: “It was after all a red-eye flight and every passenger was asleep. We raised our hands and identified ourselves as nurses, and we were taken to the business-class section.”
A Caucasian man was slumped over in the toilet. He was slurring and incoherent, and “we thought he must have had a stroke”, said Ms Koh. When she held his trousers by the waistband, she realised they were soaked in his urine.
With help from an air steward, the nurses managed to get the man back to his seat.
Ms Ng said: “We took his blood pressure and carried out an on-the-spot neuro-assessment before a young woman approached and identified herself as a doctor.”
The plane made an emergency landing on March 27 at India’s Chennai airport, where a medical team was waiting.
An SIA spokesman told The Straits Times that the man was taken to a hospital. “SIA would like to extend our heartfelt appreciation to the doctor and nurses who came forward to provide their expertise and medical assistance to the unwell customer.”
The news was reported by Dtnext.in, an online portal linked to DT Next, an English-language newspaper from the Daily Thanthi Group in Tamil Nadu, India. The man has since been discharged.
When told by ST of SIA’s appreciation of what they had done, both Ms Ng and Ms Koh said they were “merely doing their jobs – saving lives”.
They will be flying off again in June to attend the second part of their leadership workshop.
“After what we went through, I think this time round, I will make sure I have gloves within reach inside my carry-on bag in case I am needed once more,” said Ms Ng.
Ms Koh has reminded her colleague not to “forget to pack at least a set of personal protective equipment as well”.