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WHEN we hired private nurses to help out with caring for our late parents a few years ago, we never really took into consideration the person’s race. We were more concerned about her competency in caring for our beloved parents.

We looked at her credentials as well as the agency’s track record and references. We had certain requirements and ground rules that we hoped he or she would abide by. We didn’t have any objections to the nurse’s religion or race. All we asked for were tolerance and respect for our religion and practices, as we did theirs.

The obvious practice in a Muslim household would be to not bring, eat or cook non-halal food in our home. Apart from that one rule, they were otherwise allowed to bring their own food and were even invited to eat our food after attending to their patients. This worked really well during the month of Ramadan for the buka puasa period is a busy time for the family.

Even though my parents by then couldn’t fast, they kept up with family meals as they always had. They found joy in watching us break our fast with the spread that had been prepared. Being together mattered so much to them.

We were very fortunate that the nurses who came our way were everything we had hoped them to be — efficient, kind and calm under pressure. There were a few who didn’t quite work out but that’s normal. We worked by trial and error. There has to be chemistry, compassion and respect.

In those two years that we had private nurses, we finally settled for a team of three who worked very well together. They communicated well with us and with each other. They also sorted out their schedules together.


Another one of our rules was that no one should ever work for 24 hours straight, even if she was willing. It didn’t matter that she had had the night shift earlier and managed to snatch some sleep; all the more reason for them not to do the stretch. They were supposed to be awake and alert during the night.

Having this rule was about safety for both parties. It’s also wrong to allow anyone to work those long hours. Tired people make mistakes and we just couldn’t risk it. Anything could go wrong. One false step could be injurious if not fatal. The nurse on duty must be alert and fresh.

The nurses worked a 12-hour shift each and between them, managed to get a day off during the week.

It was important that the nurses worked well with each other because they had to hand over notes so that the incoming nurse was aware of what had transpired prior to that. Were the medications given on time? Were there incidents like fever, cuts or bruises that they should know about and attend to later? There would also be a record of general mood and trips to the toilet (constipation can be an issue for the ailing elderly).

The nurses kept records of such details as well as glucose levels, pulse and blood pressure the way they would at the hospital. We provided logbooks for them to fill in such details. We also had a duty roster and the general logbook.


My parents got along with the nurses. However, there was an incident a few months after we hired them. We noticed mum wasn’t her usual self. She was sad and rather depressed. We later discovered that mum received visitors every now and then. This particular visitor apparently had some disturbing things to tell mum. The nurse didn’t get his name because she felt that it was not her place to ask such questions. All she knew was that the visitor was a relative.

From then on, we added another book to be filled — a visitor’s book to sign in with name and time of visit. We couldn’t be there 24/7 but the nurses were and these books helped us keep track of what was going on. Those were the days before CCTV was common and easily installed.

We also asked the nurses to make small notes of the visitors — did they have a cough and cold when they visited? Was mum awake or asleep when they came? What was she like after the visit?

Caring for an ailing elderly in their own home is more than about looking after the physical aspect. Their mental health and well-being are equally important.

Among the benefits of having a multiracial team was that one nurse could go off on her festive holiday and the other could cover her. Our lives were also enriched by the close contact we had with them because we shared stories of families and traditions on those quiet days when mum was in the mood for a chat.

The nurses also joined us for our Hari Raya festivities and other events. They are, after all, by my parents’ side all the time.

Once when mum was well enough to make the trip out, we even visited the nurse’s home and met her family during Deepavali. The nurse on duty would of course be there too. Over time, they too became more than just colleagues. They became friends.

**The article above was brought to you by AmMetLife Insurance Bhd

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