confession of a nurse aide


Today the world is celebrating nurses’ day.

International Nurses Day is celebrated around the world every May 12, the anniversary of Florence Nightingale’s birth.

Today, being Nurses Day, is a day to honour the nursing profession. Nobody can deny nursing is noble.  But many a nurse ends up being one not by choice but by a stroke of fate, so to say.

It is something like, you leave school to look for a job. You dispatch off applications for all kinds of jobs you think you qualify. After several “Thank-you-for-your-interest” replies, you finally get one which begins with “I-am-pleased-to …” So, excitedly, you grab the offer and off you go for a stint of training.

For several gruelling years, you may cry or you may laugh, but something inside you makes you stick on till the moment you jubilantly toss your graduation cap in the air, and you are finally a nurse, crisp and fresh, ready to embark upon a lifelong career dabbling with diseases and medicines; and later discover that one of the best parts of being a nurse is that you get the chance to celebrate all the festive holidays with your friends at work, and you also have the chance to expose yourself to all sorts of exciting new diseases.

But for Mariani Heng, who is a nurse aide, and who has served in the nursing line in the private sectors for about 30 years, her story of how she came to be in the field of nursing is somewhat unique. Going by her own confession, we would be inclined to think that she was born to be a nurse. The only sad thing was that, during the late 70s, she had never had the chance to be formally trained as one. That was because in those days she did not have the opportunities that could grant her a way to be formally trained as a qualified nurse. It was a period of time she knew of no local nursing schools in Kuching nor did she know of any kind of scholarships or study loans that can could give her the chance to try her luck. But somehow, Mariani still managed to find  a quiet entry into the nursing pasture by starting off as just being a clinical assistant. From then on and during the course of her gradual advancement in into the career, she acquired her nursing knowledge and skill through the daily grinds of raw experience and hands-on learning.

Elaborating on why she feels she could have been born with nursing in her blood, Mariani had a little story to share: She said she could still vividly remember she used to play doctor even when she was still a toddler. She would stick one end of a piece of string to a bottle cap and tie the other end to a headband and used it as a stethoscope to “listen to people’s heartbeats”. And she would sometimes stick strips of plasters on any bruise-like marks on her “patients”’ bodies. At one time, she bandaged a crooked tail of a cat with toilet paper.


One bizarre thing she did one day was to relegate herself as a midwife for a cat when it was going through what seemed like some difficulty in delivering her kittens. She comforted the cat with encouraging and soothing words. She massaged its belly and even helped to pull out the kittens during the delivery process. The first kitten was born dead because it came out feet first. Mariani shed a tear over it. Three of the rest were fine.

Mariani first heard of Florence Nightingale when she was in junior secondary school. She was deeply touched by Nightingale’s story. Her sacrificial dedication as a nurse that made her known as “The Lady with the Lamp” inspired Mariani in a very profound manner.

Incidentally though, at one juncture of her youth, the idea of becoming a policewoman did also cross Mariani’s mind, but, alas, she was not tall enough to be cop. Mariani wanted to be in that smart uniform not really because she wanted to catch criminals. Rather, she was driven more by an empathy she felt for the hopelessness of those drug addicts she often heard of, and she was thinking whether she could use a bit of a clout of a uniformed official to offer some counselling to those wretched souls.

Now that Mariani is already in her late 50s and with more than 20 years of slogging it out handling the sick under her medical calling, she is thankful to find that so far she has not felt any demotivation in her work. Her work has in fact trained her to be somewhat tough and resilient, and she avouched she was actually grateful she had been in nursing. Why grateful?

“Well,” replied Mariani who can speak English, local Malay, Iban, Mandarin, Teochew, Hokkien, and Hakka, “I feel that working in hospitals allows me to do all I can in my little ways to bring comfort to people who are ill.  Even for those who don’t make it through their illnesses, I have, in my own ways, had the chance to at least make them feel better before they breathe their last.”

From Mariani’s long experience and observation, she reckons that, in many cases, patients seem to have already won half of the battle against an illness if there is someone to show care and concern for the sufferers. Distressed people who feel connected seem able to recover faster from their ailment. On the other hand, if sick persons feel neglected, they would seem to lose their fighting spirit, and allow themselves to languish. That was why, said Mariani, she has always tried her utmost to be kind, gentle, polite and encouraging to her patients.

“You may scold your patients,” she said,” but scold them with love in your voice; just like a mother who scolds her child for not listening to advice.”  She

said the tone of one’s voice is a very strong body language. Instinctively, people can detect how they are being treated just from the way you sound when you talk to them. Besides voice tone, body gestures, too, are very revealing, she added.

Mariani said many sick people are already in great pains and are in very miserable mood. It is thus natural for them to become highly agitated and emotional. Thus, profound understanding and proficiency on the part of the caretakers is vital. Tantrums which may be directed at nurses are often not personal in nature but only an expression of the patients’ own sufferings and frustrations. In this regard, nurses can become like “punching bags” for patients to release their pent up emotions. That was why those who are in the nursing profession always have to face the herculean task of holding their ground to be somewhat extremely tolerant and resilient.

On the other hand, Mariani said nurses also need a lot of empathy and understanding from public members. People need to remember that nurses are also humans who are fragile and can easily buckle under pressures. Nurses are not super angels with unlimited power, she reiterated.

“I think even robots can get overheated and break down if you drive them around too much,” said Mariani. “So, please if you happen to see a very busy nurse forgetting to give you a sweet smile, or even losing her cool a bit, be kind enough to compromise; the poor nurse may be under great pressure,” pleaded Mariani.

She added that women nurses, feminine as they may seem to be, are the fair gender who have fought to overcome the squeamish sights, smells and touches of the most horrible gores, human body damage, as well as having stared at many deaths face to face. The nerve of steel which nurses have built in themselves can often not be appreciated and understood by most people. And nobody envy the unholy odd hours that nurses have to work in.

Nevertheless, Mariani still insisted that those who have some interest in nursing to please go for it. “It is a career where you can be as close to humanity as you can,” she said. “And at the end of the day, you’d feel that you’d have lived a life of great satisfaction because you know you’ve done a very valuable humanitarian job during your whole career as a nurse.”  — END

Picture: Mariani Heng and her 90-year-old uncle-in-law Massimun bin Tuban when she visited him in Serian, Kuching, Sarawak,  recently.
Picture: Mariani Heng and her 90-year-old uncle-in-law Massimun bin Tuban when she visited him in Serian, Kuching, Sarawak, recently.

Picture: Mariani Heng and her 90-year-old uncle-in-law Massimun bin Tuban when she visited him in Serian recently.


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