Project Happy Apples extended virtual befriending to St. Andrew’s Community Hospital palliative patients.
During this challenging time of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Andrew’s Community Hospital (SACH) and Project Happy Apples (PHA) bonded together, journeying with SACH palliative care patients and their loved ones.
Started in 2012 by students from the National University of Singapore Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine, PHA aims to empower future doctors and prepare society for end-of-life care, by making a positive impact on medical students, the general public, and patients receiving palliative care through their initiatives.
Traditionally, PHA has two main initiatives: an annual public exhibition and a befriending programme for patients receiving palliative care. However, due to COVID-19, PHA was unable to conduct home visits and inpatient ward visits. Instead, PHA partnered with SACH to conduct virtual befriending sessions. Although this was not as ideal as befriending in-person, PHA hoped to bring joy and comfort to patients despite the pandemic.
PHA medical student volunteers interacted with each SACH patient over two Saturday mornings for an hour each. Each session comprised an activity component and a befriending component. During the activity component, PHA volunteers engaged patients through activities such as finger painting or origami, or put on elaborate performances virtually. As the patients got to know the volunteers better, they started to open up and shared more about their lives during the befriending component. The comfort that they found in the volunteers’ company was evident from the bright smiles and laughter that peppered many conversations. In the second week of virtual befriending, PHA volunteers came up with creative ideas to fulfil the patients’ wishes. Some groups conducted activities that held significance for patients, while other groups introduced the patients to various items that they had sent, such as colouring materials, flowering kits, and even personalised message boards to keep them occupied during their inpatient stay.
Through conversations with patients, PHA volunteers witnessed first-hand how the pandemic had impacted them — the restricted visitation situation meant that patients could not meet regularly with their family members and loved ones. PHA is very thankful that the virtual befriending sessions helped to alleviate the patients’ loneliness and boredom. After the sessions, many of the patients expressed their delight in meeting the volunteers, albeit through a computer screen, with some even asking when the next session would be! We hope that through the virtual befriending sessions, volunteers are now able to better empathise with palliative patients, having learnt more about palliative care and how they should approach end-of-life issues with patients and their loved ones.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank SACH staff, especially Mr Justin Tan, Ms Peh Lay Koon, and the Information Technology team, without whom these efforts would not have been possible. They were instrumental to the success of our virtual befriending sessions and selflessly took out time from their Saturday mornings to facilitate these sessions. Their dedication in caring for the patients served as a huge inspiration for all of us, and we are immensely grateful for their support.
by PHA Volunteers
“The patient I met was a cheerful aunty who loves drawing and gardening. It was a joy listening to her share passionately about her hobbies. As she spoke proudly about the orchids growing back in her garden, I saw the longing in her eyes to go back to her old daily routine of caring for her plants. Interacting with her reminded me to look past the current conditions of the patients and embrace them as a whole. Let us be patient and understanding to everyone we meet.” – Emily Tan
“My group e-befriended a patient with an extremely warm personality. Unfortunately, we faced significant language barriers while communicating with her. Thankfully, the online setting allowed us to adapt quickly, by making good use of online tools like Google Translate and YouTube videos to engage her in simple conversations. Throughout our interactions, she showed us her brightest smiles, and even clapped along to our singing, a gesture that really warmed my heart. We were really happy that she loved the bouquet of red roses that we sent her afterwards!” – Pang Xin Ler
“Performing for the patients through e-befriending was really interesting and this pushed me to step out of my comfort zone! I am glad that even though it was such a small gesture, I was able to put smiles on the faces of the patients!” – Timothy Ng
Dr Angel Lee, Medical Director, SACH expressed, “PHA has stood the test of time. That they could still create such meaningful encounters in such challenging times like this is a testament to the fortitude and resourcefulness of these students.”
Mr Justin Tan, Associate Chaplain, Pastoral Care Services, who serves in the Violet Ward shared, “PHA made more special moments possible for our palliative care patients in the Violet Ward. They played crucial supportive roles which allowed us to extend the reach and enhance the quality of the care we provide for our patients in this season of the COVID-19 pandemic. They listened attentively to patients who shared their life experiences with them. This gives patients the opportunities to reflect on the meaningful moments that made their life purposeful. With their remarkable compassion and caring nature, the PHA volunteers brought tremendous joy and comfort to our patients. On behalf of our patients and the hospital, we express our appreciation and gratitude to each and every member of PHA.”