The touch of angels

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The touch of angels

The HCA Vigil Angels programme focuses on the dignity of the imminently dying and provides respite for their loved ones.

HCA Vigil Angel Foong Yuet Foong distinctly remembers her first assignment with the programme. The patient was a frail, elderly lady with a large tumour on her neck. Yuet Foong had been unsure about her ability to fulfil her duties, as she did not have any medical training. “But Amy just smiled in response and told me it’s the heart that counts, and she would guide me along,” Yuet Foong said.

HCA Nurse Educator Amy Lim is currently helming the programme, which began in mid-2019.

“Nurse Amy carefully cleaned the patient’s upper body, while another volunteer and I sponged her legs,” Yuet Foong recalled. “Afterwards, we gave her a gentle massage and she was able to sit up after the session.

“This was very encouraging for me, especially when the patient’s family told us that she was able to sleep soundly after the massage, and also requested a second session.”

For the Vigil Angels, each assignment offers an intimate glimpse into the lives and vulnerabilities of strangers. It is a volunteering experience like no other, irrevocably changing the way they view life and death.

Dignity on the Last Lap
The final days are often fraught with emotions for the patient’s loved ones, as they try to come to terms with the impending loss and grief. As the patient’s condition deteriorates, caregivers and family members are sometimes hesitant to clean and sponge him or her, for fear of causing more pain and distress.

Yet, research has shown that an overwhelming majority of terminally ill patients express a simple wish to be kept physically clean and comfortable at the end of life. It is this basic, yet crucial, aspect of human dignity that the Vigil Angels programme focuses on, while providing a calming and reassuring presence for everyone in the household

Vigil Angels like Yuet Foong undergo thorough training prior to taking on assignments, and are also accompanied by medically trained HCA staff on these home visits. Each session generally includes bed sponging and gentle massages with aromatherapy oils to relieve musculoskeletal aches. The Vigil Angels also try to fulfil more specific wishes, such as a haircut, or even a manicure, for the patient. They would often suggest playing the patient’s favourite music and doing some simple tidying up, if need be, to create a more serene environment.

At the end of life, patients are often unable to speak or move much, but these little sensory touches contribute to a relaxing experience, evident in the little smiles and thumbs-up gestures they try to muster.

Providing Respite
The efforts of Vigil Angels not only entail the care they provide for patients, but also the respite and support accorded to their families. The presence of the Vigil Angels enables caregivers and family members to catch a breather and take a much-needed break from the round-the-clock caregiving they’ve taken on. In addition, witnessing the relaxation their loved ones experience, under the gentle touch of the Vigil Angels, also brings much comfort.

For the Vigil Angels, each assignment offers an intimate glimpse into the lives and vulnerabilities of strangers. It is a volunteering experience like no other, irrevocably changing the way they view life and death.

“It really takes a lot from volunteers — they have to devote all their attention and energy to the patient and their loved ones,” said Vigil Angels programme leader, Amy. “The experience reshapes people — whether positively or negatively.”

Amy also makes it a point to conduct an informal debrief after every assignment, to ensure volunteers are not emotionally overwhelmed, and to provide them with an outlet for their thoughts. “I have a responsibility to ensure that my Vigil Angels do not bring any unhealthy emotions back home,” she explained.

The Vigil Angels programme has grown significantly since its launch, with more committed volunteers coming on board. Building the emotional resilience of Vigil Angels equips them with the endurance to go the distance and derive greater meaning from their volunteering journey.

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