A Personal Recount of Caring for Singapore’s Foreign Workers: “We Were Going to Battle.”

“Sore throat for a month.”; “no sense of taste for seven days.”; “39.0 fever for the fifth day.”

The foreign workers were matter-of-fact about their symptoms. The queue grew longer as the workers queued patiently in the driveway two metres apart from each other, waiting their turn to get medical attention.

We were in the middle of Sungei Kadut, an area name completely unfamiliar to me, having been activated less than 12 hours ago, scrambling through an organisational labyrinth of sourcing full personal protective equipment (PPE), contacting locum nurses, ensuring doctors on standby for telemedicine support and ensuring contact with different personnel from multiple ministries. All of this had all started with a phone call late on a Saturday evening.

“We need 2 nurses to do vital sign monitoring at one of our foreign dormitories. Oh, and some of the workers have tested positive for Covid-19.”

“We were going to battle.”

Curt shouts from the dormitory operators echoed in the background – “Stand further apart!”, “Where’s your face shield?”, “Don’t walk there, this is not a garden!” – and the workers shifted their weight uncomfortably in their spots, clutching handheld thermometers and assorted varieties of medical paperwork.

One by one, they approached the nursing station and I looked at their work permits to ready them for registration. My breath caught in my throat. The worker in front of me, Hossain*, was born in 1996, which meant he was the same age as my brother.

While they were very much adult men in their own right, I had a difficult time shaking the thought of someone the age of my baby brother alone and ill in a foreign country, trying to explain in a language he didn’t fully understand that he had flu-like symptoms in the middle of a global flu pandemic.

The worker explained slowly in broken English that he had had a cough for weeks, and his chest was starting to hurt.

The nurses on the ground strained their voices to be heard above their N95 masks and plastic face shields, diligently marking down all of his vital signs. They had to flag symptomatic workers for telemedicine assessment and Hossain was flagged out to see a doctor via video consultation.

The nurse attending to Hossain video called one of the Speedoc doctors on duty. Speedoc’s medical director, Dr Fahir Khiard, who was on duty, asked about Hossain’s symptoms and vital signs, then prescribed him some cough medicine and instructed that he be isolated and swabbed.

Since then, the Speedoc team has gone on to support efforts in 6 different foreign worker dormitories, and 2 swab isolation facilities, serving hundreds of foreign workers. Each time, we don full PPE and perspire until we are wet through our clothes. Each time, we nurse headaches and marks on our faces from the N95 masks. And each time, we know that with every worker we serve, we are doing our part to keep Singapore safe.

This article was written by Serene Cai, Co-Founder of Speedoc.

*The name of the foreign worker has been altered to protect his identity.