Staff Nurse Lee


You will not find many 81-year-olds as spry and sharp as Staff Nurse Lee. It was in the 1940s when as a 16-year-old girl with big dreams and an even bigger heart, she boarded a ship called The Orient to London where, for six and a half years, she trained with one goal in mind—to become a nurse.

Staff Nurse Lee is no ordinary woman. Her career has spanned six decades, yet the thought of retiring has never crossed her mind. 

“I’ll go as long as I can,” she says. “I pride myself in doing this.”

She tells of a time early in her career in the United Kingdom, when she had to deliver babies at home.

“Sometimes I delivered babies all alone—without help, without a doctor,” she recalls.

In the early 1950s, this was no mean feat indeed. “I was young and daring,” she says cheekily, traces of the intrepid young nurse she had been still evident. 

She returned to Singapore at the request of her mother, who had missed her very much. She spent 14 years working at a private hospital. 

“Once, during a night shift, a patient went into labour. The doctor was late, [but] the baby wouldn’t wait, so I delivered the baby myself,” she recounts in a matter-of-fact manner.

“I could not waste time waiting for the doctor. I did the episiotomy myself too,” she says, adding that it was not easy. 

But sometimes there simply was no choice. In the end, the doctor arrived after she had done everything. She laughs as she still remembers how happy the doctor was. 

“[Being a nurse] is not easy, but I really enjoy it,” she says.

Red Cross Home for the Disabled Staff Nurse Lee 1

Ties that bind

This year marks her 18th year with the Red Cross Home for the Disabled (RCHD) in Singapore, which cares for close to 100 severely disabled patients, most of whom do not or cannot speak. 

“I know their names. I know what they want. I can tell. You see, we have our own language—sign language,” Staff Nurse Lee says with pride.

It is evident that she cares deeply for her residents. 

“They are my family,” she says.

Red Cross Home for the Disabled Staff Nurse Lee 3

Overcoming challenges

It has not been without difficulties, though. Inevitably, some days are more challenging than others. Staff Nurse Lee, however, stays upbeat through it all. 

“Patients may shout at you and vent their frustrations on you.” 

Patience is indispensable. She highlights the importance of controlling one's emotions and accepting the situation. 

“We need to understand the position that they are in and the obstacles they may face,” she says.

Her career is not a walk in the park, and the responsibilities are not light. Medication must be dispensed in precise doses and at the exact times. The patients often cannot tend to their basic needs, let alone articulate them, but Madam Lee will be on hand to help. 

Even with her many years as a nurse, and knowing her job as well as she does, she has never seen a situation as grave as when the COVID-19 pandemic struck.

Disability homes were particularly hard hit during the pandemic, but Staff Nurse Lee remained unfazed. Given her familiarity with her duties, she knew what to expect, remaining passionate about her duty to serve persons with disabilities.

“COVID-19 didn’t scare me,” she says, maintaining that her career and her patients are her priority. 

“I wear a mask and carry on,” she added.

The peak of the pandemic saw over 40 cases that swept the entire fifth storey of the Home. It was a dismal and uncertain time, especially for Staff Nurse Lee, who, at 81, counts as one of the most vulnerable. Any concern she might have had for herself was swept aside in the face of the people whose needs she felt rose above hers. 

“My residents are important,” she says with a smile. “It’s OK—just wear protective gear.”

Red Cross Home for the Disabled Staff Nurse Lee 2

Experience counts

In a career like hers, experience is everything. She recalls a particular case in RCHD. 

“A resident kept saying he was in pain.” 

Pain is a common complaint in her line of work. But at that time, she knew right away it was cause for concern. True enough, the patient was sent straight to the accident and emergency department and was subsequently hospitalised for five weeks. She credits her training with the intensive care unit for this. 

“I knew it was serious just by looking,” she says.

She fondly recounts a time when a resident once pointed and gestured so much that a colleague of hers thought he might be having a heart attack. The ambulance arrived and the patient was thoroughly assessed, but paramedics could not find anything wrong with him. His symptoms had miraculously disappeared.

The nurses were exhausted, and the paramedics were befuddled. But only one person was in high spirits—the resident. 

“I couldn’t stop laughing. You see, the patient just wanted to go out,” Staff Nurse Lee quips.

Despite her experience and her wealth of knowledge, she remains modest. 

“Don’t write so much,” she says, urging us to conduct an interview with two younger colleagues instead. She smiles, “They need to be recognised too.”

But they’re not 81 and still serving strong like you, I tell her.

She laughs and then scoffs, “Ah, my age is nothing.”

Perhaps age is not a concern to someone as dedicated as Madam Lee. But to know that she has spent more years serving others than most people have been alive is humbling. 

She waves it off. 

“I get a lot of support from the Red Cross and the management at RCHD. Thank them,” she says.

Staff Nurse Lee received the Outstanding Employee Award at the Singapore Red Cross Awards 2022.

Singapore Red Cross Awards 2022 Staff Nurse Lee

By Heidi Boon, Volunteer
Copyedited by Michael Gutierrez, Volunteer


Inspired to join our humanitarian movement? Check out our career and volunteer opportunities. Be a Red Cross Champion, donate and support our local humanitarian efforts.