14 February 2018
What is it like for nurses in relationships with or married to nurses? We speak to NUS Nursing alumni Suresh Rajasekaram and Sumathi Gunasundram, who met in school in 2013 and registered their marriage this month.
Love is tough, but it can be doubly so when you and your partner are both nurses. Suresh Rajasekaram and Sumathi Gunasundram, class of 2017, can vouch for that. The nurses, who work at the National University Hospital’s (NUH) Intensive Care Unit (ICU), say shift work is the main culprit.
“When we are on different shifts, we sometimes see each other only once a week,” says Sumathi. “When I go home after night shifts, she would have gone to work – and this can happen consecutively,” Suresh adds.
Because they don’t have the luxury of quantity time, the couple tries to spend quality time together, applying the adage, “absence makes the heart grows fonder”, to good use in their relationship. “We steal half an hour here and an hour there to be together. When we do meet up, we cherish it more,” says Sumathi.
There are also perks in having nurses as partners, say the couple, especially at the end of a hard day or shift.
“Only a fellow nurse can understand what you mean when you say you’ve had a rough day and are totally exhausted,” says Suresh. “It takes someone who has gone through nursing shifts to empathise the toll it takes on you.”
Sumathi agrees, and finds having another nurse to share her reflections on her patients not only cathartic but comforting as a fellow nurse would be less judgemental. “And the best part is, he is not grossed out by the things I share, whereas my family would say, ‘We are eating, can you not talk about it?’” she says.
For these high achievers, competitive tension was a problem in the couple’s early relationship. They became an item shortly after they met as classmates – she was a second-year student and he was a Direct Intake student from Ngee Ann Poly who joined her class in their second year. When he joined NUS Nursing, he was already a registered nurse with experience in nursing skills and clinical work.
In their third year, they were posted to the same ward for their practicals. While Suresh exuded confidence and aced his duties, Sumathi had to struggle with the work as it was new to her. The disparity in their performance did not escape their clinical instructor’s notice, and she would often be chided for not living up to the reputation of NUS Nursing undergraduates. That battered Sumathi’s self-esteem and she would often break down in private. “Being very competitive myself, it also didn’t help the relationship at all,” she said.
Besides helping her with her clinical skills, Suresh also had to constantly remind her that he was a trained Registered Nurse, and had to perform to the best of his ability.
Thankfully, now that they have both graduated, and are both receiving opportunities within their niches, these tensions have dissolved.
As an example, Suresh cites the record number of written compliments Sumathi has received from patients in the ward where she was posted before her job rotation: “I think Sumathi has a lot of potential as a nurse, and will touch many people’s lives.”
“If she becomes the Chief Nursing Officer or Director of Nursing in a hospital, I will be the happiest, because she has that much to contribute.
“But of course, being competitive, I wouldn’t be that far behind,” he quipped.
They kindly share their love journey.
When did you first meet?
Sumathi: At an annual awards ceremony. I was receiving an award for performing within the top 10 percent of the cohort.
Suresh: And I was thinking, “Not bad! This girl is doing well!”
Sumathi: I noticed him, but he never looked my way. A few months later, he was voted our cohort rep. I went up to him and told him I voted for him. His response was a crisp “OK, sure. Thanks.”
Suresh: I just wasn’t interested…it took me a long time and a lot of effort to get into NUS. I didn’t want distractions such as a relationship.
What do you like about each other?
Suresh: I didn’t consider her as a serious life partner as I thought she had an entitled background. As I got to know her better, I realised she wasn’t born with a silver spoon. I came from a broken family that made do with the little we had. Like me, she knew what it was like not to have a lot of money while growing up. We both had to use our grit to rise above our circumstances and make a better life for ourselves.
Sumathi: That he is so focused and grounded when he is working towards his goals. I felt I had met my match! Education was my ticket to a better future, and my goal was to graduate with First Class Honours. I put in a lot of hard work in my studies and when he came along, he was equally driven and we just went all out to achieve our goal together.
When was your first date, and what did you do?
Suresh: Our first date was in December 2013. I rented a car and brought her to Gardens by the Bay.
Sumathi: Then he whisked me off to a sunset dinner onboard the Cable Car! His friends said he totally spoilt the market for first dates.
Love has its ups and downs…what were some of your downs?
Suresh: The rough family history we’ve had would sometimes spill over to our relationship.
Sumathi: Being an emotional person, I sometimes bring uncontrolled feelings into our relationship unwittingly.
What to you is the greatest joy of being together?
Suresh: She makes me a better man.
Sumathi: He is my comfort and solace – the first person I want to confide anything good or bad to.
What was your proposal like? Was it the quintessentially Singaporean one, “let’s apply for a HDB flat”?
Suresh: I proposed to her at Jurong Bird Park. I told her to dress up, and when we were at the Bird Park, a staff asked if she could help them out with the training of one of their birds. A white cockatoo then swooped down to drop a red pouch on her hand, which had a note that said, “Will you marry me?”
Sumathi: And when I opened the pouch, he got down on his knees. I said “YES” even before he popped the question. The best thing was, he got 14 of our close family and friends to witness the event from the upper deck. It was a very happy moment.