Embrace Life
October 16, 2014, 8:40 am
Filed under: Embrace Life

We were having dinner the other day when my dear cousin Doreen made mention of the pain she is having. I smiled and asked her, “Are you talking to me about pain?”

An elderly aunt who loves me dearly showed me her walking stick. She is extremely sprightly but a recent fall has made walking difficult. “I told her, Nak Ee, you are doing so much better than me!”

I was certainly not the youngest of the two table crowd, but one of the youngest in my generation. However, I was the only one in a wheelchair.

In case you are wondering, my retorts were not bitter. They were said with amusement. I think the point I was trying to make is not so much come pity me, but come let us remember with thanksgiving what we already have and been given all these years.

The other night I dreamt I was shopping in a mall. I was walking freely. When I awoke, reality struck. I can barely walk 100m with a walking frame before I feel exhausted. I posted this on facebook, and I think some of my friends were worried I might get depressed or discouraged. Actually it did not affect me that much. I AM grateful that I can walk at all.

My river walk

My river walk

Not including the hours I could walk just window shopping, I used to take morning walks along the river next to my apartment. When I was recovering from a broken leg, I used to walk up and down the corridor and chatting with neighbours through open windows. Now I only walk from dining room toliving room several rounds as my routine exercise. How art the mighty fallen.

Corridor Jaunt

Corridor Jaunt

Well does it get to me? Of course it does. I will be lying if I say it doesn’t. However I do not allow it to make me depressed. To me, being depressed and upset will not get me anywhere. I might as well get on with life as best as I can. Be grateful for what I can still do despite 5 hospital stays and 3 surgeries this year alone.

You see, we can focus on our problems. Or we can focus on living. If I nearly died 4 times this year alone, then God cannot want me to go to Him just yet. I have to continue living until my time is up. Do I live miserably? What’s the point? I may as well live as happily as I can. I’m grateful that I was able to walk before. Imagine if I were born unable to walk at all. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to travel, friends who care for me, who pray for me.

The home run

The home run

Do I feel sorry for myself at times? Sure I do. Sometimes when I see my facebook friends travelling with the husbands or their families overseas, I feel envy too. I wish I could travel with my family, to spend bonding time together. Travelling is not going to be easy for me for the time being. I feel bad that Alan has to give up working full time for me. I feel bad that I’m a financial drain. I feel bad that at this point of our lives, when we should be spending time just going for holidays together, I’m binding him at home so much.

I try not to dwell on these.

If I am a financial drain, I trust that God will be my provider. I refuse to be an emotional drain, though sometimes the flesh does get the better of me. There is still so much to be grateful for.

All of us have problems. My cousin’s pain is no less painful just because I am in pain too. My aunt’s frustration is no less frustrating just because I’m younger and less mobile than she is. There is no comparison when it comes to personal trials. It’s never about being who’s the more “poor thing”. That’s not the point. The point is really in knowing that there will always be someone who is in a worse position than you , yet is trying to live day by day. That person is usually an ordinary person who has to take one step at a time. The same can be applied to all of us. Take one step at a time. If we have to live, make a choice to live as happily as we can.

Right now I can hear the birds singing happily outside my window. I’m reminded of Matthew 10:29-31

“Are not two sparrows sold for a cent? And yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father. “But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”So do not fear; you are more valuable than many sparrows.

Let me leave you with a song

Oct 16 2014

Health Challenges 2014 Part 1
September 25, 2014, 12:35 pm
Filed under: Health Challenge 2014 part 1

It has been an extremely difficult year. It started end of last year really.

Round about Christmas, (Dec 2013), I started vomiting. The assumption was that I was suffering from gastric flu. Then it stopped and was followed by a spate of coughing. I did not think too much of it. In January, it resumed again. The vomiting was a little strange because it was mainly water. I decided to see the GP, yes, you guess right, I’m adverse to going to the doctors. GP thought it was gastric, prescribed me some medication and that was that. That was just before Chinese New Year. I was so ill on the first day that I did go on the usual visitation to relatives. On the second day, dear friends who missed me paid me a visit. I was so fragile and pale. Around then, my cousin Weng Foon sent me an sms. She told me to check my blood sugar because years ago, a bout of vomiting actually signalled the onset of diabetes for her. I do have a sugar kit at home and a quick prick showed a reading of 33 plus. For those in the know, this was almost off the charts. I could have gotten into a coma. Clarence and Qin Qin who were visiting immediately decided to drive me to the hospital. – Near death incidence 1 from high blood sugar.

At SGH, I was warded, given insulin and had my blood tested. The doctors (Renal Dept) told me I could have damaged my kidneys. Apparently severe dehydration caused the high sugar count. In any case, by the next day, kidneys were functioning well. Thank God. The doctors said the vomiting was due to an infection. With the antibiotics, my blood test showed recovery and I was packed home with more antibiotics. Alan also returned to work in Myanmar thinking all was under control.

Near Death incidence 2 – wrong diagnosis at SGH

The situation improved slightly but the vomiting did not entirely stop. Two weeks or so later, I could not bear it any longer. At my daughter, Samantha’s suggestion, I decided to go to Alexander Hospital instead of SGH. This time I was seen by gastroenterologist consultants. They too suspected some form of gastric issues. I was to go for a scope and a colonoscopy. The latter required drinking 3 litres of fluid.  I could not even down one glass of water without wanting to throw up. They cancelled colonoscopy and gave me the scope instead. The minute they inserted the tube down my throat, I threw up a storm. The consultant knew that I was not suffering from gastric diseases. It was more suggestive of an obstruction somewhere in the intestines. To locate the spot, I had to go for a CT Scan. The problem was I was allergic to the contrast fluid they needed to use to make the picture clearer. Without the contrast however, the obstruction might not show. So in order to have a clear picture, they injected several types of counter allergy steroids and had doctors on standby with me after the scan. I still developed rashes, but otherwise the reaction was mild.

As an aside from this very serious blog post, I was found to have an infection. So they sent me to an isolation ward. It was a fantastic room – an A1 room whereas I was a B2 (read 6 to a ward) patient. I had air-conditioning and a tv no less. Alan flew back from Myanmar just before the surgery and we enjoyed watching some Winter Olympic Games programmes together. There was also a fantastic view outside my window. Oh and did I mention immediately after the CT scan, I was bursting to go to the toilet, except I clearly couldn’t. The almost 2 month long vomiting has made me so weak I could not walk properly plus I was on a drip. I literally begged the CT Scan technicians for a diaper. I was never so grateful for a diaper in my life!

Anyway the scan indicated a small obstruction in the early part of my intestines. I was scheduled for immediate surgery. The removal of the little growth did wonders. I was on the mend in no time. Sure I missed out on all the Chinese New Year goodies. Believe me though, I was just so grateful that I was not vomiting that for once in my greedy life, I did not mind.

I am grateful to the doctors from Alexander Hospital for finding the real reason for my illness and the way they so courageously made me go through the CT Scan despite allergic concerns. While I’m on the subject of gratitude, I need to thank my cousin Weng Foon too for her timely reminder to check my blood sugar. And as if i’m at the oscars, let me thank Angi Gan for making a trip to see me at home when she sensed from my FB postings I was feeling down. I also need to thank the many people who constantly prayed for me.

Things however did not end there. There were more health challenges to come. That will have to wait another time.

Just know that by Feb/Mar 2014 I could have died twice.

How I became Sophia
September 22, 2014, 1:31 pm
Filed under: Family Stories and tributes, How I became Sophia

I did promise to blog about my health issues. Today however, just at the tail end of lunch out with my son,

Lunch with Alan and Jon

Lunch with Alan and Jon

I received news of the demise of a church elder and friend. It was such sudden passing that I got quite depressed. I shall have to leave blogging about health until I’m in a better (lighter) frame of mind.

Blogging about Alan brought unexpected but very pleasant results. I received notification that someone was following my blog. The initials looked like Nim Chor’s – one of the two men I mentioned in my blog! My email registers my name as Sophia Tsang. Back in the old days, my friends only know me as Sok Liang.  So in reply to my email enquiring if he is the Nim Chor, his reply was Sophia? Am I speaking to Sok Liang?

So that made me think of how I got the name Sophia.

You see, growing up, I never liked the anglicised version of my name. I mean, the surname Hng is so difficult to pronounce. As for the rest of it, even Alan took a long time to remember Sok Liang. I was horrified that I would be a butt of jokes when I start teaching … I mean Miss Hng would surely be open to all sorts of distortion … I shudder even to think about them. Fortunately I got married before I started work. Mrs Tsang was better than Miss Hng!!parents and me

I still remember that when I was in kindergarten, I could not recognise the sound of my anglicised name. My father was very proud of my Chinese name … 雪 亮. As a child, I was too. It certainly sounded nothing like Sok Liang. For the sake of my non-Chinese friends, it would sound more like Shueh Liang. Sok Liang was phonetically close to my dialect group, teochew – but I did not speak teochew, and papa always used Mandarin with me. So I did not respond when my teacher tried to mark attendance. I mean she did not call my name what?

Image converted using ifftoanyThe name in direct translation is Bright Snow. Of course the nuance of that name was lost on me. My Chinese ain’t hot. In later years I did wonder at the name. I’m no washing powder, so why would I need to be as dazzling as bright snow??? Apparently it meant glorious or radiance. So if used with the word “future”, for, instance, it would mean a brilliant future. Correct me if I’m wrong Chinese experts!

Anyway, over time, I got used to my name. Alan wanted me to add a Christian (for non -Singaporean readers, read Western sounding) name, for after all, it would make it easier to introduce me and to get people to remember my name. I resisted. He even suggested that since our daughters’ names begin with ‘S’ I should have a name beginning with the same letter. Still I resisted. I felt that I would somehow betray my papa not to mention my Chinese heritage.

One evening, I was at a Christian seminar. The speaker was speaking of the importance of names. I believe his ministry was named Glory Ministries. He spoke of how he wanted to show the glory of God in his teaching. Along the way, he mentioned how his wife resisted getting a Christian name. One evening however, God impressed upon both of them a name for her, without them communicating with each other. When they spoke to each other later, the name that was revealed was Gloria.

Somehow just then, I got my name. Sophia – meaning wisdom- a quality that was very important to me. In the car, I told my husband, “I think I’m ready for a Christian name. Do you know what it is?”

“Sophia?” he asked.

There was no doubt. Sophia it was and still is today.

Good story for you, Nim Chor? and all my precious old friends who only know me by Sok Liang. I still answer to that name, and in fact calling me by my Chinese name dates you and our friendship, which like the best wine, gets better with age!

22 Sept 2014

How I met your father
Just us

Just us

I came down for tea at the hostel one afternoon and noticed a strange looking chap. He was kinda sloppy, with jeans all torn at the knees and unkempt hair. The most fascinating thing about this guy was that he wore a goatee! What student in his right mind would have a goatee?

He was sitting with my seniors who were members of the Varsity Christian Fellowship. They introduced us, and I was totally amused. Thereafter, I saw him once in a while. He loved our free tea, and one of us would sacrifice our cake for him. All in, he was quite the quirky character.

As exams drew near, I started revising in the library at Bukit Timah Campus. I studied on the mezzanine floor, near the biology section – the favourite haunt of some of my varsity friends. I noticed Alan, for that was his name, there as well. Apparently he was doing a dissertation on algae and paints so he had to come to Bt Timah campus for the biology references. He was a Building Sc Student from Kent Ridge Campus so the Bt Timah Library should otherwise not have been his haunt. Not that he would haunt ANY library. Whenever I saw him, he would have his hands folded over his tummy, book opened on the table, fast asleep.

One evening, I was feeling particularly homesick. For the first time in my life, academia challenged me. I could not fathom how Maths worked any more. I missed my carefree life in Penang, the food and the companionship of my ex-classmates, many of whom rode scooters. I longed for a motorcycle ride, just to get the wind in my face, a feeling of freedom and to a limited extent, perhaps a feeling of being home again. Walking back to the hostel, whom should I see but Alan on his bike. He was talking to two of my hostel friends, Nim Chor and my very protective friend, Ben. I ran up to him and laughingly asked, “Alan, could you give me a ride round the campus”

Still riding after all these years

Still riding after all these years

“Sure!” he answered immediately, to my glee. Of course I did not notice that Ben’s face had gone white. So off we went. Every time he took a bend, he would warn me to be careful. What I did not know was he was trying to frighten me. I just had the fun of my life. I needed that ride to get rid of the feeling of desperation at studies not going well, and a homesickness that would not go away. I thanked him after the ride, adrenaline all rushing. It was only later that I learnt I earned a huge respect from him as the only girl he knew who was not afraid. In fact he told Ben and Nim Chor later that his own knees were shaking.

No, we did not get together then. Ours was a slow build up. It was a relationship built on friendship, but of course the respect I earned on the motor bike helped. Four years later we were married. 31 years come Sept 17.

Alan is not the guy I imagined I would marry. I grew up on books with very English settings. I always imagined marrying a quiet man, sitting contentedly in a wing chair, reading a book and listening to nice, soothing music. I would be reading too. What an idyllic setting! In reality, Alan has to be bribed to read a book! To sit still for hours would be impossible for him. My friends assured me that my so-called ideal guy would have bored me to tears. I know they are right!! God knew better who should be my helpmate!

Marriage to Alan has not always been easy. He is sociable to the max, but I am really a homebody at heart. My parents’ relationship was very poor, and I carried that baggage with me. It is true that we are soul-mates to each other in many ways. Still, there were some very rough times; times that made me contemplate divorce. Here is my word of caution to anyone who is at this stage. Marriage is never about two people alone, (check my previous blog post) and divorce hurts too many people. If the desire to get out of a relationship is out of pride, out of a selfish desire to please oneself, then think again. It may not be worth it.

Anyway it has been 31 years. This last year has been so difficult for both of us. I have been in hospital 5 times. I could have died 4 times. I have been in surgery 3 times this year alone. I am now barely mobile and incontinent. I had seen his worry each time I went into surgery. Alan gave up his job which was based in Myanmar because he could not leave me in Singapore unattended. This is the sort of sacrificial love a man gives to the woman of his life.

Alan has been a barrel of fun, a load of frustration. He has been frivolous when I want to be serious. He keeps silent when I need to talk to resolve disagreements. He has also made me laugh much of our time together. He made me an adventurer during our holidays when all I thought I needed was a quiet retreat. He brought me to way out places, like Rwanda, because his job was there. That was certainly not a work destination for just anybody. For Alan, it was yet another adventure.  He enriched my life in so many ways. Most importantly, he has always been there when I needed him. He has cared for me not just because he is my husband and the father of my children. He has cared for me because I am important to him. For someone who has felt rejection so often in the past, his love is a balm of Gilead to my soul.

Right now, I feel I am such a burden to him, financially and physically. He assures me he does not find me a burden at all. He yanks me out to go shopping when all I want to do is to mope. Of course, he has fed me well too, which is a win-win situation seeing how he loves to eat. Without him around these past months, I would probably have been depressed and an emotional wreck.

God does send us the best helpmate we can ever get. The journey together can be heartbreakingly difficult at times. In my mind it is because the devil wants to break a good union – a family which will also ensure a secure next generation. I thank God for my three, wonderfully centred children. I was a broken doll because of the poor relationship between my parents. My children on the other hand, never witnessed such a thing in their lives. That’s the gift Alan and I gave to them. No matter what weapons of destruction come our way, if we stay focussed on God and allow Him to heal and mend, the marital relationship can and will get stronger. Both parties must be willing to put God first and each other second. It will not be a bed of roses, I grant you that. The end result though is something remarkably beautiful.

All in the family

All in the family

To quote from 1Cor 13:4-8

Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;[b] it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.

Love in this passage is more about actions than emotions. To me Alan is almost there.

Alan, it’s been 31 years. I appreciate your love and care. I also want to tell you that I love you and thank God that you noticed me, all thanks to one unforgettable motorbike ride round the campus in the dead of the night.

My God is NEVER too Late
June 1, 2013, 12:48 am
Filed under: Health Issues, My God is never too late

So I broke my right leg in late October 2012. I was recovering very well until round about April 2013, when my lower left hip was giving me a lot of pain. Without painkillers, I could barely stand straight. A visit to the physiotherapist and both of us came to the conclusion that I was over compensating on the good leg and that my muscles were uneven in strength – hence the pain. It sounded logical and I did not think too much about it, and faithfully exercised as the physiotherapist had suggested.

Round about that time, I also had my scheduled visit to the oncologist. He suggested I did another CT scan, since the last was done about six months back. I am not very good with dates because I have had so many medical appointments that after a while, they’re just a blur. The day of the CT scan came. I was in quite a lot of pain. I could tell from the way the technicians spoke to me thereafter that this CT Scan probably did not yield good results – they were avoiding my eyes and telling me to be careful. This was quite unlike previous visits where they would bid me goodbye cheerily.

My ill feeling bore out the next morning when I received a call from my oncologist – it’s never good news to receive a call from your doctor so soon after any tests. He started by asking how I was and if I were in pain – definitely not good news. Then he said he was on leave that day – even worse news. I could feel fear gripping my heart. Then the real intention of his call:-

“I want you to go to the hospital this morning. I am on leave so I won’t be there. I have arranged for you to see the doctor in the walk-in clinic.”

“Why?” I asked.

“The CT scan showed something in your spinal column. We need to check you out – in fact we may need to ward you, except that tomorrow is a public holiday, and the weekend is just round the corner. There is a risk of paralysis.”  Or words to that effect. He hinted that I had a fractured vertebra.

“Eh? How come I do not feel any pain on my spine?” I asked.

He said that it was possible. He also kindly added it was not life – threatening.  I love my doctor – he really tries to be positive.

My daughters were in and hurriedly we made our way to the National Cancer Centre. The Medical Officer checked me out – good news, my limbs were in good working order – no sign of paralysis. After consulting with my Oncologist they prescribed me with some steroids to bring down inflammation of the nerves, and arranged for an MRI on April 30th. My oncologist also immediately contacted his colleague – an orthopaedic surgeon specialising in spinal surgery. You must remember that I am a subsidised patient with no right to select doctors. My dear oncologist did me a tremendous favour by selecting him for me.

Wow the steroids did wonders. All pains subsided and I was walking pain free – what a relief. I was sure it was a false alarm.

The minute the MRI was done, I could see everyone panicking. I was hastened back to walk-in Clinic – it was already 5pm. The medical officer was panicking. “Your spinal column is compressed to 50%.” It was clear she was scared. From thence, I was not allowed to walk and was sent by ambulance from NCC to SGH A&E to await a hospital bed so I could be warded.

I must count all blessings, big and small. The first night, I was given an air-conditioned room!! I am a subsidised patient and B2 is all I get- but this one was a former B1 ward recently converted to B2. It was not even orthopaedic ward –it was a haemolytics ward – whatever the spelling. But hey – at least I had air conditioning!

Next day was May 1, Labour Day. My surgeon came to see me in the morning – Public Holiday and all. He said that one of my vertebrae had collapsed and he needed surgery to strengthen my back, and to put in a cage to protect my spinal column. The usual tests confirmed I was not paralysed. He asked if I would be agreeable to surgery.

Did I really have a choice? Of course I agreed. I asked when. He said he could do it that day. So after numerous blood tests and goodness knows what else – he scheduled me for emergency surgery that very evening. I told him I had every confidence – because if not for my scheduled CT Scan, I would not even realise I had a spine problem. God had prepared the diagnosis in the nick of time, and He would not alert me just to let me down. He smiled. He also told me there must be two operations – one from the back and the other from the front. Of course the coward in me asked if he could do both in one sitting. He said he would try, but it would depend on the anaesthetist if I could go under for so long. He estimated at least 6-8 hours for both.

At about 5pm, I was finally wheeled in. My husband was in Mandalay and highly anxious. My girls were harassed by his frequent SMS. One went to a movie to wait the surgery out – no we do not believe in pacing outside the OT to await news like in the Chinese dramas. Imagine a top surgeon operating on a subsidised patient between 6-10 pm on a public holiday. If that is not blessing and favour of the Lord I do not know what is.

At about 11 pm I was awake and well. My girls came into the high dependency ward where I would be kept for the night. They found me smiling and immediately took a picture of me to send to my husband. The only problem was both my legs were in pain – sharp pain. They explained that during surgery some nerves could be inflamed and it would settle. They did though I do still feel pins and needles almost the whole day even now. They said it might take three months to totally settle. Such is the miraculous creations of God – our body is so interlinked that a pain in the foot has its origins in the spine. How accurate when Paul said that we are the body of Christ – if one part hurts, the whole suffers – paraphrased by Sophia. Hehe.

Alas, the second surgery was not done. I had to wait five more days – it was scheduled for May 6. Somehow, the nurses in the ward were quite drawn to me. They could not understand my cheer. One, a student nurse came up to me and said, “You’ve gone through so much but you are always smiling.” My reply, “I am grateful God saved me from paralysis.”

Another – a senior nurse came up to me and said, “You are so positive. I hope to be like you.” My reply, “Well, if I frazzle, everyone in my family will panic. No point. I only know that God protected me, and He would not allow me to know my condition in time, just to abandon me. Besides, this joy or positivity is a gift from God. It would be impossible without the grace of God.”

I put up prayer requests on my facebook status. All over the world good wishes and promises to pray came in. Before my second surgery, I told that to the surgeon.

“It’s ok doc. I am praying for you and me. In fact we are surrounded by prayers from all over the world.”

This very quiet doctor smiled and said, “Yes pray for me.”

Of course the second surgery went smoothly. In the meantime, I had the opportunity to chat with some patients – including the patient on my next bed.

She had some issues with her intestines. The doctors wanted to do a colonoscopy. Then they decided to do an MRI first. They also wanted her to sign her consent form for the colonoscopy, and told her all the inherent dangers. That frightened her so much she was in a panic.

I turned to her and said that I would pray that her MRI results would be so good, she need not do colonoscopy. I also told her to forgive her in-laws who had hurt her tremendously. I told her to harbour that hurt was like taking a poison, and she could damage her health. She agreed.

On the morning of her MRI, as she left the ward, I told her cheerfully I would pray for her. The trouble was breakfast was served and then I was told I would be wheeled out to see the radiation oncologist to check if I needed further treatment, and a host of things happened. I could not remember if I prayed for her. When her MRI results came out, she was in the clear – no need for colonoscopy. She was delighted – and attributed it to my prayers. How to accept the praise when I could not even remember if I prayed? So I said, “Praise the Lord.” In my heart, I hoped it was because God heard my intention even if I did not pray.

It was a long stay in the hospital – 19 days. I am very grateful to the nurses of Ward 76 SGH. So many I wanted to commend, but there is not enough space in the feedback page. The doctors and other allied medical staff were amazing. I am particularly grateful to the Cardiac Thoracic Surgeon .. blast I cannot remember his name ..Dr Soon? He came at 9pm after surgery just to remove a drain from my chest. He said it would take only five minutes, and if he did not do it that night, I would have to stay in hospital one more day. That despite his wife’s many smses to chase him home. I am grateful to you, Mrs Surgeon to share your husband in after work hours with his many patients

How did I spend my time during that long stay? I did cross stitch to the amusement of staff and patients who came around to see the pattern. I also chatted with staff and patients. To their questions on my peace of mind – I told them it was because God was with me. Truly He was.

Today, I can walk unaided – though I can only take small, limping steps. It will take time to get back to normal. I have to wear a brace to stop me from bending. The bone graft needs time to grow. I am in some pain – but barely there. In less than a year, I had undergone 3 surgeries. I think enough is enough.

So on my birthday, on the 24th of May, I asked the Lord for my birthday present.

“No more challenges Lord. I need a sabbatical from the School of Trials and Testing. I must have passed the exams by now – I just need a very uneventful year of peace for myself and my loved ones. No health issues, no career issues for my loved ones, no financial worries – just a time of rest.”

I am sure He has heard my prayers

Oh – and I must add this. I just went to see my oncologist yesterday. I thanked him for what he did and the recommendation to see Dr John Chen. My oncologist – Dr Ooi Wei Seong said he was afraid I would scold him or blame him for my condition. Me, blame the angel who was instrumental in saving me?? I assured him I was grateful. In fact so was my sister-in-law who gave him a bottle of home-made marmalade to show her thanks. He took one look and said, “Wah looks good!” A doctor who loves food and after my own heart! As he stood up to examine me, I saw him pulling up his pants.

“Hey. You’ve lost weight.” You should see the delight in his face. He beamed!

“You noticed! I did so many things to lose weight you know. I jogged, cycled. Then I overdid it – I joined the marathon. Now I might need a brace too. Let me check out yours.”

I love this doctor. Haha … and I had no heart to tell him that he was still a little tubby – and he should remain a little tubby – for that suited him more than being lean and mean.

If there’s anything I’ve learnt through these years of seeing doctors  – oncologists in particular – the patient, when she is well, should learn to ask after them, and not expect just to be examined. It makes the doctors feel like a person, and not a prescription delivery auto bot- or worse a harbinger of bad news. The relationship becomes more balanced – and it is two human beings touching base, with the patient in need of medical advice which should be given with sensitivity and care, and the doctor in need of a casual relationship from a patient who knows what it means to be grateful and to show concern for a doctor who is probably overworked and stress.

Appreciating Nurses
November 20, 2012, 4:55 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

In my previous post, I wrote about breaking my leg and my subsequent hospitalisation. It was during my stay at Tan Tock Seng Hospital that my awareness of the nursing profession was heightened. It also increased my appreciation of their work

There was this sweet lil’ old lady whose bed was diagonally across mine. When in a good mood, she had this smile that had the power to soften your heart and made you want to go “awwwwww”. Then Mya, a wonderfully cheerful nurse from Myanmar made her approach. “Ah Ma, jiak yeouk” (Granny, time for medicine). Before long, Mya made a hasty retreat.

“What happened, Mya?” I asked.

“She phui at me – see my uniform is so dirty. She also clawed me – see got blood.”

From Ah Ma’s bed, we saw her glare at Mya, and in her forceful yet feeble voice, we heard a string of Hokkien swear words. “CCB, Cb lang….”

Ah Ma is, I believe, suffering from dementia, and we can forgive her aggression. Mya and I just laughed. But many able minded patients are also demanding and lack appreciation. And their demands ain’t funny.

In my ward at Tan Tock Seng hospital, I saw nurses who did not walk. They ran from patient to patient. The call bell never stopped ringing. There was so much to do. I, for instance, had to have my vital signs checked every hour. I was immobile, so they had to come with bed pans every so often, and had to clean me up. I could not move, so even when I needed a drink of water, they had to help get me the glass. Then there was the checking of the drip, sponging me, taking blood for tests…ad infinitum. Multiply that by 6 patients in the ward and further multiply by 3 since two nurses look after a minimum of 3 wards per shift and you can imagine the amount of work they had to do.

I have huge respect for their professionalism. Most served me with a smile. I made it a point to thank them, to know them by name, to apologise for calling them. I tried to wait until they were in my ward before I signalled them for whatever I needed rather than reach for the call bell at the drop of a hat. I felt humbled that they cleaned me up with so much grace. I admired their skill at finding my elusive vein every time they had to prick me with the needle. Their skills range from the menial – cleaning the patient after their pee and poo, to the mundane like taking blood pressure, to what is highly skilled like inserting the drip needle . No matter the work, they have to serve without complaining.

Sometimes they are at the receiving end of complaints. Family members can be very curt. In the case of the old lady, a family member complained that the bed sheet was not changed. The old lady was so antagonistic at one point, the nurse put off the changing of sheets til later and probably forgot in the busyness of the day. There was no protest from her – she just got clean sheets and proceeded to change the sheets as was demanded of her. Talk about longsuffering.

I came into contact with many nurses during my 11 day stay. It was a mini United Nations in the ward. The nurses came from Malaysia, India, China, Philippines, Myanmar…There were very few Singaporeans.

One evening, when my husband visited, I remarked, “We do not recognise the professionalism of the nurses enough. In defining meritocracy in academic terms, in some ways we have forgotten our hands-on workers, workers like nurses.” He agreed.

Given the choice, a student with stellar results would prefer to be an engineer than a nurse. The system and concerned parents would have convinced them that nursing is “dirty” work. “Must clean backsides one you know. You still want to be a nurse?” For many years, the salary was also not attractive. In our short-sightedness, we forget that nursing is an integral part of healthcare. We had so few institutions that trained nurses. Perhaps that is the reason for the disproportionate no. of foreign to local nurses in my ward.

This goes beyond nursing. Those who are athletic and are also academically inclined must be able to choose between the two without feeling that athletics is way down the meritocratic ladder. Likewise for plumbers, electricians or chefs. We need to redefine what falls within the meritocratic umbrella or else what we deem to be blue collared workers will never have the salary that commensurate with their skills, and parents will be willing to go to the poorhouse just to ensure their children make it to better recognised professions – never mind what their interests are. It also means that we will have to perpetually rely on foreign workers for less prestigious jobs while many of our Singaporeans become unemployed because there are not enough white collared positions available.

Apart from passion, what incentivises us to stay in our careers? Is it not recognition from society that our jobs are meaningful, coupled with a salary that gives us a decent livelihood? How do we get these? We need to redefine meritocracy and let it be more inclusive.

As for me, the nurses have done a wonderful job and they deserve praise for their work. Thank you nurses of Tan Tock Seng Hospital, Ward 12C. I’d like to quote a conversation I had with Mya.

Mya came in looking a little frustrated but still smiling.

“I miss this ward.” She was assigned to a different ward – a male ward with several very demanding patients.

Me: Mya why are you always smiling?

Mya: If I don’t smile, how can I help my patients to smile?

Mya is not the only nurse like that. It’s difficult to smile, still they do it for the sake of their patients. Thank God for nurses like them.

Broken Bone, Wholesome Spirit
November 12, 2012, 1:51 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

So I had a whisky infused cake in one hand and a cup of coffee on the other. The right leg had been giving me trouble lately – 3 days to be exact. I was going to call the doctor the next day. The day of the unfortunate event was Hari Raya Haji and a public holiday, so I could not make an appointment.

Alan had taken the dog for his pee-poo and I was alone in the house. The minute I took the small step from kitchen to living room, I knew I was in trouble. To this day, I had no full recollection of what happened. I sort of floated in the air, my right thigh looked kinda spongy, and then I was on the floor staring at the ceiling.

I suppose I must have shrieked – I don’t remember. But apart from being totally angry at myself for the foolishness of taking a step unsupported, given the weak and aching right leg, I really do not recall my reaction. All I knew was I stared at the ceiling, taking note that there were coffee stains there. I knew Alan would be home in just a few minutes, so I sort of composed myself to the wait. I do not even know whether I was in pain or not – I suppose everything had gone numb.

Alan got home, taking his time through the door. One look at me and he said, “Oh no! You’ve broken your leg.” Thank God for his calm. “I have to call an ambulance.”

Now the dog was a major disappointment. I had been reading about ultra sensitive dogs – dogs who would comfort the owners?? Not so with Indie. He headed straight for the cake and gobbled it up before ambling over to check me out. What a dog!

While waiting for the ambulance, the thought in my head which I vocalised was, “Can I walk again?” Alan on the other hand was not worried about that. Instead he kept asking me if I wanted to wear a bra on the outside of my home dress – err yes. I believe in freedom of the breast at home. I thought his concern rather funny – as if I cared about modesty at that stage!

Anita – the neighbour who baked the whisky laden cake, popped her head in.

“What happened?” she asked in alarm.

“It’s your cake,” I answered feebly. Whereupon we both laughed – she convinced I was intoxicated hence the fall. I was told her daughter later scolded her for laughing.

“It’s no laughing matter, mum. Auntie Sophia must have been in great pain,” she admonished her mum.

“But Auntie Sophia started it first,” Anita protested – which was true.

That was the start of a ten-day hospital stay.  My bone broke – a pathological break – meaning cancer had weakened that bone and it finally gave way.

I will not bore you with the details, safe to say that prior to the surgery on Tuesday morning, I was in great pain. There were times when I teared from the sheer agony – especially when they shifted me for the MRI. There were times of fear – wondering if my compromised bones would be suitable for surgery at all. Definitely there were periods of abject self-pity. However, instead of constantly worrying and focussing on the pain, I found ways to cope.

First and foremost, I have God and His grace to thank as I lay there coping. He really strengthened my spirits and because He was and still is constantly by my side, I was able to keep calm and cheerful.

Secondly, I always try to remember that Prov 17:22: A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.

I thought of things to be grateful for. For a start, I was in New York recently. I was sooooo grateful this did not happen while I was in the States. I was grateful I was not alone when it happened. I was grateful for the super-efficient paramedic team and the wonderful doctors and nurses who attended to me.

I was not trying to trivialise matters when I joked with Anita. It was an attempt to laugh to encourage the production of endorphins – the body’s natural pain killer.

While in the hospital, I made it a point to smile at the nurses, to thank them constantly, to greet the doctors brightly.  I like to be embraced by their smiles and good spirits. These medical professions see patient after patient – mostly in some form of depression or other. I do not want this sombre mood to surround me – I want the sunshine rays of good cheer. And cheerfulness, I noticed, is highly infectious – they always smile back and even when giving me my medical reports, they do so in good cheer and with encouragement.

Well, I am now back home and recuperating. No weight on my right leg for another 4 weeks. Then there will be physiotherapy to learn to walk again. Stability on right leg will only be possible after ten weeks.

I feel well. I feel blessed. My neighbours cook for me occasionally. They pop by to check on me ever so often. My daughters uncomplainingly assist me, even waking up several times in the night to take me to toilet. My husband tirelessly made ramps for the kitchen and the toilet, assembled a bed and did so many things to make sure I am safe at home. There are many people praying for my recovery.

By the way, people’s care and concern is a privilege, not an entitlement. So even for my daughters, I thank them for their assistance. I want a gracious environment around me, and I recognise it starts with me.

I cannot end without mentioning this bit. When I was admitted, I was examined for other injuries – after all I did fall. They checked my head, my back, my collarbones. There was nothing. I did not even remember any part of my body that was hurt. On reflection, it was as if an angel cushioned my fall, and probably administered some form of divine anaesthetic to ease the pain. How I wish that anaesthetic effect lasted the days before the surgery!

Still I praise the Lord and thank Him for His goodness toward me.


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