Hey there, friend.
It took me a year and nine months to contact you again.
I never told you how much of an inspiration you were to me.
I never told you how much I appreciated the fact that a person of your position and stature would speak so humbly to a young, naive and inexperienced kid who just entered the workforce. I was enchanted by your experiences and knowledge, and damn, a good storyteller you were. I'm grateful for all the life lessons, and I'm thankful for having you as a role model of character. I had always been amazed by the amount of enthusiasm you had in imparting your wisdom. Sometimes you were tired, but you never seemed so.
I saw you in your worst days, and I saw you climb back up. I was really happy to see you getting your life back on track the last we met, though it was taken from you again, this time forever, a mere six months later. I'm glad to see you do the work you did, to continue being an inspiration to so many others, in your selfless provision of time and energy. I hope my light-hearted banter in your darkest times helped to keep you from straying onto a path you'd never return from. You gave me a treat to thank me for the kindness I showed to you in those days, but I've never told you how much kinder I felt you were to me.
It took me a year and nine months to contact you again, the last message though, to no avail, and another month to finally suspect something was amiss - to come to the shocking realisation, after looking you up, that you were gone. I didn't contact you for reasons I'd rather not state, partly because I assumed you'd still be around the next time I did. Looking through your messages, I guess you kinda' knew, especially in your position, and you kinda' prepared me for the fact that your time wasn't going to be long. But in retrospect, I guess I wasn't ready to take that in. I'm sorry I couldn't be there, because I didn't consider the possibility that you might not be here now.
It wasn't much, but I'll miss the times we spoke, and I'll miss all the lessons I'll never learn from you. And I thank you for everything.
You've achieved so much in the distinguished life you lived, and wherever you are, I hope you're at peace. See you again sometime. Maybe then we'll finally sit down for a chat once more, roasting marshmallows over the fireplace, while preparing a rum-infused concoction of hot chocolate.
I guess it basically took an afternoon with my grandma in hospital to realise how much I miss inpatient work.
Ever since I discovered Atul Gawande's books, I've been hooked to his writing. Gawande's writing is wonderfully insightful and reflective, and reflection is essential for anyone looking to advance their own practices. Just came across this article by Gawande in the New York Times this morning (yes I know I'm a little bit slow) and shared it on Facebook, but I thought this was too memorable for it to be overshadowed by all the frequent updates there.
A cancer patient who saw no hope and only fears: just by asking her what she cared about most in life and what the best possible day meant to her, the hospice team was able to change her environment and enable her to do what she truly wanted and found meaningful in her last days.
Medical care sometimes has too much focus on the illness and not what truly matters to the patient. You play a major role in determining how your patients live their last days, and how their families see them in this period of time. How would you be client-centred and look past the illness, to minimise this "sick role" that they usually take up? If you were in the patient's shoes, would you want to be confined to that hospital bed for "comfort and safety"?
Could you be that occupational therapist (or any other healthcare professional for that matter) advocating and empowering Peg to continue teaching and inspiring her students despite her immobilising hip pain and incontinence, to retain her identity and dignity throughout her last days? If I could, I don't think I would want to do anything else in life :)
First off, this is going to be very fragmented. I have thoughts here and there and no way of organizing them.
After some failed attempts to get different groups of friends to watch How To Train A Dragon 2 with me (what, a 23-year old can't watch cartoons?!), I decided to pop by the cinema myself after work on Saturday.
First off, there was this advertisement I really liked, about how an ex-prison inmate turned a new leaf and dedicated herself to helping others. To quote her, "when you help others find their way, you also find yours" - sometimes, when you're overwhelmed, you become blind to the important things you need to see in order to find your own path. When you decide to help another with finding theirs, along the way you start to see what they need to face, which in turn becomes what you needed to find from the very start. This is actually one of the reasons why I decided to join a career in healthcare, to dedicate my work to helping others - I know that with this, I won't lose myself.
Coming to the How To Train Your Dragon franchise, one of the reasons why I really love these movies is that unlike most other children's movies where everything turns out well and good with no real loss, they show that there are times where you have to sacrifice important things that mean to you in order to attain a greater good. These sacrifices are real and permanent.
And back to real life - I guess I've never been someone brimming with confidence. It's a good thing I have a little more (lol) but I have to remind myself to tread carefully. To not allow overconfidence to take me over. Why I'm being treated differently, albeit in a positive way, also bothers me a lot. To someone who values impartiality, it hurts to see a friend being reprimanded while I'm not, even though mistakes I make could have been of larger magnitude. Is it a question of experience? Not that I agree with, if that's the case. Yes, maybe I do have life a bit easier, but I would feel better if I were dumped the same shit, because guilt is a harder thing to bear.
Then again, c'est la vie.
I have no idea why, but recently I'm rather overwhelmed by the fact that others seem to have more confidence in me than I have in myself.
Yes I know that's probably a good thing, but I. Am. Very. Stressed. Because I'm inherently aware that I am not as good as they think and I have a whole host of knowledge I don't know about and I take a longer time than others to process certain things.
Well, I guess you could say that with the last few lines I'm actually exemplifying exactly what I said in the first part. Now I'm running away.
A short 2-minute video of Grandpa (1918-2013) just sitting at the table doing his daily stuff. Might seem a little mundane, but it's little things like these you miss most: often overlooked and taken for granted, but representative of a person's existence.
For example, the little packet of Ensure Plus: we started to let him take this milk regularly to supplement his diet when he started to eat lesser and lesser. At the beginning, he enjoyed this milk and could finish the entire packet in one sitting, but then started drinking lesser and lesser again. As you would see in this video, all he did was take a few sips. At another point in the video, he rejects eating the leftovers of his food, of which only one or two mouthfuls were taken.
That action of cleaning the table with the ball of tissue paper: grandpa was someone who loved cleanliness. Any little spot on the table, little droplet of water, would be cleaned off immediately. He had a tray on his right side which would always contain a box of tissue paper. Somewhere in the background in one point, grandma walks down the stairs carrying a few boxes to place in his room.
Apologies, but this is gonna be long.
The past few days have been a little hectic for my family. My mum and my aunts had been taking turns sleeping on a bed beside my grandfather's since he gave us a false alarm around 2 months ago. Two Saturdays ago, he developed a fever and my mum noticed tremors when he moved his arms. We called in a doctor, who diagnosed it as mild pneumonia and prescribed some oral medication. There were events that happened last Wednesday while I was at work, but did not learn about till late at night when my mum came home. Apparently, they had noticed him breathing unusually effortlessly that morning, and during the day had called in the same doctor, who recommended bringing in an oxygen concentrator. A nurse was also called in to do suctioning for him in order to remove large amounts of whitish sputum produced. "I have 2 sisters residing in Australia, when should they come back? They might only be able to fly in next week if they need to settle leave and other matters", my mum asked. "It would be good if they could fly in immediately", the doctor replied, "but I could provide him with an antibiotic jab to help him fight off the infection in the meantime." With that, my aunts booked the earliest flight home, but there I was with some hope that he would be able to make it for a few days more.
Thursday morning: Just like any other weekday, I was lying deep asleep in bed. But that morning, I was awoken by the prolonged ringing of the phone. I groggily opened my eyes, but still found myself clear-headed enough to figure that a phone call this early in the morning could not be any good. True enough, it was my aunt calling to inform us that grandpa had passed on peacefully.
I remember grandpa, or "ah gong" as we called him ("grandpa" in Hokkien, a Mandarin dialect), as a fairly reserved man. We had never been as close to him as we should have, due to the language barrier (while grandma could speak Mandarin, grandpa could only speak and understand Hokkien). As a result, we never really communicated with him beyond the courteous "Hi Ah Gong", "How are you", "Have you eaten", and other similar greetings. At the weekly family gatherings where we would all go over to our grandparents' place for dinner, grandma would be busy in the kitchen preparing dishes for us, while grandma would be seated in the living room, reading newspapers or watching the news. The rest of the family would be engaged in conversation, catching up with each other. When my grandparents shifted over to my aunt's house back in 2006 (if I remember correctly), different people came on different days, gatherings were not "weekly" now and were not as lively as before, except on special occasions such as Chinese New Year and birthday celebrations. The same thing still continued, but there was a difference: my aunt's house was much larger than my grandparents'. When grandpa was left alone, it was obvious. He would be sitting at the dining table while most of everyone was chatting in some other part of the house, or they could be chatting at the table but grandpa was hardly ever part of the conversation. As kids, we would all be hanging out at the balcony on the 2nd storey. When I got old enough to realise this, I made it a point to sit beside grandpa most times I went over to visit. I would attempt small talk, albeit fairly unsuccessfully due to my limited Hokkien, but at the very least, grandpa would not be the only person sitting at the table. Not to say that this was any fault of the rest of the family: my aunts and uncles are all filial children, who would go to any lengths to make sure our grandparents get the best. It is just natural that in the process of catching up with the rest of the family, others do somewhat get overlooked. The closest analogy I can give would be the concept of opportunity cost in economics.
The past few days have been a period of reminiscing for the family as well. My mum, uncles and aunts telling us with enthusiasm how strict a disciplinarian grandpa was. And this is evident in their character: there are a couple of them who are somewhat eccentric, whom the general public may choose to shy away from if they were to approach you on the street. But they are all upright people who would never choose to commit an action knowing that it would harm another. Grandpa was the kind of man who considered character above all else. One of my aunts would tell us that grandpa, despite being born in times when bigamy was common and no one batted an eyelid if you got a second wife, had been extremely faithful to grandma. An uncle, in his primary school days, had lied about going over to a friend's house to study but ended up playing cards. My mum played the role of a whistleblower. A raging grandpa went over to my uncle, "picked him up and threw him onto the floor" (in the words of my mum). After that, my mum decided to keep quiet about any similar incidents, if any. Thou shalt not gamble while grandpa is around. I fondly recall one time a number of years ago when some of my cousins and I were playing UNO - grandpa associated the UNO cards with poker cards and scolded our parents for allowing us to play with them.
The first argument I recall having with grandpa was about what "teacher" was in Mandarin. In Hokkien, "teacher" is "sin sih". In primary 2, I told him "teacher" in Mandarin was "老师". He had insisted that the Mandarin version was "先生", a phrase which more correctly means "gentleman", and I became very angry indeed. Thankfully, I don't recall having any further arguments with grandpa, except for being very upset when he tried to stop us from playing UNO as mentioned above.
The first time grandpa and I had a longer conversation than usual was a few months ago. He was lying in bed, and had refused to eat any food for a few days. By this time, he was hardly recognising me. "I cannot eat, because I have to leave more for my descendants", he told my mum. "If I eat now, they won't have anything to eat next time." I had gone to his bedside in an attempt to coax him. He told me that he didn't have any money to buy food. "Ah gong, do you know who I am?" I asked.
"You called me ah gong, you must be my granddaughter."
"Ah gong, I'll treat you to a meal."
"I won't have any money to pay you back."
"It's ok, you're my ah gong, it's only right that I buy you food."
It took a while before he agreed for "Milo and biscuits". He turned to the maid and asked her if she was hungry, and said I should also provide her with Milo and biscuits. I agreed, and in turn grandpa also agreed to get up and eat something.
The second, and unfortunately also the last, time we had a conversation of a similar length was around a month later. In that conversation, grandpa had spoken animatedly about bringing my uncle (aunt's husband) and my dad along with him abroad and making a lot of money. "When I returned to China, many people suddenly approached me, asking to borrow sums of money for this and that. 'My son is getting married', 'I need money for my parents', each of them came with different excuses, but they only wanted my money. One of them came to my shop and asked if he could take a carton of provisions and pay me later. 'No!', I told him. I only make this small amount of profit from this, if you don't pay me, I'll be making a big loss. I didn't let him take it." He was obviously confused at that point of time, but I am still thankful to have been able to have a proper chat with grandpa, though one-third of the time I probably did not comprehend his Hokkien. Grandpa did indeed open a provision shop a number of years after arriving in Singapore from China, but he definitely did not take my uncle and dad abroad with him and made a lot of money.
In 2011, grandpa was walking with a quad stick, and able to climb the stairs to his room on the 2nd storey of my aunt's house. After his 2nd fall while attempting to climb the stairs, we decided to move him to a room on the first storey. In the short span of two years, he had gone on to use a walking frame, before becoming too weak to really stand and was mostly pushed around on a mobile commode and wheelchair. A man who used to handwrite with brush and ink in Chinese calligraphy for invitation cards, had become unable to even recall how to write his name with a pen. He became more and more bed-bound and we even had to purchase a pressure-relief mattress for him. In his last days, he wasn't getting up, and had even developed mild pressure sores. We had borrowed a hospital bed and moved it in for him a day or two before he went. Now, the funeral is over, his body cremated and ashes collected. Most of the family are Buddhists, and this exactly is an example of the concept of impermanence.
Grandpa passed on in the early hours of 24th October, 2013. On his face was a peaceful, toothless smile (he didn't have his dentures on). I like to think that this was his last gift to us.