Friday, 25 August 2017

‘I’m old, but I won’t give up on her’ - a love story

While the pioneer leaders were the original architects of Singapore, everyday heroes helped build society here. This is another story about such people in the series, The Lives They Live.
By Theresa Tan, The Straits Times, 24 Aug 2017

Mr Loh Yew Kim, 77, is devoted to his wife of nearly 40 years.

Rain or shine, he has faithfully visited her seven days a week in the past year since his ailing wife was admitted to the Ren Ci Nursing Home.

He spends the entire day with Madam Ng Gun Yok, 78, and will bring her favourite food and attend to her every need.

Mr Loh is such a constant presence at the home that other residents will get him to help them buy food and other things.

He said: "If I don't see my wife for one day, I would feel very uneasy. She's the person closest to me. No one else is more important."

Mr Loh's daily visits used to involve a tedious journey via public transport from his Ang Mo Kio flat to the nursing home in Jalan Tan Tock Seng, near Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

He suffers from osteoarthritis, a degenerative joint disease, in both knees and is bow-legged. Walking is painful and he has to stop frequently to catch his breath.

To get to the nursing home from Novena MRT station, he had to walk up and down slopes - which made the journey even more tiring for him.

A one-way journey took about 1½ hours by bus, MRT and on foot. To make his journey easier, Touch Community Services (TCS) helped him apply for a subsidy from the Seniors' Mobility and Enabling Fund to buy a motorised scooter earlier this year. He paid only $150 for the device, which cost $1,500, and it has cut his travelling time by half.

TCS' senior occupational therapist Jacinda Soh, who has accompanied Mr Loh on his visits, said: "He's very attentive to his wife's needs and I'm struck by his unwavering love for her."

Impressed by his devotion, TCS nominated him for the Healthcare Humanity Awards, which honours healthcare workers, volunteers and caregivers for their dedication and selflessness. Mr Loh was one of the outstanding caregivers recognised last year.

The youngest of three children of a painter and a housewife, Mr Loh left school at the age of 10 to earn a living after his mother died.

"We were so poor we could only afford to eat chicken once a year, during Chinese New Year. People have such a good life now and can eat chicken every day," he said in a mix of Mandarin and Cantonese.

Mr Loh, who spent most of his working life as a welder, was introduced to Madam Ng by his friends. He was in his 30s and felt it was time to start a family. She was his first girlfriend and they dated for about two years before marrying.

"I like her personality. She's a good person, does not like to gossip and is not demanding," he said.

Madam Ng is the third of four children. Her father died when she was about eight years old and her mother could not afford to send her to school. She started working when she was in her teens as a domestic helper, among other jobs.

Although money was tight, Mr Loh said they were happily married and hardly quarrelled.

Madam Ng said: "He treats me very well. He always gives in to me."

Their only regret? Not having children. She had one miscarriage and after that, they considered adopting a child, but that did not pan out.

About two years ago, Madam Ng had a fall at home. She became increasingly frail after that. She had a few more falls and had to use a wheelchair. She was also diagnosed with gastric cancer.

Mr Loh, who was then working at a hawker centre collecting plates, had to stop working to care for her. He also sacrificed his only hobby - playing chess with friends - to be there for her 24/7.

He had to quickly learn to attend to her every need at home, such as changing her diapers, giving her a shower and carrying her from the bed to the wheelchair.

The TCS home-care team visited the couple regularly to help bathe Madam Ng. They also taught Mr Loh caregiving skills.

Still, caregiving was taking an increasing toll on him, noted Mr Kelvin Lee, TCS' manager of caregiver support. He described Mr Loh as a "very devoted husband", saying: "Mr Loh hesitated to place his wife in a nursing home as he felt he was not doing his duty of caring for her, like he was abandoning her."

Mr Loh's struggle is not uncommon, especially among the pioneer generation who see nursing homes as places where the elderly are abandoned by their families.

In a rapidly ageing society, the stresses of caregiving can be daunting, more so if the caregiver is old and frail himself. Besides, Mr Lee said many seniors may not want - or know how - to seek help when they cannot cope with their duties.

For Mr Loh, his daily journey to see his wife is now only a five-minute ride on his motorised scooter as the nursing home recently moved to Ang Mo Kio, which is near his flat.

On why he decided to place her in a nursing home, he said: "I'm old, my legs are not good and I found it increasingly difficult to care for her. But I never complained about it. I wouldn't give up on her."

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