Saturday, April 30, 2011

Patient with disabilities denied proper medical treatment; sole caregiver suffering burnout

30th April 2011

In a rally speech on Friday night - 29th April 2011, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong assured all Singaporeans that the government will take care of all Singaporeans, including the low- and middle income groups.

The Prime Minister and his government has also given the assurance, many times, that no Singaporean will be denied proper medical treatment even if they cannot pay for it. But my wife, Doris Lau Siew Lang was denied proper medical treatment at a restructured hospital when she so badly and urgently needed it.

I would like to share this recent heart-breaking incident about my wife as the pain in my heart is unbearable and I am suffering all alone. I can no longer remain silent and the only way to ease my suffering is to write about it. Hopefully, it will touch some peoples' hearts (including the Govt.) and they will come forward and help in whatever way they can so I can lead an easier life in taking care of my beloved wife whom I love dearly. For I have not chosen to give up on my wife even though my 37 years journey in caring for her has been extremely arduous.

Background of my wife's condition

Doris suffers from several chronic illnesses that includes schizophrenia & depression, advanced arthritis, incontinence, stomach polyps, diabetes & high cholesterol. In addition she has to see a heart specialist and an eye doctor. Doris is seeing seven doctors in all. This month alone I had to bring her for 7 medical appointments at hospitals & clinics. Which caregiver would not suffer burnout? Which patient who has to take 45 tablets a day to manage her multiple illnesses wouldn't wear out? Every time Doris has to go for her arthritis treatment, we have spend half a day at the hospital because the results for her blood tests at the lab takes 3 sold hours. I can never understand why this is so. Can't the hospital be more efficient?

Support system for caregivers

It has been an extremely difficult journey for me to care for my wife all alone because our caregivers support system is very weak. Many a time when Doris suffers a relapse, I have to bear the tremendous emotional pain all alone.

My wife and I are Catholics, but we cannnot get the support from our very own Catholic organizations. I have approached the Catholic Welfare Services(CWS) to help us(meals & accommodation) but they say they can't do anything. I asked the CWS to find me a place where I can place my wife in situations where the environment is not conducive(noise pollution) to her mental state; such as when there is upgrading in our estates, be it for the Lift Upgrading Programme(LUP) or Home Improvement Programme (HIP). Or in cases when I have to sell my books and leave her all alone at home. Doris is at fall risks because of her severe arthritis condition. But the CWS have told me to call up all the 30 Catholic churches to find out if there are any places in their churches that can accommodate her. No day care centre in Singapore will take in my wife- even for a few hours. It's been exhausting trying to secure proper cooked meals & support for my wife. For day care centres visits- Rejected. The reason: People with mental illness cannot go to their centres. Is MCYS doing anything about this?

Multiple chronic illnesses due to cheaper drugs
My wife's advance arthritis condition is causing her immense pain and misery, leaving her vulnerable to falling into relapses of schizophrenia and depression – a chronic illness which she has battled for 40 years. Every arthritis drug that is being tested on her is causing more and more side effects.

The specialist at a restructured hospital treating her for her advance arthritis condition has suggested that my wife try out another type of injection that might help to reduce the inflammation and pain of her advance arthritis condition: The Intramuscular Gold Injection. But I am not keen to allow my wife to go on this recommended injection as the side effects are many including itchy skin rashes, ulcers in the mouth and blood and protein in her urine – to name a few.

The only solution is to do another Total Knee Replacement, which is going to cost me $8,000 a 50% rise from $4,000 previously. Doris needs cataract operations (both eyes). Each operation (per eye) is going to cost me $800- $1,000- an increase of another 50%- previously $400 per eye. Little wonder that Singaporeans have valid reasons about rising medical costs.

Go to the A& E for treatment if arthritis pain is unbearable Attempts to reach out to the specialist during periods when my wife is in severe pain of her arthritis is not possible because the doctor has suggested that I bring my wife to the A & E department if my wife cannot bear the pain. What is the point of bringing her to the A&E Department when we have to end up waiting hours on ends, pay $90 and then be told to go back to to see the specialist on another given date? In what way does this solve the problem? Why add more stress on my wife when she is on heavy medication? Moreover the Ministry of Health is discouraging people from visiting the A & E Department. The specialists there are unwilling to see my wife even though Doris suffers unbearable pain because of the hospital's workload. To make matters worse the Patient Services staff who is handling my feedback became defensive and told me that if necessary the A& E doctors can ward my wife in the hospital. Why would I want my wife to be hospitalised when she already has spent a large part of her life in hospital – Warded IMH 11 times in IMH times during our 37 years marriage?

Unemployed Caregiver foots out $1,000
I could not bear to see my wife in pain so I hade no choice but to bring Doris to see a surgeon in a private clinic last week. He gave Doris a Synvisc injection that costs $1,000, but it will reduce her pain and misery for several months. To see the specialist at the restructured hospital for this same type of injection would mean that I would have to wait and wait. But this Synvisc injection would have only cost me about $400 if Doris was given the jab at the restructured hospital. Mind you, I don't have a full-time job. Nobody knows the suffering and hardships that caregivers like us go through to see their stricken ones suffering. For the last few nights, I cry myself to sleep.

Onslaught of mental illness- schizophrenia 
My wife was denied proper and immediate attention because of system problems in the hospital and because doctors there do not want to do a little extra work. The Synsvic injection apparently came too late. As a result Doris is now falling into a serious relapse of schizophrenia. It is extremely pitiful to see her suffer the ravages of schizophrenia. It is only a matter of time because she is hospitalised and when that happens, Doris will have to undergo ECT(Electric Convulsive Therapy). ECT is mild current applied to the brain. Have you seen a patient go through ECT?  I have. It will tear your heart & mind apart.

Symptoms of Doris' relapse of schizophrenia: Doris is extremely frightened, appears lost, cannot concentrate, very depressed, has loss of appetite,fearful, nervous, severely constipated (connected to the mind), and has difficulty sleeping.

If Doris has to be warded in IMH, it will be the 12th time and it is going to cost me at least $5,000. Needless to say the costs for me is very high: emotional , physical & financial. As her caregiver, I will have to suffer all alone for one solid year when she relapses.

To deprive a mentally ill patient who is struggling with a whole range of chronic illnesses of the support that she urgently needs, is sinful and inhuman.

For sure, love is the most beautiful virtue in the world. But love can also be very painful when I see my beloved Doris suffer so much, and I become helpless from the lack of support, the prejudices she faces because of her schizophrenia and the  poor welfare for her. But I know for sure when Doris passes on and goes to heaven, the Lord will always protect her and give her relentless love. In heaven, her life will not be compromised because of multiple chronic illnesses and she will never face any discimination and prejudice.

During the 70s' when my wife had a working career, she did a lot of charity & social work, despite being stricken with schizophrenia and depression at the tender age of 17. Doris visited the homes for the aged, spent time with old folks, the handicapped and comforted all these citizens. I accompanied my wife and also took part in these actvities- encouraged by the love that my wife gave to these less fortunate citizens. As a secretary, she contributed much to the economy. 

For my part, influenced by my wife's caring nature, I have been vounteering my services to IMH regularly. Recently I was also requested by the Community Psychiatry Dept. of IMH to edit some stories written by recovered patients for a publication. I readily agreed despite having to look after Doris 24/7.

Now when we need support, this is how we are treated.

To my readers, please pray for Doris. She is a beautiful human being and does not deserve to be treated in this manner. No human being does. And Doris needs friends who can care for her and give her love because we are living in a very unkind society! A place in which the mentally ill have no place in our society. God Bless!


Husband & Sole Caregiver To Doris Lau Siew Lang

Friday, April 22, 2011

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: Compassion for dying child shows kampung spirit

Last week, a mother and child from China fell from their Bukit Batok flat. This is yet another tragedy that's so heart-wrenching. Read my response to that tragic incident in The New Paper.

Raymond's letter to The New Paper: Compassion for dying child shows kampung spirit

This letter was published today- Friday 22 April 2011, in The New Paper.

I refer to the report, “He watches as 9-year-old slowly fades away” (The New Paper, April 16).

While I am deeply saddened by the tragic loss of two lives through yet another tragedy, I am encouraged by the public spiritedness demonstrated by Mr Phil Devlin.

This Singaporean permanent resident from Australia went out of his way to try to save the life of the 9-year-old girl and comfort her.

It provides a classic example of how the kampung spirit can be revived here.

Mr Devlin proves that those from outside Singapore can not only contribute to the economic growth of this country, but can also play an equally important role in serving the needs of our people.

Though the child did not survive the fall, Mr Devlin's compassion and readiness to help another human being is notable. He should be commended by the authorities.

Such a commendation will go a long way in promoting a sense of caring and mutual concern for one another in our neighbourhoods.

If such virtues can infect everyone in our society, then we may see fewer such tragedies.

The Government, for its part, should provide a better support system for people who are unable to cope with the stresses of life.

Many people either just don't know where to go for help or are unwillingly to seek assistance.

Hence the need to reach out to these vulnerable groups.