Wednesday, May 30, 2012

An appeal for support for my wife who has 6 chronic illnesses

30th May 2012

Dear Mr Gan,

An open letter to Mr Gan Kim Yong, Health Minister

cc: Prime Minister Lee Hsien Long, DPM Tharman, DPM Teo Chee Hean,  Ms Amy Khor, MOS (Health)

Reference the above matter. 

The Singapore Government has repeatedly assured all its citizens that no one will be denied proper medical care - even if they cannot afford it.  Added to that, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong is coming up with more programmes to help the elderly. This is well and good, but I’m facing a whole range of problems getting my wife to secure better treatment at Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) where she is receiving treatment for her severe arthritis condition.

As all of you are aware, my wife, Doris Lau Siew Lang, aged 59 has a total of 6 chronic illnesses that includes two of the most difficult chronic illnesses to manage- schizophrenia and arthritis. I have been Doris’ sole caregiver for 37 years; counting. The harsh reality is that if you are looking after a loved one with a serious mental disorder, you are all alone in this world.  I have suffered burnout countless times.  I will suffer more burnouts if help is not given to me when I now need it most. Allow me to explain.

I am putting this appeal on my blog - addressing it as an open letter to all of you so that if Tan Tock Seng cannot help, some kind soul/s or health care orgnizations will step forward to assist.

The last time my wife met up with the Senior Consultant, Dr Lian T Y at the Rheumatoid (RAI) Clinic 5B at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, she advised that since all the drugs that my wife has taken has failed to managed the severe pain that she continues to experience, TTSH will administer a new drug that will have to be injected into her stomach every two weeks or so.  This proposed injection costs $24,000 a year.

However,   I am most unhappy and displeased that the doctor wants me to give her the injection, instead of the nurses or doctors doing it. This will only add more stress onto me. As it is, I have a huge responsibility seeing to my wife’s every need, doing all the housework, the errands, etc,  as Doris is at heavy risks of falling down.  Her left wrist is also very weak. She has fallen in the home, not once, but 4 times. I have to watch over her and after she bathes, I have to help her dress up as her knees are very weak and sometimes the legs become numb – leaving her in great danger of falling down.

Dr Lian said that unless I am really unable to do it, TTSH will do it. Must I be in a wheelchair before some compassion and empathy is shown to a caregiver who has stuck by his wife through thick and thin and overcome huge adversities in our lonely and isolated lives. I always get the same excuse: “No staff, cannot cope”.

Every time I leave my house, my wife has to become a “prisoner in her own home”. I tell her to lie in bed because if she falls, no one will come and help her. The 4 times that she has collapsed in the house, all family members refused to come and help, even though some of them have cars. It takes us one hour to literally drag herself into the room because she is heavy. Do you know how painful it is to see my wife in that predicament?

It is futile for the Government to keep saying that no one will be deprived of proper medical care, when my wife who has also contributed to the economy in the past (she was a secretary before I married her) is neglected in this way just because the hospital has got “not enough staff” or because of poor team work within the hospital, which I have observed many a time.

Added to that, I have a phobia of needles, and I am not confident of injecting my wife. The hospital staff should offer help, instead of “pushing the buck to me.”  Let’s learn to be more humane and treat our elderly with decorum and respect. Let’s treat psychiatric patients in a more compassionate manner because the illness itself ravages a huge part of their lives and that of their families.   

I go all over Singapore educating the public on how to manage mental illness. Yesterday, I spoke for one solid hour to 21 counsellors and staff from VWOs and Family Life Centres on how to manage schizophrenia.  The talk was conducted by Silver Ribbon Singapore.  Many of the participants were not fully aware of the illness, but found my talk very informative and useful. They said they have learnt a lot from me.  I told the group to go out and help as many as they can in the community because we should reclaim and save lives.   

I will also team up with doctors from IMH to conduct public talks on mental illness.

I have done more than my share to help others, so isn’t it time that someone helps me.

May I have your assurance that TTSH will offer their support?

Thank you for your time.



Saturday, May 26, 2012

Getting sustainable support for the mentally ill & their caregivers

For years I have searched for a good support system for my wife. Never easy to get!  Doris’ mobility is becoming more and more restricted as the arthritis condition that she is struggling with has worsened.  She can hardly walk- even from one room to another. In Singapore, if you are less able-bodied, you will find it very hard to get support.

If you get support, it is difficult to secure SUSTAINABLE support.   Sadly, a lot of people/organizations adopt an “out of sight, out of mind attitude”. One organization that is supposed to help people like my wife and who did support us in the past have completely forgotten us and have  instead imposed unnecessary and absurd means testing on me. They used to visit Doris and I once a year and give us a roasted chicken during Christmas. They used to clean up our house once every 3 months. A few months ago, the staff handling support systems for people like my wife told me that if I wanted to continue to receive this kind of support , I must show all my bank books, show all my PUB Bills, , Telephone bills, etc.

Imagine just to get a chicken once a year so that my wife and I can celebrate the joys of Christmas, I have to show all my bank books.

My search continued, until I found a church whose cells members are more than supportive.  They clean up our house once a month, and then take the trouble to buy Doris & I a meal.

Lions Befrienders have in them a young Malaysian lady who will help to fetch Doris & I in her car. She holds Doris’ arm and even lifts up her feet as she gets in the car.  Then she fetches us home, and drops by the food centre to allow me to buy our lunch. I asked this volunteer why she does all these kind things.  Her reply was that it is part of the Malaysia culture to care for the elderly.  I thank God for such people coming into our lives.

It is never easy to get support, but those that respond positively will be blessed cos’ God sees and hears everything.  

It can be disheartening when you make calls  to seek help, and no one bothers to return calls. But I must continue to provide the support for my wife. For she is a decent human being who needs love & support.

With the two books that I am now producing, one of which is Doris’ 2nd novel, I will have to go from church to church to sell the books, and I would need  kind-hearted volunteers to help me. Cos’ Doris cannot go because she is at heavy risks of falling. 

Who will come alongside me? I really don’t know. There are people who make promises , but will they be there for us when we need them?

Raymond Anthony Fernando

Friday, May 11, 2012

Support and recreation crucial for our seniors to lead meaningful lives

The National University Health System experts who carried out a study on the elderly in Singapore (see the Sunday Times report “Lonely and depressed elderly cause for worry”- ST 6th May 2012) came out with some good news and some bad news.  The elderly the study revealed are living longer and healthier. That’s the good news.

But the bad news is that although seniors in their 80s are physically alright, many of them are lonely and depressed. Indeed loneliness can do a lot of damage.

There have also been many reports of our elderly citizens who have died all alone. And nobody knows until a foul stench comes on.  There are several seniors that are living all alone – even in landed properties. 

In the U.K, the government recognises this problem and has decided to get teenage students between the ages of 16- 20 years to do community as part of character building.  So every day, they would knock on the doors of these elderly citizens to see if all is well.  An example: “Good morning Mrs Brown, how are you today?” the students would ask.

This is a unique way to ensure that if there is no response for the occupant, the students can alert the authorities immediately.  Singapore should try this as a means, of not only reaching to the elderly, but of also inculcating in our students a sense of caring for our elderly folks.  This is one way to build the kampong spirit here in Singapore.

Build an extra floor at the top of schools dedicated to the elderly

Perhaps some might view this as radical idea, but I fervently believe that it is worthwhile investing in, given that by 2020, our fast ageing population will see many more Singaporeans hitting past 60 or more.

Have an extra floor in school buildings that can allocate space for our elderly citizens- it can be a daycare centre for old folks, where qigong can be practised and activities organized by students and teachers for our seniors.  End the day’s activities with a breakfast served by the students and the teachers.

Hold charity concerts for our seniors

One way that can help the elderly lead more enjoyable lives is to provide recreational activities for them.

Legendary entertainer, Pat Boone, now 72 years old returned from Arizona recently where he gave concerts to senior citizens.  Boone does not believe in retirement and has made a huge impact on the world through his singing and strong Christian values. His marriage to Shirley Boone has lasted 50 years; counting.

Recreation is crucial for our seniors to lead meaningful and fruitful lives. 

 As many of our seniors adore Pat Boone, it would be timely if the Ministerial Committee on Ageing (MCA) could explore the feasibility of inviting Pat Boone to perform concerts here in Singapore for our seniors. 

Boone can also inspire and motivate our own seniors with his own success story, and how to value a marriage as he does.

MCA could also include our own local entertainers like Gypsy, the Thunderbirds, the Quests and many of local artistes who were household names in the early 60s, 70s and 80s to participate in this musical extravaganza that is sure to bring joy to our silver-haired citizens.


Thursday, May 10, 2012

Helping the lonely and depressed seniors to lead more meaningful lives:

Thursday 10th May 2012

Helping the lonely and depressed seniors to lead more meaningful lives: 
An open proposal to PM Lee, DPM Tharman & Ministers & the Archbishop of Singapore  

In the Sunday Times report- “Lonely and depressed elderly cause for worry” (ST May 6, 2012), the National University Health System which carried out a study on the elderly revealed that although many elderly folks are living longer, the older ones – those in their 80s are feeling lonely and depressed.

It gives causes for concern as Singapore’s elderly population is set to grow rapidly.

Many of these elderly citizens feel worthless as, regrettably when they are old and grey, our seniors are dumped aside like used furniture - forgotten.  My wife, Doris Lau and I are in this predicament. Getting support for my wife is a relentless pursuit to source for help.  It’s tiring! It’s wearing me thin!

Fortunately, I’m educated and have the courage and conviction to speak out. This morning as I was helping Doris to change her clothes, she cried and told me that she does not know what will happen to her if I should pass on before her. My Catholic faith tells me to trust in God, my conscience tells me that she will be left to die all alone in our flat because this is the real world. A society in which the mentally ill are the most neglected and shunned in our materialistic world.

The Government, the community and the church has a moral obligation to help our seniors in their twilight years.

One person, a writer overseas, wrote: “I will never forget the time that I walked into a hospital and heard the unhappy cry of an old man, "Nurse, I'm lonely." Over and over again he expressed his need in heart-rending sobs that touched my soul in an unforgettable way. I asked the nurse on duty, "What's wrong with the old man?" She replied, "He has outlived all his relatives and no one comes to see him anymore; and I can't spend all day holding his hand."

We can’t afford to let this happen in Singapore; although it is already happening.  Especially so when our leaders keep saying that they want to build an inclusive society. I’ve heard DPM Tharman say this, and I’ve heard PM Lee say this – repeatedly.

There are many ways we can help to uplift the broken spirit and I hope that the Singapore Government and its partners will do its part to help our silver-haired population, many of whom have been very much a part of Singapore economic success.  

Keep busy and involve yourself

The Buddhist Tzi Chi Foundation which has her headquarters in Taiwan has thousands of volunteers all over the world. They undertake excellent community work. Their doctors give free medical treatment to the sick all over the world. These doctors do so because they are driven by compassion, not by making money.  And they plunge into doing charity work because the Tzi Chi Master inculcates a sense of caring for the community.  

When the Philippines experienced heavy downpours and landslides, Tzi Chi Foundation stepped in almost immediately and helped rebuild their homes. They worked closely with the citizens and because of their commitment; many Filipinos are Tzi Chi volunteers; even until this very day. Tzi Chi was instrumental in developing the community spirit in the Philippines. They have also helped out in rescue missions in Indonesia and in Africa, feeding the poor and lifting the human spirit with just one goal in mind- love and compassion for another human being.

Tz Chi Foundation also reaches out to the mentally ill here in Singapore. Its volunteers visit IMH once a month, bring food to the patients and spend time talking to these “forgotten citizens”.

I urge the NEA & the Singapore Government to help our lonely and depressed citizens by:

(a) Setting up recycling centres island-wide with the help of Tzi Chi Foundation and our grassroots leaders, youths and students so that our lonely elderly citizens can be encouraged to work at these centres and help out with recycling efforts.

(i) At these proposed centres, they are encouraged to sort the discarded items into different categories such as clothing; newspapers; carton boxes/colour paper; black and white paper; electrical appliances; plastics; metal, and glass. By sorting the items themselves, the elderly folks and our youths/students will appreciate more about the need to recycle and also to keep their recyclables clean.

(ii) Pay the elderly folks involved an allowance and then give them a decent meal. Once a month have a social outing for them where singing and games can be organized with some sponsored prizes and door gifts as a crowd puller.

(b) Next up, the church has to do more. CLARITY should get involved.

What and who is CLARITY?

Clarity Singapore Limited is a charity organization endorsed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Singapore, a member organisation of Caritas Singapore (CSCC) and National Council of Social Service (NCSS) that seeks to respond to the mental health needs in Singapore through community-based mental health care services and social programmes. Known by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) as a new and rising service provider of community-based mental health, Clarity works in collaboration with AIC's efforts to establish an integrated Community Mental Health Support Network in Singapore.  

Everyone experiences seasons of isolation for one reason or another. Usually we overcome loneliness by meeting new friends, entering new social circles, or taking some other action that reengages us with people.

Currently, CLARITY is only providing counselling services and organises talks once in a “blue moon.”  This is not good enough, given the rising number of people developing mental illness and for reasons outlined above.

Recreation needs are so important to those who experience isolation.  I suggest that CLARITY, working with Residents Committees and grassroots leaders, organize social outings for their clients, including the elderly lonely.

We should not just have organisations for name’s sake. Helping our marginalised citizens’ lead meaningful lives is the responsibility of every citizen, every organization of this land. More so, when the Prime Minister wants to make Singapore the best home to live in.  Thank you.

This proposal goes up on my blog.


Raymond Anthony Fernando