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.
RAYMOND ANTHONY FERNANDO