Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Raymond A Fernando's letter to the press/grieving caregiving who lacks support

To: The Singapore Government

I have kept these painful feelings inside of me for a long time, and it is high time I release my pent-up emotions.  It’s coming up to 5 months since I lost my beloved wife Doris Lau. She died on 17th April 2014 in hospital and I still grief over the sudden loss as she was MY whole world. More so when the circumstance that led to her death has been extremely painful.  I may not be able to move any of you, but still I have to say what is tearing me up inside.  

And I want the Ministry of Health to explain why she died in the manner that she did.

3 weeks or so, before Doris died, she had to undergo a colon test. The next day, big ugly rashes erupted on her shins, stomach, chest and feet. (Take a look at the pictures I reproduced).  I was very upset with the doctors at TTSH who kept apologizing.

Doris died three weeks or so later in hospital.  When she was admitted to TTSH for pneumonia, the doctors took away her away her psychiatric medications as they claimed that it was lowering her blood pressure.  I told them that my wife was sure to suffer a relapse of her schizophrenia if they take that route, because those medications help to keep Doris in a stable frame of mind.  

Shortly afterwards, my wife as I had expected, suffered a serious relapse of her schizophrenia leading to the loss of her speech.   Later she died.

Do any of you know what it is like to see a spouse die when she cannot even speak to her husband in her dying moments?  A woman whom I have loved so dearly and worked tirelessly to bring her to a full recovery of her mental illness?  How would any one of you feel if it happens to your own loved ones?

During the period when the doctors knew that she was dying, there was so palliative care given to both my wife and I. Why?

Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam in his speech at a South West CDC ceremony last month called on the CDCs to find ways to unite Singaporeans (“CDC’s challenge is to help unite Singaporeans”; June 26).

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong in his speech during the Mayors’ swearing-in ceremony on 20 June called on the Community Development Councils (CDCs) to help build the Social Service Offices to assist the needy as the Government is focused on improving people’s lives.

I know for a fact that there has been a surge in the number of mentally ill people struggling with the illness, and it is likely that more such cases will be coming on-stream.

But the sad reality is that people with mental illness and their caregivers do not receive the same level of support as those with physical disabilities – a key point which I made at Social Service Partners Conference (SSPC) organised by the Ministry of Social and Family Development (MSF) on 21 May where its Minister Chan Chun Seng was the guest of honour.  800 people, including several VWOs were present as I also spoke of my pain in losing my wife. The MSF minister’s speech highlighted the government’s effort to build a caring society. Two Mayors, one of whom belongs to my district were present.  They were Teo Hon Pin and Denise Phua who is the Mayor of my district as I live in Ang Mo Kio.  None of those present offered practical support.

For those who are grieving – as with my case, the lack of empathy and support can spiral into dire consequences if immediate assistance is not rendered.  During the first week weeks of my wife’s passing, I first experienced shock; then as the weeks and months go by, the emotional pain is becoming unbearable.  Yet, I find it so difficult to get the much-needed support even though I went public on my wife’s passing at the SSPC and in the press.

More than a month ago, my younger brother called up the Family Service Centre FSC) and told them that I needed support to cope with the untimely death of my wife.  Shortly afterwards, a lady officer called me up took down my particulars – and that was the end of the story. In what way is this support?  Mayors are elected to serve the residents, but are they doing that? Then what is the point of electing Mayors who do not know how to empathize with residents who are going painful periods –as I am.

Mayors and MPs who are elected to serve the people must show compassion by making home visits to offer support to grieving families.

My wife’s passing was raised in media reports–English and Chinese newspapers, but how many politicians understood my pain? But I am grateful to Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, SMS Heng Chee How and the kind-hearrted Dr Vivian Balakrishnan who felt for me, by sending condolence messages to me.  Dr Vivian is an exceptional human being and the kind of politician Singapore needs.  

I was also touched by IMH management staff like CEO Dr Chua Hong Choon and Dr Daniel Fung, Chairman of IMH’s medical board who felt for me knowing well that Doris was also a staunch advocate for persons with mental illness as she was very opened about her mental illness.

But to the rest who cannot understand what I am going through I would like to ask:  Have we become such a cold society where we do not know how to show compassion to the vulnerable in our society?  So ESM Goh Chok Tong: When you speak of compassion as you did in your National Day dinner, do you translate this virtue into action?

Despite all these upheavals, I still continue to support and care for persons with mental illness and the elderly. My mission, my passion, my humanitarian work. The ministry which God has tasked me to do.  

When my wife dies, everything including that much-needed support should not die along with her.  For if that happens, we will lose the Singapore Soul and go downhill.  Moreover, this should not happen in a first world country that wants to promote inclusiveness and a caring society.

Now read the press letter that came out yesterday:  

Raymond Anthony Fernando’s letter to the press: A hope that new NMPs support the mentally ill
My letter on the above matter is published in MediaCorp’s TODAY newspaper, today Monday 18th August 2014.
I am encouraged that Ms Chia Yong Yong, president of the SPD (formerly known as the Society for the Physically Disabled), will advocate for people with disabilities. (“New NMP to advocate for greater inclusion of people with disabilities”; Aug 13)
This group falls into two categories: Those who are physically challenged, which is a visible disability, and those with mental illness, an invisible illness.
Despite the challenges, people with disabilities can go on to have many capabilities, with strong support from the Government and the community. Ms Chia, having excelled in life, is proof of this.
Just as there is much support for people with physical disabilities, it is important to provide the same support for people with psychiatric conditions. It would probably take a whole village to change mindsets, but we must take that step.
Speaker of Parliament Halimah Yacob, who chaired the Special Select Committee, has given the assurance that those selected as Nominated Members of Parliament are expected to address issues beyond the sectors and interests they represent.
I hope this can be fulfilled for the growing psychiatric community here.
Though there is prejudice against people with mental illness, the illness itself does not discriminate. No one, whether rich or poor, famous or not, is immune to developing mental illness.
The apparent suicide of award-winning Hollywood actor Robin Williams, who was reported to have had a bipolar condition, is a startling reminder of this.
Crucially, with many Singaporeans grappling with bipolar and other mental disorders, these issues must not be swept under the rug.
Now, a promising NMP and lawyer has made her way to Parliament, and I urge Ms Chia to champion the plight of the mentally ill too. I hope that she and the other new NMPs take up the challenge.





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