By Andrea Thum Ee-Niang, Manager, Communications & External Relations
My journey as a caregiver started on a Sunday and ended on a Sunday, some eight months later. In between, I experienced some of the most painful days of my life, but I also learnt how the support from my family and friends during this period has allowed me to overcome the challenges which I once thought were insuperable.
I am the youngest in the family and the only daughter, so naturally, I was the closest to my dad. When tragedy struck and my dad was admitted into hospital following a severe heart attack, I spent a week sleeping along hospital corridors on my camping bed, unsure of what to expect and scared of what might happen. It took a while for it to sink in that by doing that, it was not going to help the situation. It took an even longer while to accept the fact that my father would not be the same as before. He would be confined to bed and unable to perform daily activities on his own.
As his condition improved slightly, we started to make arrangements to bring him home. The doctors recommended that we have two domestic workers care for him as everyone else in the family was working full-time and his condition then required two persons to care for him.
Together with the helpers, I attended a caregiver course. We learnt how to change adult diapers, bathe him, feed him (he had to be fed via feeding tube at times), transfer him from the bed to a wheelchair or commode and support him when he walked.
At home, we had to rearrange things to better support him. I inherited my parents’ king-sized bed, which had to make way for the hospital bed that was required in my parents’ room.
After my dad came home, I tried to work less long hours, go out less with friends and weekends, I would spend keeping my dad company. My mum would take him for his polyclinic appointments, while I would take time off to bring him for his various specialist appointments. Thankfully, we live very near the hospital and polyclinic, so together with the helpers we would push him there in his wheelchair. Our life settled into a new routine.
During this time, I had countless interactions with doctors, nurses, therapists, medical social workers and different healthcare institutions from acute hospitals to community hospitals and home care. At times, it was just overwhelming to navigate the different institutions. Each has different services and programmes that you can tap, but unless you know the system, it is hard to fully access them. Often the only time we got to know about them was through the suggestion of the healthcare team. For example, when my father was not eligible to undergo rehabilitation treatment at one of the community hospitals, we were at a loss and we considered knocking on the doors of other institutions offering step-down care for a place for my father. It was only through the recommendation of the care team that we got a place at another community hospital.
Dealing with the changing care teams, being asked the same questions, being ‘ghosted’ by medical social workers when they were unable to help or receiving calls from junior doctors with poor communication skills were at times frustrating and challenging.
When my father was admitted a second time due to an infection, his condition worsened and the medical team then suggested palliative care. We knew that my father wanted to spend his last moments at home and that’s where we brought him. My dad passed away two weeks after we brought him home on a Sunday morning surrounded by his family.
It was a painful goodbye but a merciful release for him and the family. The loss of my dad devastated me the most but I knew he would be in a better place. As time passed, we settled into a new routine without my father’s physical presence, but his spirit is very much still with us.
The whole experience changed my outlook on life - I made time every week to see my late grandmother, my brothers and I have grown much closer, I appreciate my mother more for providing for the family and for being that pillar of strength and I make a conscious effort to spend time with family and loved ones.