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Tuesday, 29 August 2017 00:00

Light at the End of the Tunnel

Written by  Julie Yen Yu Chu, Malacca / Translated by Lim Wen Xin

On April 27, Ong Susan, a nurse, and medical volunteers visited Yaw Karen at her home in the company of volunteers. They assessed Karen’s physical reactions and sitting posture. [Photograph by Chiew Lay Choo]

After lying for over a month in the ICU, her condition did not improve. Doctors had no solution to her medical problem and requested her family to bring her home, expressing that her recovery depended on God.


The hopeless mum watched her daughter, who was supposed to be blossoming, lying crippled on the bed. She could neither talk nor move, and she was connected to a nasogastric tube and urinary tract. Did she really have to spend her entire life like this?

The short-haired Malacca girl, Yaw Karen, who was seated on a chair holding onto a doll, cheerfully greeted the volunteers when she saw them arriving. It was hard to imagine that in February 2017, Karen was involved in a major accident and had been warded in the ICU for over a month. She lost the ability to move and to communicate, and her expressionless eyes could not recognize anyone or anything; the doctors were helpless. Now, standing right in front of them was a lively, cheerful and smiling Karen, once declared as “incurable”, joking around with the volunteers.

Her mother, Melisa Esso Lottu, was filled with sentiments, sorrow, joy and gratefulness when she thought about the past. She tearfully smiled, “I was burning the candles at both ends, constantly travelling between the hospital and home. The doctors’ words left me helpless. I had to take on all the pressure on my own but did not know how till I met Tzu Chi.”

In the beginning, Melisa could only watch her daughter lying in bed everyday helplessly, feeding her and cleaning the excrement timely. She was doubtful, “Does it have to be like this? Is there no other way?” Days passed but Karen’s condition remained unchanged. The mother, who wanted to do something for her daughter, consulted the doctors every now and then, but the response was always, “This type of patient needs to be in bed for at least two to three years, and recovery and rehabilitation depend on God’s will.”

Being repeatedly disappointed, and without professional medical knowledge, guidance or support, a determined Melisa did not act rashly. More than a month later, and with her condition unchanged, the doctors had no choice but to request Melisa to take her daughter home to recuperate. With her husband working faraway in Johor Bahru, Melisa had to resign and single-handedly take on the responsibility to care for her daughter. The adult nutritional milk powder that Karen drank was expensive, so she had asked the doctor if she could replace the milk powder with paste food to minimize expenses and to reduce Karen’s discomfort. If Karen unconsciously remove the nasogastric tube while feeding, they would have to return to the clinic to put in a new tube. As they were living in a remote area where even the nearest clinic was still a distance away, and she had to transport Karen on her own, the simple act of leaving home was a challenge to the mother and daughter.

In mid-April, through the assistance of kind people, Melisa went to Tzu Chi to borrow a sickbed. Through their interactions, Tzu Chi staff discovered the family’s predicament. The following day, volunteers visited their place and witnessed the situation. They then decided to subsidize Karen’s milk powder every month to resolve the urgent issue.

Provide sincere care, treat patients as family

“It pains me to see such a young girl in bed. We, volunteers, aren’t able to help medically, but we could listen, provide comfort and offer support to the family members.” Volunteer Tan An Nee felt the mum’s emotional pain when she first met her, but she and other community volunteers did not have the professional medical background to help. So, they requested medical assistance from Tzu Chi Branch Office. After assessing Karen’s medical report, the staff and TIMA’s medical professionals thought that the chance for recovery was slim as she had brain injuries. However, as TIMA doctors upheld the aim to “treat illnesses, cure patients and heal their minds”, they decided to pay the family a visit.

On April 27, nurse Ong Susan and medical volunteers, accompanied by community volunteers, went to Karen’s home. The paralysed girl on the bed had two mindless eyes and could only make some “ah… ah…” sounds.

Susan picked her up from the bed, assessed her sitting position and examined her physical reaction, thinking, “If there is a little energy at her neck, there is hope.” At the time of moving the girl, Susan educated the family by teaching them on how to correctly move the patient and how to use tools to reduce the pressure of movements to ensure the safety of both sides.

When Karen was being shifted, Susan and volunteers felt that she had tried to exercise great force with her hands because she was terrified, and this was joyful news. Medical volunteer, Chiew Lay Fong encouragingly said, “We could feel the great strength, and this has boosted our confidence.” Despite Karen’s feeble body slipping off the chair and that she could not sit on it steadily, Susan requested Melisa to have her girl sit on the chair once a day so she could practise to support her body on her own.

Supportive volunteers

In addition, as Karen’s legs had stiffened due to her being in bed for over an extended period of time, Susan taught Melisa to relax her daughter’s muscles and tendons through massage. Upon checking the girl’s mouth, Susan realized that Karen’s muscles for swallowing had not shrunk as yet. Hence, she immediately got the mum to prepare a glass of milk, soak a piece of bread in the milk and feed Karen with a spoon; Karen’s reaction was encouraging.

Following that, Susan instructed Melisa to blend food into a paste and gradually train her daughter to feel the movements of munching food in her mouth. Melisa attentively recorded the medical personnel’s teachings. Lay Fong commented, “It has been three months since the accident. No physiotherapy was carried out, and there was no guidance from the hospital. Also, the mum lacks medical knowledge, and had missed the best period for treatment.”

Through professional teachings, Melisa’s confidence grew. She prepared food paste daily for Karen and massaged the latter diligently. Volunteers progressively reported the good news that Karen’s body was responding positively, and the nasogastric tube was removed. She had also stopped depending on urinary tract and diapers. Melisa saw light at the end of the tunnel.

On July 2, volunteers accompanied Susan; TIMA doctor, Ng Guat Kiat; and other medical volunteers to visit Karen. The girl was seated contentedly in the living room, eagerly reporting her latest rehabilitation progress. Even though she stumbled and staggered in an effort to walk towards the volunteers to welcome them, everyone rooted for her.

Melisa was so excited that her eyes turned teary. Filled with mixed feelings, she was grateful that her daughter met people of great help and ignited hope in her desperate life again. She shared, “She (Karen) actively does rehabilitation and helps with laundry folding. She was an athlete, so she looks forward to returning to school.” As soon as she heard that, Karen grinned, “I have won medals in badminton and running. I would like to return to sports. I would like to return to school soon, enter university and be a teacher in the future!”

Medical personnel and volunteers felt gratified and encouraged having witnessed Karen’s progress and Melisa’s happy disposition. Dr Ng expressed pleasingly that the girl was optimistic and cheerful, and that she could communicate fluently. With everyone at home smiling, the girl was deeply affected by their energy and happiness.

Susan further explained and demonstrated the correct postures for walking, standing and sitting, and how to choose a suitable chair, and so on. She also taught the girl how to protect herself if she fell, and the correct position to crawl up again. She also demonstrated the way to get on and off the bed using one’s own strength to train Karen’s ability to care for herself in order to reduce her family’s burden. Karen and her mum could follow Susan’s meticulous step-by-step teachings easily. In the process, volunteers could strongly feel the girl’s desire to recover promptly and the mother’s dedication to learn, proving the power of actions.

During one of the visits, when volunteers realized that Karen had put on weight, Melisa commented that her daughter’s appetite had increased and was worried about her condition. Susan took the opportunity to explain it to the mother and daughter that as long as Karen received enough nutrition from her daily meal intakes, there was no need to consume more nutritional milk powder. An Nee encouraged her to take more vegetables for its vitamins and minerals, while the volunteers persuaded her to change her eating habits and to drink more warm water and avoid cold drinks.

Karen touched her hair and expressed that her current hairstyle was messy and that her friends would laugh at her. She also pointed to her recently-rounder body shape and stressed that she wanted to stay slim and be pretty when she left the house. Everyone present chuckled at the 17-year-old’s wishes. An Nee continued, “When I first saw how tough it was for your mum to take care of you with such long hair that had lice, I came and shaved them all off. Your hair will grow again, don’t worry!”

The interaction was warm, but who would have known that Karen had sustained brain injuries and lost all memories related to the accident, and her days in the hospital. These strangers in front of her brought a sense of familiar intimacy. Her mum spoke a little about her past when she was recovering, and volunteers shared the stories behind the pictures taken when they visited her; and, through these stories, Karen re-learnt about the volunteers. An Nee said, “It is good to forget all the unhappiness to welcome a better future.”

Karen explained that she could only remember the moment right before the accident and her condition after she gradually gained consciousness in June, but the memory in between these two events was completely erased, and that her current memory was deteriorating as she would often forget things.

Melisa revealed to the volunteers that she had requested the hospital to arrange for her daughter to do rehabilitation, but was only approved to do it once a month, for 30 minutes. In order to fulfil Karen’s dream of returning to school as soon as possible, volunteers eagerly arranged and offered financial help so she could undergo rehabilitation treatment in a private rehab centre.

On August 22, volunteers accompanied Karen to the rehab centre. Upon evaluation, she would begin her treatment once a week, including physiotherapy to strengthen limb stretching, and functional treatment to improve her deteriorating memory. Melisa would carefully film the rehab process with her phone so that she could assist her daughter with rehab practices at home as per the recording. That day, Melisa cheerfully told the volunteers that, in a rehab session, the attending doctor was very surprised at her daughter’s great progress.

From someone who was nearly paralysed and unable to express herself, she had become a girl, who could sit on a chair and chit chat with everyone. Karen seemed so different, and this was absolutely an encouraging force for the medical personnel and volunteers. Susan shared, “I feel very pleased and thrilled that I could do something with my profession, but this comes from the volunteers, medical professionals and family’s teamwork.”

Dr Ng praised, “Susan has attentively observed and felt, as well as, guided the family members and gave them confidence, thereby indirectly changing a family and the life of a girl.” She hopes that through this case, she could persuade more medical professionals to join home visits, be it to provide psychological comfort, spiritual support or professional advice. As long as the family members and the patients held hope of recovery, there would be a chance for better living.

 

 

Before the accident, Yaw Karen was very conscious of her appearance. [Photograph by Yaw Karen]   On July 2, volunteers again accompanied Ong Susan (right); TIMA doctor, Ng Guat Kiat; and medical volunteers when they visited Yaw Karen. Everyone was happy to see her rehab progress. [Photograph by Chiew Lay Choo]

Before the accident, Yaw Karen was very conscious of her appearance. [Photograph by Yaw Karen]
 
On July 2, volunteers again accompanied Ong Susan (right); TIMA doctor, Ng Guat Kiat; and medical volunteers when they visited Yaw Karen. Everyone was happy to see her rehab progress. [Photograph by Chiew Lay Choo]
 
Upon realizing that Yaw Karen’s swallowing muscles were still in good condition, Ong Susan requested the mother to prepare some milk, and fed Karen with bread soaked in the milk. Karen’s reaction proved encouraging. [Photograph by Chiew Lay Choo]   Yaw Karen would eagerly show the volunteers her rehab progress when they visited her. It was always a happy and gratifying moment for the volunteers to witness the efforts of Karen and her mother. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Upon realizing that Yaw Karen’s swallowing muscles were still in good condition, Ong Susan requested the mother to prepare some milk, and fed Karen with bread soaked in the milk. Karen’s reaction proved encouraging. [Photograph by Chiew Lay Choo]
 
 
Yaw Karen would eagerly show the volunteers her rehab progress when they visited her. It was always a happy and gratifying moment for the volunteers to witness the efforts of Karen and her mother. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
Thanks to the volunteers’ care and company, Melisa (2nd left) and her daughter found their source of support and see hope in life. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]   Upon assessing the family and patient’s need, Tzu Chi decided to provide financial aid to Yaw Karen to undergo rehab treatment at a private rehab centre. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]

Thanks to the volunteers’ care and company, Melisa (2nd left) and her daughter found their source of support and see hope in life. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]
 
 
Upon assessing the family and patient’s need, Tzu Chi decided to provide financial aid to Yaw Karen to undergo rehab treatment at a private rehab centre. [Photograph by Julie Yen Yu Chu]