79-year-old Chua Lye Hock, who suffers from terminal lung failure, is a patient of the Tzu Chi Home Palliative Care team. Palliative care nurse, Nancy Tan, visits him regularly every week to check on his condition. She takes his temperature, checks his breathing and oxygen supply, etc. during each visit.
Chua lives in a 3-room HDB flat. His living room has become his bedroom, where he rests on a single mattress, with an oxygen cannula attached to his nose. Whenever Nancy visits him, she will teach him to how to breathe through the tube.
After teaching Chua the right way to inhale and exhale through the tube, Nancy was greeted with a tantrum from him.
“I don’t have the strength to do this!” he said irritatingly.
“I know, but you still have to blow the air out,” replied Nancy patiently.
Chua began receiving Tzu Chi’s Palliative Care service in January 2017. Nancy remembered seeing Chua lying on a reclining chair in her first visit, and she suggested to him that he should use a proper homecare nursing bed.
Nancy shared, “He consented to the idea at first. But when the nursing bed was delivered to his doorstep, he called me up and scolded me in foul language. He asked me angrily why I sent the bed to his place and demanded that the bed be removed within half an hour.”
Nancy was helpless about how Chua had contradicted himself and lashed out at her unreasonably, but she still requested the delivery men to remove the nursing bed. The next day when she visited him, he actually apologised to her for how he treated her the day before. Nancy said to him with a gentle smile: “It doesn't matter. It is normal for people suffering from illnesses to lose their temper.”
After this incident, Chua’s attitude gradually softened.
Fulfilling Chua’s final wish
Nancy continued to visit Chua regularly every week to give him nursing care. In addition to that, whenever Chua complained to Nancy about him having toothache, Nancy would make an appointment with TIMA* dentist Dr. Tang to get his tooth treated. Dr. Tang and his dental team have visited Chua a number of times to do extractions and even repaired his dentures.
*TIMA —Tzu Chi International Medical Association
On 8th August 2018, Dr. Tang and his dental assistant, Jennifer, went to Chua’s home again to provide dental treatment for him.
“You feel uncomfortable with your two front teeth? Can you show us which two?” asked Dr. Tang while examining Chua’s oral cavity.
Due to Chua’s reluctance to put on his dentures, the four front teeth in his lower gum often caused him pain when they rubbed against his upper gum. Therefore, he requested Dr. Tang to remove one sharp tooth in his lower gum. However, Dr. Tang opined that even if the tooth was removed, the remaining three would still cause him pain. Therefore, the best solution was fixing his dentures, because wearing them would prevent his teeth from rubbing against his gums.
After a careful examination, Dr. Tang discovered that Chua’s teeth were still good, so it would really be a pity to extract any one of them. Thus he decided to repair Chua’s dentures and patiently taught Mrs. Chua how to help him put on the dentures.
Besides providing nursing care, Nancy also lends Chua a listening ear each time she visits him. She even bought some durians for him after learning that he loves the fruit.
One day, during one of the home care visits, Chua unintentionally revealed to Nancy his heartfelt wish: he hoped to have his Golden Wedding Anniversary photos taken with his wife in advance as he was worried that he might not live long enough to celebrate his 50th wedding anniversary two years later. In order to fulfill Chua’s wish, the nursing team worked together with Tzu Chi’s media staff to set up a temporary photo studio at Chua’s home for the photoshoot.
As time passed by, Nancy and Chua developed a friendship as close as family. Although they have merely been in each other’s life for more than a year, Nancy’s empathy and patience have softened Chua’s temperamental character, and he is very grateful for her caring efforts.
“No matter how I scolded her(Nancy), she wouldn’t get angry. Whenever I speak about her, I would start to cry, because she has done so much for me!” he said emotionally.
After finishing these words, he started sobbing uncontrollably. Nancy quickly held his hand, gave him an encouraging pat on his back and said, “No, please don’t say that.”
After Chua wiped off his tears, he continued, “She (Nancy) never gets angry even when I do not take my medicine. She never gets angry with me!”
“It is my duty to help you relax and let you be happy, so Mr. Chua, please don’t say that. I want to thank you for giving me this opportunity to look after you. So please don’t feel bad about it, it’s okay,” said Nancy as she tried to comfort Chua.
After caring for Chua for over a year, Nancy is like a family member to him now. As a palliative care nurse with a sense of mission, Nancy said, “I hope to accompany Mr. Chua until the final moment of his life.”