75-year-old Mr Tan lives alone in a 1-room HDB apartment along Boon Lay Drive. Stepping into the elderly man’s single room home, which is without any partition, one can, at a glance, see the few possessions that he owns. The flat is barely equipped, with only a TV set and an old-fashioned radio, and it used to be filled with clutter.
This was Mr Tan’s bed (pictured below); the bottom of the wooden bed frame was rotting away and shaking precariously at the time the photo was taken.
On 9th February, a bright and clear Friday, which was just a week before the Lunar New Year, Tzu Chi Home Care Services nurse Ooi Yinn Shan led a 3-member nursing team to Mr Tan’s home. The purpose of this particular visit was not only to provide home-based nursing care to Mr Tan, who suffers from diabetes and high blood pressure, but also to spruce up his home. When the team arrived at the elderly man’s home, they greeted him warmly, before patiently explaining to him the purpose of their visit.
Mr Tan is a case referred by the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) to the Tzu Chi Home Care Services team for free home-based nursing care. Ooi Yinn Shan has been visiting Mr Tan regularly for the past three years to provide nursing care, and both of them have established some measure of trust and rapport with each other through the years.
“We visit him once every 3 to 4 weeks, primarily to measure his blood sugar and blood pressure levels, as well as ensure that he takes his medications regularly,” shared Ooi.
Before commencing on their spring-cleaning, Ooi, together with fellow team member Nancy Tan, moved a sofa out of the flat to the common corridor. Then they invited Mr Tan to take a seat outside, so that he could wait in comfort while they cleaned up his home and gave it a fresh makeover for the Lunar New Year.
After safely settling the old man in his seat outside the flat, the nursing team members donned gloves and rolled up their trousers’ legs and immediately began the work of shifting items, sweeping and washing in the flat.
Clouds of long-settled dust flew up in the process of cleaning, triggering a series of sneezes from the nurses. Even though the air in the flat was thick with dust, it did not deter them at all. They persevered with the clean-up work, only stepping out occasionally for some fresh air. In addition, they also sorted out the clutter in the flat and sought Mr Tan’s permission on what he wanted to throw or keep.
Throughout the 4-hour clean-up, Mr Tan quietly sat in his sofa chair. Not once did he sneak a peek into his apartment, as he maintained an attitude of quiet trust in the hands of his friends from Tzu Chi. The nurses also took snippets of opportunities in between their cleaning activities, to step out into the corridor and engage in warm conversations with the elderly man.
There was a bicycle parked in front of the flat. It was Mr Tan’s primary means of transport, and it frequently “ferried” him to the Lakeside Family Medicine Clinic (managed by Tzu Chi), whenever he was looking for his endeared “Ms Ooi” (Yinn Shan).
“He always answered our questions in one or two words, and his house had fallen into a state of neglect,” said Ooi.
She further revealed that when she first contacted Mr Tan, he was not forthcoming in his communications with her.
“But now, he always looks for me in the clinic to help settle his personal matters, such as his utilities bills, problems with the flat, etc.,” she said.
Over the past three years, Ooi had broached the subject of helping to clean up Mr Tan’s house, but met his repeated rejections. He declined the offer time and again out of fear of letting others meddle with his personal belongings.
On 7th February this year, she took the opportunity of the approaching Lunar New Year and asked him again: “The Lunar New Year is coming and your house is still so messy. Would you allow us to help you? Since we are already friends, you can trust us in this!”
The elderly man gave some thought to her persuasive words and finally agreed. Patience has its virtues. Ooi felt that the “seeds of trust” she has been planting in his heart was finally bearing fruit.
A Mattress that Cannot be Disposed
Before the cleaning work was completed, meanwhile outside the flat, Tzu Chi volunteer Florence Chew was making an urgent phone call.
“Can you deliver the bed frame by today?”
“We have no choice, even though it is so last minute.”
“After we moved it away, the elderly man has no place to sleep.”
A challenge had caught the team by surprise. At first, Mr Tan only agreed to change his single mattress. However, the Home Care Services team saw that his wooden bed frame was already damaged beyond repair and tried to persuade him to change it as well.
Thus, Florence (pictured below) quickly called her friend, who owned a furniture shop, to deliver a bed frame to Mr Tan’s home. After some persuasion, the shop agreed to deliver a new bed frame by 6pm on that day, and Florence paid for the item out of her own pocket.
Besides a single mattress, Mr Tan also owns an old double mattress, which he insisted on keeping. Despite the cramped interior of his flat, the elderly man refused to discard this mattress as it contained many precious memories and stories from his life. The Home Care Services team abided by his wish and retained the double mattress in his flat.
After half a day of vigorous cleaning, the once cluttered and dirty apartment was restored to a clean and tidy state. The bedding and furniture were re-arranged, and the double mattress that once lay on the floor was now stored upright against the wall, and hidden behind the wardrobe.
As the sight of the spruced up apartment greeted the elderly man’s eyes, he smiled, looking at his new bed frame, mattress and new bed linen. Before the nursing team departed, he stood at the door of his one-room flat and softly uttered, “Thank you all.”