Like a bird with clipped wings, dance instructor Zarina who already suffered from hereditary diabetes and kidney failure, lost her legs and along with them, her ability to dance. Devastated, she questioned the meaning of her existence. She did not even have money to pay for her much needed dialysis treatment.
On 26 July 2014, Tzu Chi volunteers visited Zarina’s rented house in Toa Payoh for the first time. Upon stepping in, the four bare walls greeted them. Zarina’s family of three people owned only a thin single-person mattress and a small electric fan. They had not even a light bulb installed on the ceiling.
Volunter Xie Zhu Lie described how Zarina’s face was overshadowed by worries. She told them how she had not received any form of help from charitable organizations and did not have any medical insurance. Her husband Mohan was not a Singapore citizen, and hence was at a loss on how to seek out public assistance.
A Tan Tock Seng Hospital social worker referred Zarina to Tzu Chi, hoping that she would get interim financial assistance for her dialysis treatment before the National Kidney Foundation (NKF) approved her application for financial assistance. Zarina disclosed that Tzu Chi was the first charitable organization that she had come into contact with, and the first to render her aid.
“Seeing (her problems of) sickness and poverty, we were heavy at heart but we knew that their basic living needs were top priority.” Xie said that initially they had thought that it was a simple case of evaluating if she qualified for the dialysis subsidy, but soon discovered that they had to do more than that. Their first thought was to not only aid her in her medical expenses, but also to provide her with some basic household items; a refrigerator especially, was urgently needed to store the Epoetin-beta medication which Zarina needed to inject herself with daily.
Accompanying volunteer Hong De Qian described how in the volunteers’ hearts, the teaching of Master Cheng Yen of “timeliness and priority” had resounded. After their evaluation, volunteers delivered a refrigerator, beds, chairs, cooking appliances etc. to Zarina’s house so that the couple and her mother could live more comfortably. The delivery of words of concern and care alongside medical aid, marked the start of the friendship between Zarina and Tzu Chi volunteers.
A Life Shattered
“If I could choose, I would rather leave this world together with my parents when I was 12 years old.” With her passion for dancing, the blow of losing her legs was too much to bear and Zarina cried her eyes out. In actuality, she had not only lost her legs, she was also suffering from kidney failure.
When she was just ten, her father who loved her dearly suffered a stroke and was admitted to the hospital. Every day after school, Zarina would put her bag down, grab her homework and rush to the hospital to care for him. Being poor she did not have extra money to take the bus and relied solely on her two healthy legs to hurry to her father’s side. Once at his bedside, her heart would feel at ease.
A year later, after the death of her father, she was diagnosed with hereditary diabetes which she then kept under control with medication. In 2008, 26 year old Zarina’s left leg was amputated below the knee. Subsequently in 2014, her right leg had to be amputated at the thigh after it became infected. At the same time, her kidney failed and she had to undergo long-term dialysis treatment.
“My mind was a total blank, I only knew I kept shouting at the doctors and nurses, I was crying continuously. I couldn’t fathom how things could turn out like this and why it had to be me. I had already lost a leg, I couldn’t understand why I had to lose my other leg as well, and even my kidneys had to be taken away? I could not accept reality.” Like shards of shattered glass, her heart would never feel whole again.
Finding Love Again
No matter how many years have passed, Zarina would still feel the pain deep inside her heart. Her only consolation is her loving husband who had stayed by her side, caring for her all this while.
“I love and care for her like I would my infant child.” Mohan, married to Zarina for years, also looks after his mother-in-law who has one leg amputated. Every day, Mohan changes their diapers and cooks for them.
During their monthly visits, Tzu Chi volunteers heard of how Mohan would accompany his wife to the dialysis treatment centre, and even how they would enjoy a cup of coffee and some biscuits after the treatment.
Thrice a week, Mohan accompanies Zarina for her dialysis treatment. He carries her in and out of her wheelchair as they take the MRT and bus. Just 15 minutes by car, the journey stretches to become a 1.5 hour ride by public transport. After the dialysis treatment, they repeat the same 1.5 hour journey home whereupon Mohan will cook, gets his wife to rest, and settles the needs of his mother-in-law. He then hurries to start his work day just as daylight begins to fade. Catching forty winks has become a luxury to Mohan, as his rest time is the mere three hours he gets after Zarina’s dialysis treatment.
When asked if he gets tired of this life and if he has any regrets, Mohan replied, “No regrets, just as described in our marriage vows, be it in sickness or health, she is my responsibility.” Mohan’s resoluteness and love is incredibly moving; it seemed as if hardship had cemented them even closer together.
In November 2014, Zarina received transport subsidies from the NKF and a taxi would bring her back and forth from the dialysis treatment centre. This saved her a lot of time. In addition, the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC) recommended Zalina to receive medical home visits by doctors and nurses after surgery. Subsequently, the Home Nursing Foundation’s nurses would visit her two to three times weekly to clean her wound. September 2014 saw Zarina receiving monthly aid for her housing rental, utilities bill and miscellaneous living expenses from the Social Service Office (SSO). Now that she has finally received the help she needs in various areas, Zalina could rest a lot easier.
A Grateful Heart and a Steadfast Friendship
Over the period of five months during which volunteers would make monthly visits to Zarina’s house, a friendship between the two parties gradually blossomed and she began to look forward eagerly to their arrival. Though she has now received the aid she needs and Tzu Chi has concluded her case file, the friendship continues on. Volunteers often telephone Mohan to enquire about their well-being and chat.
On Zarina and Mohan’s seventh wedding anniversary which fell on 30 October 2014, she insisted on inviting volunteers over to her house. Zhu said, “Tzu Chi volunteers help others without expecting any repayment. Though we tried to decline, we eventually agreed when we saw how sincerely she had invited us with tears in her eyes. Mohan personally prepared the food and though it was a simple meal, their gesture of friendship touched us deeply.”
Zhu further elaborated that volunteers used to worry over how Mohan needed to take care of his wife and thus could not concentrate on finding work. However seeing that he has now found a stable job and is in the process of applying for a work permit for the long-term, they were comforted by the thought that he could now stay on in Singapore to look after Zarina.
When asked if she would let her story be told and even show her disability to others, Zarina responded with: “My bodily disability is an unchangeable fact but I have now let go of my pain and can face it bravely. I want to let everyone know that though I lack two legs, I owe my confidence and the life ahead of me to my mother and my husband, both of whom love me deeply. In comparison to others, I am already very blessed.”
Zarina has indeed walked out of her fragility— though like a bird with clipped wings, in the eyes of those who saw the steadfast support of her husband, it was a dance of two partners in a lifetime of love.