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Charity, Medicine

TIMA Friends Work to Bring Smile Back to Poor Elder

Mr Toh, an elderly gentleman who has been handicapped by his amputated state for the past 10 years, was living in a suboptimal environment. Unlike most of us, he could not afford to have meals in a decent manner. All this changed on a fateful day when a group of Tzu Chi International Medical Association (TIMA) volunteers decided to step in to brighten his day.

(Photo by Ng Jia Han)

Mr Toh, aged 68, was leading a happy life until an unfortunate automobile accident cost him his left leg more than a decade ago. He has no family and since then led a lonely life, depending on his wheelchair for ambulation while earning a meagre income selling tissue paper. As his body withers with age, he finds it difficult to maneuver his wheelchair into his flat, hence he had no choice but to crawl around within his small abode.

For the past 10 years, Mr Toh had been eating meals with his body sprawled across the dirt filled floor. “I haven’t had the opportunity to eat breakfast in the comfort of a chair, in front of a table, for years,” the elder said, eyes filled with tears as he ate the breakfast laid across a table by the TIMA members outside the common corridor.

It was 12 August 2012, a sunny Sunday.

The TIMA group, comprising of 22 doctors and nurses, have teamed up to clean his flat that morning and so the elder was carried out to the corridor while the cleaning process went underway.

Using LOVE as the KEY

Besides being wheelchair-bound, Mr Toh also has underlying diabetes mellitus, hypertension and malnutrition. The TIMA medical team has been visiting him fortnightly since early February, initially treating him for his conditions but later realized that he needed more than just medical help.

His living environment is beyond imagination. Dirt filled floor with cigarette butts, empty Styrofoam food boxes and dirty utensils strewn all over the place; cockroaches, bugs and insects running around and cobwebs along all four corners of the wall. As Mr Toh is unable to clean his flat, his kitchen has piles of unwashed bowls and plates stacked up as high as the ceiling, and his toilet is reeking of foul smell. One word describes it all: clutter.

Out of compassion, the TIMA volunteers offered to clean up Mr Toh’s flat. The request was however turned down by the elder again and again.

The group of volunteers did not waver. Using their utmost sincerity, they continued persuading Mr Toh. Finally, the elder relented and agreed to the house cleaning.

Early in the morning of 12 August, 22 energetic medical personnel entered Mr Toh’s flat, carrying equipments such as broomsticks, mops, cleaning towels, paints and so on. Dr Lim Chiao Yuen, who is the coordinator together with Dr Edwin Lim, delegated different duties to each and every one of the group to ensure that the cleaning process go smoothly.

Everybody worked together as a team, some cleaning the dirt filled kitchen, toilet and living room; some painting the walls to make it look brighter; while others rummaged through piles and piles of cans, papers, documents and food produce. Expired canned food, rice, and medications were segregated and later thrown away, while precious documents, books, and other edible foodstuff were compiled and arranged accordingly.

Most of the medical personnel had never painted walls before, and although this is their first time doing wall painting, it was completed within a mere two hours with the guidance of Tzu Chi volunteer Goh Boon Leong.

By afternoon, everyone was sweating profusely but nobody complained of tiredness or body ache. Although there was still a lot to be done, all of the volunteers were grinning and smiling from ear to ear seeing Mr Toh’s place getting cleaner with every passing hour. Suddenly, Brother Tang Boon Chong, a medical volunteer cadre of the South Zone, started singing a Tzu Chi tune that goes, “I know there is love in this world that is worth waiting for, Shielded hearts will open up eventually, Wounds will heal when we forgive, Doubts will vanish when we care and Trust is the most moving love…” This beautiful song definitely brought smiles and laughter to everyone’s face.

Mr Toh has developed multiple dermatological diseases, having lived in such suboptimal conditions for years. Showering, which most people take for granted, has become a big chore for him.

Nurses Anne Ching and Ang Shu Hui happily took up the role of bathing the elder. Sister Shu Hui, who is a paediatric nurse with KK Hospital, also volunteered to trim his nails. It was also the first experience for NUHS-AIC care coordinator Ooi Yinn Shan to help trim Mr Toh’s hair and beard.

After showering, Mr Toh was dressed up nicely in new clothes. To keep him entertained, Sister Anne sung a classic Chinese song ‘A Spray of Plum Blossoms’ for him. Immediately after her overnight work, the Tan Tock Seng Hospital Surgical ICU nurse sacrificed her sleeping time and rushed to help out with the house cleaning, bringing laughter to Mr Toh.

Sister Anne confessed that her passion for nursing had slowly faded over the years, until she joined TIMA, which allowed her to rediscover her initial passion. “With Tzu Chi I have learnt how to help different people in different ways, and also to be grateful, respectful and loving,” she said.

This was the first time the medical wing of Tzu Chi Singapore took up the coordinating role of a house cleaning. Dr Lim Chiao Yuen, Internal Medicine doctor with NUHS and the coordinator for the house cleaning, was grateful that all TIMA members were able to overcome their fear of uncleanliness, putting all effort into helping to create a better living environment for Mr Toh. He also hoped that through this activity the TIMA members would be reminded of why they entered the medical profession in the first place.

After six hours of cleaning, the flat became totally different. There were also the addition of a new desk, a chair and a mattress, all of which were assembled from scratch by the doctors! Joyfully, the members sang the signature Tzu Chi Welcome Song to “welcome” Mr Toh back into his “new” flat. The elder was so happy that he kept waving at all the TIMA volunteers while he was being wheeled into his flat. Having slept on the floor for a long 10 years, Mr Toh can finally sleep comfortably on his new mattress now.

“Grandpa, I have seen you many times before but today you look the most handsome! You know why? Because you are smiling!” praised Sister Anne. “You must smile more often, OK? Especially when we come visit you,” she said to Mr Toh, who responded with a bashful smile.

“I remember you refused to let us clean your place every time we came. Why have you allowed us to do so this time? Is it because you have regarded us as your friends?” Sister Anne probed further.

The shy Mr Toh remained silent but nodded his head, giving a faint smile.

The day ended with all the TIMA volunteers singing the famous song ‘Friends’ by Taiwanese
singer Emil Chau for Mr Toh, and hoping that they can continue to help maintain a clean environment for the lonely elder.

Though a man of few words, Mr Toh was very moved that he showed his emotions to the TIMA members when he could finally have his breakfast sitting up straight. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

Cleaning work in progress (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

The TIMA members experiencing their first ever painting job. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

Living in an unhygienic environment and being unable to bathe himself has caused skin problems on Mr Toh’s body. The TIMA nurses are seen here giving him a refreshing shower. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

Ooi Yinn Shan, who is a care coordinator at National University Hospital, had never shaved or gave haircut to others. She gingerly goes through the process and is happy that she offered to do it for Mr  Toh. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

TIMA nurse Ang Shu Hui (left) looks on with a smile as fellow member Anne Ching sings a Chinese classic to cheer Mr Toh up. The elderly thinks it is very delightful and was smiling away throughout it. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

Happy to see the spick and span environment of his flat, Mr Toh waved along the TIMA member’s singing and cheering as he was wheeled into the flat. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

“Thumbs up for our accomplished mission!” The TIMA members pose with Mr Toh after the cleaning. (Photo by Ng Jia Han)

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