"She went for physiotherapy today, where she was asked by the physiotherapist to practise taking a ball from one basket and putting it into another. But she lifted the whole basket and poured the balls into the other basket instead!” exclaimed Tzu Chi volunteer, Kong Kim Yoke.
As Kong witnessed the continual, gradual improvement in Mdm. Chien’s (a brain surgery patient) condition, she felt really happy for her and her family.
In 2017, Mdm. Chieng, who worked in the food and beverage industry, started noticing that she could not walk steadily and her body would lean backwards uncontrollably. It did not seem alarming to her at first. However, when she saw no improvement in her symptoms after some time, she began to seek medical treatment.
The initial diagnosis by the doctor was stroke, but after going through a tomography scan, a tumour was discovered at the lower part of her brain. Her doctor recommended her to undergo an immediate operation and was quite confident about it, for it was a low-risk surgery with a 90% success rate. Mdm. Chieng was 48 years old at that time.
Unexpectedly, the operation did not go well and Mdm. Chieng had to go through seven brain surgeries within two weeks, which was a tormenting ordeal to her and her family. Her family expected her to be back to normal after undergoing the operations, but unfortunately, she ended up paralyzed and bedridden.
Mdm. Chieng not only lost the ability to manage her daily needs, but also her verbal communication skills. The only way she could communicate with her family was by blinking her eyes.
Her husband, Mr. Lee, was pained to see how his wife, who was originally a healthy and active woman, became thinner and weaker each day after being hospitalised for nearly three months. Her doctor appeared to be helpless and did not have a long-term treatment plan for her. But Mr. Lee refused to accept and believe that there was no longer any hope of recovery for his wife. Thus, he decided to seek other treatment methods.
With no relatives to help them in Singapore, the couple, who hailed from Malaysia, had to deal with the ordeal all by themselves. But Mr. Lee remained calm and rational in the face of the challenges, juggling between work and taking care of a paralyzed wife as well as a daughter who was then 11 years old. The family had no choice but to hire a domestic helper to take care of Mdm. Chieng and handle the household chores.
It is worth the effort
Fortunately, Tzu Chi Singapore was informed of the hardships faced by Lee and his wife by the couple’s relatives in Malaysia. Subsequently, Tzu Chi volunteers visited the family in 2018 and submitted Chien’s case to the Tzu Chi Free Clinic for assessment. After TIMA’s* TCM doctors, Chew Sio Peng and Ng Yian Yian, examined Mdm. Chieng in her home, both of them had a discussion with Mr. Lee, and they agreed to try treating her using Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM).
In August 2018, together with Tzu Chi volunteers, the TCM doctors began visiting Mdm. Chieng at her home once a week to provide treatment for her. The first thing they had to do was to loosen her tight muscles.
Mdm. Chieng was not able to close her mouth due to a dislocation of her lower jaw after she was discharged from the hospital. TIMA dentist Dr. Xu Zhi Liang made a house call and attempted to correct her jaw, but his effort was futile as her jaw was dislocated for too long. The other option was to let the TCM doctors do acupuncture on her to relax her face and chin, to allow her to close her mouth as much as possible.
*Tzu Chi International Medical Association
Tzu Chi volunteer Kong Kim Yoke, who is a professional nurse, makes time to care for Mdm. Chieng every week. She also offers care and encouragement to Mdm. Chieng’s family. During every visit, Kong cares for Mdm. Chieng just like her own family member, bringing cheer and comfort to the latter. With her loving efforts, she has established a close bond and rapport with the patient.
Kong can see Mdm. Chieng’s determination to recover, and her daughter is the motivation that keeps her going. Dr. Chew Sio Peng shared that Mdm. Chieng’s hands would tremble intensely every time they mentioned her daughter to her.
After being treated by TIMA’s TCM doctors for more than 9 months, the medical team began to see a beacon of hope in her recovery. The medical team was greatly motivated by Ms. Chieng’s willpower and perseverance, as well as her husband’s optimism and positive attitude.
By actively undergoing physical rehabilitation, coupled with regular TCM treatments, Mdm. Chieng gradually showed improvement. At the beginning, she did not show any response to the acupuncture treatments. But gradually, she started having some sensations during treatments, showing reflex responses in her limbs.
Mdm. Chieng has made significant progress in her condition over time. She was paralysed and bedridden, but is now able to sit and even walk about twenty steps with support. She has also stopped using adult diapers and can now use the toilet with the help of her domestic helper.
Mdm. Chieng also responses to the volunteers’ words of encouragement by clapping her hands or putting her palms together, and she is able to understand what the volunteers say to her.
Dr. Chew, who was present at each of the house calls, said that the treatment process was very challenging, and there were a lot of difficulties to overcome. However, seeing how Mdm. Chieng has made progress over time, he felt that all the difficulties and setbacks he and his team members had gone through were all worthwhile.
You must get well soon!
In May 2019, Tzu Chi Merit Organization held an outdoor Buddha Bathing Ceremony at Bukit Gombak Stadium. Mini Buddha Bathing ceremonies were also conducted during the month of May for physically challenged aid and care beneficiaries who were unable to step out of their homes.
In the evening of 24th May, a group of Tzu Chi volunteers brought a Lucite Buddha statue to Mdm. Chieng’s home to hold a mini Buddha Bathing Ceremony. It marked a special day for the family. A team of 10 volunteers, including Chew Sio Peng, Ng Yian Yian, Mao Han Bing and Niw Chui Pheng, set up a simple but beautiful altar with the Buddha statue, flowers and fragrant water at Mdm. Chieng’s home.
"Bow to the Buddha—may there be Dharma in your heart. Receive a flower— may you be blessed with kind and helpful friends. Receive your blessings—may there be peace and auspiciousness in the Lee family. We wish Mdm. Chieng a speedy recovery!” said a Tzu Chi volunteer.
With the help of her husband, Mdm. Chieng walked towards the Buddha Bathing altar and the family performed the Buddha Bathing ritual in a solemn atmosphere. Volunteer Loo Soon Huat was very surprised to see that Mdm. Chieng was able to raise her hands together with the rest to pray by her own, when everyone was singing the song “Three Earnest Prayers”.
The volunteers also brought some carnations for Mdm. Chieng’s 13-year-old daughter, Lee Xiao Mei, to present to her mother. With the encouragement of the volunteers and a classmate, Xiao Mei shyly gave her mother the carnations and served hot tea to her parents. She also gave her mother a big hug. The hearts of the family bonded with each other at that moment of silence.
Mr. Lee was very grateful to the TCM team and volunteers, who were willing to spend so much time to help them despite them not knowing each other beforehand. He was also grateful to them for “bringing the Buddha” to their home to give his family blessings.
As the volunteers spoke words of encouragement to Mdm. Chieng, Lee said to his wife: "You must get well soon; we are going for tea together!"