Posted on 29.11.2022 | 12:00 AM
Enjoying Each Day with You
by Tan Pei Zhen
At 9 a.m. in the morning, Helen returns from a stroll in the Rail Corridor Park, carrying a bag on her back. “My friend asked me where I was going with this huge backpack,” Helen chuckled, “I told her I’m going for my ‘part-time’.” Behind that radiant demeanour, one cannot tell that Mdm Helen Fu, 73, is a kidney dialysis patient.
Helen was diagnosed with kidney failure when she was in her 40s. She experienced frequent kidney stones and urinary tract infections (UTIs), with symptoms such as haematuria (blood in urine) and fever. After a thorough health assessment, Helen found out she was left with 30% kidney function. Her youngest daughter was only about 3 years old then.
However, Helen remained optimistic as always. After her youngest daughter started primary school, Helen kept herself occupied with folk dance, line dance and Karaoke classes at the Community Club (CC) with her friends. Helen was also the champion of Singapore’s 1st National Rummy-O Competition organised by the Health Promotion Board in 2012, which she initially “joined for fun”!
Things took a turn for the worse 3 years ago, when Helen’s kidneys began to deteriorate. She was told by her doctor that she needed to undergo dialysis. Her daughter, who lives in the United States, flew back to Singapore to accompany her to a specialist.
Her family also took the opportunity to take a family portrait. Speaking of it, Helen whipped out her phone to show me the blissful photo. Her eyes sparkled gently as she gazed at it. “From two person, become so many people,” she chortled.
As advised by her doctor then, Helen was transitioning into a new phase of life with dialysis, a period she describes as “jialat”*. She was torn between Peritoneal Dialysis (PD) and Haemodialysis (HD). After weighing the pros and cons of each, she finally decided on haemodialysis, as she was afraid that her husband might not be able to rest well at night worried about her overnight PD procedure.
Helen first began dialysing at a private dialysis centre in Clementi, a 10-minute taxi ride from her house. She started dialysing with a neck catheter and took some time to adapt to a new routine. It did not help that she would suddenly bleed from her catheter after getting home from dialysis. Helen counts herself lucky though, as her husband was always by her side for every A&E visit.
In 2019, Helen transferred to Kidney Dialysis Foundation to dialyse at the Ghim Moh Dialysis Centre which is a mere 15-minute walk from her house. Now that Helen dialyses within walking distance of her home, her husband often walks home with her after the dialysis session.
Constant presence of her family is a huge pillar of support for Helen. When speaking with her, it is not hard to feel the overflowing support that she receives from them. The couple shares the daily workload of house chores, and their children visit them almost every weekend. Helen also makes it a point to cook for her husband and herself every day, though when she was down with COVID-19 recently, her husband took over the cooking. Her children also check in on her frequently through visits or phone calls.
Helen admitted that it was hard to accept it when her daughter first moved to the States. Nonetheless, the family also has the most fun when her daughter returns to Singapore during the summer holidays from June to August. Some of their favourite activities include cycling at East Coast Park and making a daytrip to Pulau Ubin. When her daughter is away, they also call each other and exchange photos frequently.
It gives Helen strength that her children are independent and capable. She is also blessed with lively and thoughtful grandchildren. Her grandson recently gifted her a handmade origami rat (her Chinese Zodiac animal) for her birthday, which she keeps dearly.
Having to go through dialysis 3 days a week might be bothersome, but it does not pull Helen down. In fact, Helen leads a very fulfilling life around her dialysis schedule. Helen and her friends self-organise dance sessions every Friday morning, where they would learn from line dance choreographies from YouTube videos.
Five days a week, she also practices the Luk Tung Kuen in the park, a form of exercise which comprises 36 movements, aimed at promoting blood circulation and building strength. She occasionally also joins her neighbours for mahjong sessions.
Living by a motto to “enjoy day by day”, Helen prioritises controlling her diet and taking her medications regularly to keep her health in check. She hopes that by staying healthy, she will not trouble her children and will be able to create more memories together as one happy family.
*Singlish term meaning “to sap one’s energy”