Posted on 01.6.2023 | 12:00 AM
I Am Strong
by Tan Pei Zhen
A bright “Good Afternoon!” echoed across the Kidney Dialysis Foundation (KDF) Ghim Moh dialysis centre. The bubbly greeting came from Mdm Ernie, as she made her way to the last row at the back of the centre, waving to every single patient and nurse in the room.
Mdm Ernie was diagnosed with kidney failure in 2015, after waking up one day to find that she was unable to drag her body out of bed. Her daughter, then a nursing student, figured it was due to water retention. She was rushed to the hospital by ambulance and was administered immediate dialysis. Facing the diagnosis, Mdm Ernie was shocked beyond words.
She was bedridden in the hospital on breathing support for the next two months. Overwhelmed with hopelessness, she cried every day asking, “Why me?” Even after her discharge, she needed a wheelchair to get around.
Fortunately, Mdm Ernie had a doting husband to accompany her throughout the mundane 4-hour sessions when she was dialysing with a private provider in Singapore General Hospital (SGH). With the support of her family, Mdm Ernie soon got up on her feet, literally. She picked herself up and practised walking again, finally regaining mobility six months later. This was not the first time Mdm Ernie had to relearn walking, as she had gone through three toe amputations previously. “There are people out there facing tougher things, yet staying strong,” she said, explaining why she frequently challenges herself.
Almost 2 years later, Mdm Ernie welcomed news from her Medical Social Worker that she was admitted into KDF with full subsidy. Her husband was equally elated and planned to accompany her to her first dialysis session at KDF the coming Monday.
However, the family’s joy was short-lived. Mdm Ernie’s husband passed away suddenly two days later. That day, she lost her pillar of support. No one would accompany her to all her dialysis sessions and surprise her with little treats from the neighbouring convenience store anymore. Mdm Ernie sunk into a deep dark hole of depression, similar to the bottomless void in her heart since the loss of her dear partner.
Fortunately, her husband’s words resonated in her mind, “You are strong”. The rational side of Mdm Ernie took over, and she realised that staying depressed would only aggravate her physical health condition, which would then burden her two daughters further.
Since then, Mdm Ernie kept her chin up and attended dialysis on her own. With transport assistance from KDF that allows Mdm Ernie to cab to and fro for her dialysis sessions thrice a week, her daughters were also more at ease. She obeys her medication and diet requirements, although she admits that there are cheat days to treat herself to some ice cream.
“Dialysis is tiring, but it makes me happy that I have friends. I am the most cheerful and loudest patient,” Mdm Ernie proudly declares. The once-workaholic also insists on doing housework as she cannot stand being idle, even though her second daughter, whom she lives with, refrains her from doing the chores.
Mdm Ernie believes that one’s mindset is as important as medicine is to the body. During her toughest times, her late husband would always tell her, “You are strong”. Now, whenever Mdm Ernie is faced with a challenge, she would tell herself “I’m strong”.
In retrospect, Mdm Ernie realised that her condition was not without signs. Her doctor reminded her to drink more water as her kidneys were dry, and her urine volume was decreased. She was also aware of the heightened risk of kidney failure due to her existing diabetes condition. Hence, Mdm Ernie urges people around her to listen to doctors’ advice.
As Hari Raya draws close, Mdm Ernie shares that it is never the same without her husband. Nonetheless, she still welcomes guests and celebrates the occasion with her young grandchildren – her new motivations in life. “I want to see them grow up. I want to see them become successful people.”
Lastly, to her late husband, Mdm Ernie would like to say, “Life is hard without you. But because of you, I learnt to lead a hard life, and to be a better and stronger person. And because of you, I learnt to be strong.