Posted on 19.4.2022 | 11:36 AM
To Be With: A Family’s Journey with Kidney Failure
By Beryl Leong
It was another weekend of weddings for Mdm Zawiah and her family. A cousin was getting married, and the intensive wedding preparations was always a family affair. As Mdm Zawiah, a homemaker and her only daughter Azzurra bustled around the kitchen, whipping up sumptuous servings of nasi minyak, sambal goreng pengantin and other courses, all ready to feed guests. Her husband, Mr Abu Bakar, together with the help of an uncle, oversaw transportation and tentage needs at the venue.
While Azzurra held a full-time job on weekdays, the family ran a small wedding services catering business together on weekends. Life was comfortable and this was just another cheerful Sunday. However, this pocket of happiness was cruelly snatched away from the close-knitted family in 2012, when Mdm Zawiah was admitted to hospital for a cat scratch wound on her toe that turned septic due to diabetes related complications.
A Difficult Decision
“My mother was also diagnosed with end-stage kidney failure shortly after admission. Long-term medication for her wound would damage her kidneys further. The family had to make a difficult decision – to treat her failing kidneys or save her whole leg.”, Azzurra recalled. Ultimately, the family chose to prioritise Mdm Zawiah’s mobility. She was hospitalised in SGH for three months, where she underwent forefoot amputation surgery and had a graft created for dialysis treatments.
“The pain from her amputation wound and graft was initially quite overwhelming for my mother. But she was neither sad nor angry about it. She understood that this was just one step to make her feel better, it was for her own good.”
As the family learnt to work around Mdm Zawiah’s limited mobility, they had to grapple with the loss of the family business and drastic shift in roles. “Mum and dad ran the catering business mainly for almost 30 years. Now that mum can no longer cook, we made the difficult decision to give it away. Within the same month, Dad retired and became her main caregiver. I became the sole breadwinner of the family.”, Azzurra shared.
Losing Mum’s Touch
It was heart-breaking for Azzurra to come to terms with mutiple hard truths so suddenly. “As an only child, I was spared from doing heavy chores by my parents. Mum did so many things on her own – sewing curtains and cooking meals for us and others. In the past, the house will be adorned with her curtains, now only the living room has curtains!”, she laughed.
Looking at Mdm Zawiah, Azzurra paused. As her voice overcame with emotion, she continued, “As a caregiver, I had to learn to adapt. As a daughter, I mourned the loss of familiarity. I had to accept that I will not get to taste her cooking again. It just hits different.”
As the sole breadwinner, Azzurra realised that this was a heavy responsibility. “Mum’s medical bills were expensive. Financial assistance 10 years ago was not as holistic as now. Her dialysis fees, transportation and medication had to be paid for in cash. Juggling the family’s finances on top of my mother’s needs was not easy. I struggled greatly and was at the brink of a breakdown.” After 15 years in the oil and gas industry, Azzurra took a leap of faith and left her job, prioritising Mdm Zawiah’s care and her mental health.
A Second Family
Due to the family’s financial situation, medical social workers from the hospital referred Mdm Zawiah to dialyse at the KDF dialysis centre at Bishan, where she received fully subsidised dialysis treatments. Azzurra recalled, “KDF’s subsidies really took a huge financial load off the family. It was a relief to see mum’s medical bills get smaller, thanks to KDF’s assistance.”
Understanding the family’s initial challenges, Petra, the Head of Clinical Services made special arrangements to help dress Mdm Zawiah’s wound at the dialysis centre before her session. Visibly touched, Azzurra shared,
“My mother was still receiving wound care from her amputation, and I was still working regular hours then. We were all at our wits end. KDF came at a pivotal point in our lives when we were struggling as new caregivers for mum.”
“When Petra came to us and said, just bring her wound dressing materials along during treatment, we will handle the rest for you. It took a huge load off our shoulders. Till today, we are very grateful for her going the extra mile for mum. KDF is our second family now!” Turning to Mdm Zawiah, Azzurra jested, “Who is your favourite person at KDF?” “Petra!”, Mdm Zawiah replied without hesitation, breaking into a toothy grin.
To manage her mother’s new dietary needs as a kidney patient, Azzurra and her father consulted a dietician to learn how to prepare kidney-friendly meals for Mdm Zawiah. “It was such a steep learning curve, I had to be creative with food choices that my mum enjoyed - think assam pedas with less salt, less sugar, no MSG, the list goes on.” Thankfully, Mdm Zawiah took to the diet without much difficulty, and controlled her liquid intake well.
A Break In The Clouds
10 years on from Mdm Zawiah’s diagnosis, resilience and positivity continues to drive the family forward. Just last year, Azzurra took on a fulfilling job in the healthcare sector as a patient care officer at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital. “It was like taking care of my mother, just 8 more! I feel at home in this new role, and the shift work arrangements make it easy for me to accompany my parents for their medical appointments. I also have time to unwind through cycling trips on my off days too.”
A decade in as his wife’s caregiver, Mr Abu Bakar takes pride in his increased responsibilities. Afterall, he had a major heart bypass surgery in the early 2000s and was lovingly nursed back to health by his family. He shared, “It was my responsibility as a husband to take care of my wife now, just like how she did for me back then. I simply accepted what came my way and count my blessings every day.”
To Mr Abu Bakar, going through thick and thin with a healthy dose of faith, that was what family was all about. Today, Mdm Zawiah’s condition remains stable, thanks to the tireless efforts of her family. She is now able to consume small amounts of her favourite foods under a flexible diet plan.
Looking over at her parents, Azzurra smiled, “When I was younger, I believed that they always knew best. But now that I’m older and they are not getting any younger, these roles have been challenged. I now understand that it is time for me to take care of them, to educate them on what’s best for them in their golden years. We are in a better state now.”