Falling Stars

My grandma's hand in mine - the elderly need our
constant reassurance, care and compassion
Women, as we know, have a higher threshold for pain and my mum in particular, is a “super woman” who has endured much physical pain without complaints.  When I saw how she clasped her arm and writhed with pain, I knew that it was seriously painful.  Watching mum in pain made me feel terribly helpless because it is impossible to gauge another's pain or do anything to help alleviate it.

Pain is highly subjective but if you have experienced any kind of pain from pounding headaches, stomach spasms, sensitive gums or the ultimate pains of childbirth, you will understand the urgency to be free from that persistent pain.  There may not be an instant relieve but any form of relieve is welcome.  To the sufferer, it does not matter if the relieve came from traditional or modern medicine, mainstream or alternative therapy, but as long as there is relieve from the horrific pain.

Dad has to sit down and prop up the
flower pot to do his gardening,
Mum used to balance a career in midwifery with managing home and family and when she shared with us, interesting anecdotes of difficult childbirths in challenging circumstances, I got a clearer picture of her experiences.  Physically, her job entailed a great deal of squatting, bending and lifting, often in awkward positions, especially when her patients in the kampung delivered their babies, lying on floors.  Mum was stressed because she had to handle two or more lives in medical emergencies without assistance as most homes didn’t even have telephones then.

Every time my parents have a health issue, they have the liberty to decide on where to go and who to consult for their ailments.  After all, Johor Baru now offers a wide range of health care options that range from public to private hospitals as well as alternative therapies in Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) clinics, acupuncture and Korean Hi-Tech Pain Treatments.  Since they are Government retirees from the Health Department, mum and dad have regular appointments and consultations with the various clinics in Hospital Sultanah Aminah (HSA).

Mum undergoing Korean Hi-Tech pain
treatment with Dr Lee at his TCM clinic
With the introduction of computerisation in its patient administration, HSA returned the patients’ files to them and now the onus is on the patient to bring along his or her stack of cards to each appointment for the doctor’s reference.  HSA also offers a SMS or Short Message Service facility for patients' convenience to collect their monthly batch of medicine.  While this system is designed to cut out waiting time for medicine collections, it still entails travelling there and finding a parking spot if you drive, so I decided that I might as well join the queue to pick up my parents’ routine prescriptions according to their given schedules.

With their advancing age and physical deterioration, escorting my parents to various doctors and therapists for consultation and treatment is now a way of life.  By now I'm familiar with mum and dad’s aches and pains that may range from slipped discs, sciatica to cervical spondylosis and they have gone through various treatments like total rest in bed, traction as well as wearing a neck brace.  I must say that they manage their pain well and recently, dad has even been convinced to apply a liniment rub to help relieve the aches on his aged knees. 

A sign that nurses put up to indicate that a
patient risks falling if he/she attempted to walk
In one day, I may shuttle from one clinic to another with either one or both my parents – from dental, cardiac, ophthalmologic or orthopaedic treatments – and accompany them to visit aged friends and relatives warded in the Johor Specialists Hospital, Putri Specialist Hospital or HSA.  At a recent hospital visit, I observed a nurse hanging up a colourful sign with the words, “Falling Stars” emblazoned across it and learnt that it was a symbol to remind nursing staff that this patient was weak and had falling risks.  While it was a dignified way to communicate vital info to other staff who worked in changing shifts, it also reminded me of the frailty of the aged and the fragility of life.

During this year’s Chinese New Year visit, I saw how much some of our elderly relatives have aged even though I just met them at our parents’ 80th and 90th joint birthday celebration last October.  

My brother Kenneth [Left] lending a hand to
dad while they walk to the car
As the younger generation kept the tradition of paying respects to the elderly in reunions and festive visits, I felt there was indeed every reason to celebrate life and family togetherness.  With obvious deterioration in physical and mental alertness, I observed that some of our elders needed help to walk and to get their food minced before they could savour the festive feast!

We cannot turn back the clock and the “Fountain of Youth” is but a myth so advancing age is inevitable.  As we see our parents and elders grow frail and more dependent, the roles are now reversed and it is now our turn to let them lean on us and help them enjoy their twilight years with a measure of good health.  We may not be able to prevent our elderly from aging but we can change our attitude towards them by being more caring and considerate as we help them grow old gracefully.

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Johor Streets on 11 March 2013

No comments:

Post a Comment