Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Lotus

            “The lotus comes from the murkiest water but grows into the purest thing”
-          Nita Ambani

From ancient times, the lotus has been associated with purity and beauty as it is difficult to believe that such a clean and beautiful flower can emerge, untainted by the dirty and muddy water. As a result of this, the lotus is often mentioned or used as a symbolism in many religions.

Around 6 months ago, a friend of mine from Kuala Lumpur visited me, bringing with her a lotus plant. It was a gift from herself and another friend who initially grew lotuses as a hobby, which then turn into a business. 

At first, I was quite apprehensive in receiving such a gift as we never had a lotus plant at home before and I was concern that it will perish from neglect.

My lotus grower friend however assured me that the lotus plant is quite resilient and that it needed minimal care.  However, he did remind me to put fertiliser (for aquatic plants) into the pot every 2 to 3 weeks and to add abate to prevent mosquitoes as I wasn’t keen on rearing fishes.  

Whenever the lotus blooms, it is indeed a beautiful and breathtaking sight. My amateurish photography skill does not do justice to the plant.  Below are some photos of the plant: -

       The whole plant is useful: -
·          The stems and roots can be eaten as vegetable
·         The leaves can be used to wrap Chinese sticky rice.
·         The flower petals and stamens can be used as tea
·         The seeds can be eaten and made into paste
·          The dried lotus pod can be used as a decoration
                                                          Make tea with the stamens

This is indeed a beautiful and useful plant to have at home. If you have the space at home, do consider planting a lotus plant. A big pot can be used if you have limited space.

In my personal view, a lotus truly represents that no matter how hard life gets or how badly it treats us; emerging as a better person despite our bad experiences is a choice that we can make. Don’t ever let bad experiences turn us into a bitter and pessimistic person. Instead, turn the bad experiences into lessons that help to propel us into a better future.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Blowing Bubbles

          Sometimes when life seems unbearable, don’t forget to breath and appreciate the present moment. When we are in pain and emotionally drain, we tend to ignore our surroundings and the beauty of life around us. 

            The first time I was rolled out in a wheelchair from the burn ward, it felt so good to feel the warm air outside. It had been really cold in the ward. Nearly freezing. Just to get out of the burn ward, felt so comforting, I could finally feel the gentle breeze outside.
            After a few times of going out, my sister bought one of those bubble soap toys.  This one had a Hello Kitty head on top of the long cylinder container.
“I am not strong enough to blow this yet. I’ll be out of breath,” I told her.
My sister replied, “This is not for blowing, it is for waving. You just need to wave your arm.”
So off we went playing bubbles at the hospital compound. Even though I was still hesitating, part of me was excited to try it out. Waving my hand for the first time, nothing happened. I dip into the bottle again and waved, still no bubbles.
“You need to wave harder,” my sister said. She took the stick from me and started waving. Multiple big bubbles came out from the waving stick.
Despite trying my best, I only managed to produce small bubbles. My arms were not strong enough. This was the most ‘fun’ exercise I had, compared to the other exercises that I had to do.    
Bubbles were flying everywhere. Disappearing as fast as we could make them. It must have been such a sight for the bystanders at the hospital seeing both of us waving our arms wildly while looking for the right wind direction. We even went upstairs, waving the stick at an open area. I felt like a mischievous child again. It felt so good that it didn’t matter whether we look silly or not. 
Looking back, I am really appreciative of my sister’s occasional effort in cheering me up. It was not easy to stay at the hospital for a long duration of time.  

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

You Never Know How Strong You Are

-          Bob Marley

I have met friends and even strangers who couldn’t imagine what I had gone through. Some even speculated that if they were in my position, they would probably be dead, depressed and etc. Such a bleak picture!

Most of the time, when something bad happens to others, we fear and worry that the same thing would happen to us or to our love ones. I had friends and relatives who quickly check their gas tubes at home and some even switched their normal gas stove to induction cooker after hearing the news of my accident. A few of my friends had even told me that my accident had forced them to reflect on their own lives and the lives of their love ones.

I feel that we should not underestimate our own will to survive in any situation. I did whatever I could to survive. I believe that everyone would do the same too.

When tragedy strikes, some would tend to blame God for any disaster that happened to them. Why me? Is the most common question. Well, why not? If it can happen to others, why can’t it happen to us as well?

We tend to be in our own comfort zone hoping that we do not face sufferings, setbacks in life. However, that is not possible. What makes us more special than the rest of the world’s population? In reality, anything can happen at any time. 

             I have seen people on social media ranting against God. Asking all sorts of questions when tragedy strikes, like why God didn’t save those people? If God is around, why didn’t God prevent the tragedy from happening to them? And when they receive no answers, they question God’s existence and make sarcastic comments to those who believes in God.

 In the first place, why are they blaming God for all the tragedies in the world? As humans, logically we should know that bad things happen all the time. It is up to us whether to complaint or do something about it.

When there is war, people blame God. What does God have to do with war when it is people who started the war? How about natural calamity such as earthquakes, tsunami, flood etc? Well, some are as a result of global warming (also as a result of man’s work) and some are just natural disasters. Whatever it is, shit happens all the time. We need to accept this, do whatever we can and move on.

           I believe that human beings are resilient. Tragedy does help to put things into perspective.  When faced with death, all the unimportant stuff and the petty squabbles will be forgotten. The most important thing left would be how you have lived your live and whether you have spent enough time with your love ones. Live life without regrets.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Sitting, Standing and Walking

Have you ever watched a movie where the hero wakes up a few years after a coma, being able to rip his tubes from the machine, immediately get out of bed and started walking? Or perhaps a science fiction movie about a near future where space travel is possible and a person wakes up decades from a deep sleep without aging?

Unfortunately for us, the above scenarios are impossible at this current time.

            After 2 and a half months of being in coma, I couldn’t move at all. Even lifting my hands were so difficult. It took me nearly a month to be able to lift my hand to my nose. I couldn’t even move my body to the side and had to rely on the nurses to move me.  

             Just like a child, I practically had to relearn how to do everything again. Due to muscle atrophy, moving seems to be a herculean task. The feeling of helplessness and dependent on others are fears that I used to have of growing old. However, I didn’t foresee that it would happen to me sooner rather than later in life. 

             With much effort and help from physiotherapy, it took me 6 months after my gas explosion accident to be able to sit. The physiotherapist had to instruct me step by step on how I could use my hand to slowly push myself up from the side of the bed. The first time I tried to maneuver my body, I was out of breath and had to muster all my energy just to sit up.

              Next, was the attempt to stand. Standing for the first time felt like blood was gushing out from my wounds, the pulling on the legs were very painful. My legs instantly became purplish black. The blood couldn’t flow back up after going down. Basically, blood circulation was very bad. It took 3 physiotherapists and a walker to help me to stand. I remember feeling fearful that I might fall, however the physiotherapists were very encouraging and they assured me that I would be alright.  It was very emotional for me at that time. Finally, I was able to stand.

              It took me weeks after that to be able to take small steps. Each step was painful. My legs grew stronger as time passed by but the pain was still there.  I found out later that this condition is quite common for burn survivors who have been burnt on the legs. That it may take years for the legs to recover and heal. Even then, nerve pains could still be felt. In the meantime, it is best to use walking aid for mobility when it gets painful to stand or walk.
              Sometimes I wonder whether I could have been more mobile at a faster speed? Did I take enough steps? However, part of me knows that I needed to give myself time to heal. My injury was not a light one. I needed to be patient with myself.  

               My sister kept on reminding me, “Don’t let the things that you can’t do stop you from doing the things that you can do.” I am indeed grateful to her for her encouragement, support and help at the time when I needed it most.

Monday, October 8, 2018

No Man Is An Island


    Burn Survivors not only have to deal with physical pain but also emotional pain as well. For many survivors, life has changed and will never be the same again.

    During my stay at the burn ward, a Mr. Lim a former patient at the burn ward, came to visit me. Years ago, he suffered 30% burn while burning rubbish using flammable material at his own home.

    Talking to him felt good as he knew what I was going through and the difficulties that I would be facing in the future. He was understanding and gave some good advice.  Seeing that he managed to get back to his life despite his challenges, gave hope and indeed inspired me.

    On the other hand, there was also a burn patient, a Mr. Tan who was burnt a few years before my accident. He had an epileptic fit while burning rubbish and was burnt on his face. He was admitted twice again for infections during my stay at the burn ward.

    I could clearly remember Mr. Tan telling me to exercise, to stand, to eat a vegetarian diet, to do this and that and the list goes on. At that time, I was still immobile, so I couldn’t escape. On his part, he meant well, just that I wasn’t ready to be lectured. However, I am still grateful that he made the effort to talk to me.

     Indeed, they were two different people with different approaches.

    In Malaysia there is no Association for Burn Survivors or any Support Group available. I find this quite strange as the number of people who gets burn yearly is not exactly low.

    One day, my sister came across Phoenix Society which is based in the USA while she was doing her research on burns. 

  “They have a chat at 9pm on every Wednesday”, she said.

    In Malaysian time it is on every Thursday at 9am. 

    Initially, I hesitated and thought that they would only cater for US citizen. My hesitation melted away on my first chat with them. They welcomed all burn survivors. I have been joining the chat group since January 2017, every once a week, whenever possible.

   The people there are so welcoming. It is good to know that I am not alone in facing my problems with regards to my burnt skin. Mostly it is emotional support for the grouses and the problems that burn survivors are facing. I noticed that most of the grievances revolves around people who are not so supportive or are unsympathetic towards burn survivors. They could be family, friends, colleagues and even strangers.  Basically, it boils down to ignorance of society with regards to burns. 

  The Phoenix Society is doing a good job in helping burn survivors and also in helping to create awareness of survivors. They even have annual conferences and burn camps. Hopefully in the future, Malaysia will have such a support system to help burn survivors and also to create awareness on burns.  

    If we can have a Cancer Society and Society for Dementia, why not a society for burn survivors? A place where burn survivors would feel that they belong and have activities together instead of feeling alienated and shunned by others. Assisting burn survivors to integrate back to society.  

  A month ago, the Phoenix Society for the very first time, held free live streaming of the World Burn Convention. Even though I had to stay up very late at night, the sacrifice was worth it.

   With the advancement of the internet, there are online support groups for most type of diseases or medical conditions.  We are not alone in dealing with our problems. Sharing our problems and learning from others is a step forward towards our own healing.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Burn Survival

More than a week ago, there was another burn accident in Malaysia. This time, it was at a filming set. 31 people, mostly elderly got hurt when petrol vapourised and got on their clothes during filming of burning buildings. See stories: Filming goes awry  and  Double whammy for film crew

                                                 (photo source: The Star newspaper)
         What was shocking is that the incident still happened despite the presence of firemen on duty. I dread to think what might happened if they weren’t around to control the situation.
         It is indeed more difficult for the elderly to recover from a burn, especially if it is a large burn area. Age is one of the important factors that will be considered to determine whether a person will be able to survive the burn. 
         There is a method that is called the Baux score, whereby the sum of age in years and the percentage of body burn will be added to predict the percentage of mortality after severe burns. The Baux score was also modified to add inhalation injury which added the equivalent of 17 years (or 17% burn).
Per Cent Mortality = Age + Percent Burn + [17 x (Inhalation Injury, 1= yes, = no)]
        For example in my situation, 80% + 38 years = 118. Further, the doctors had to consider inhalation injuries as the gas explosion happened in front of my face. Meaning my chances of survival was really low.
        During the initial stages of my burn, I wasn't aware of the above calculation until one of the doctors casually mentioned that age and percentage of burns will be added up, to determine the mortality rate. He further mentioned that my case is one those cases where doctors still keep on trying even though the percentage of survival seems bleak. At that time, I knew that I was lucky to be alive, just that I didn’t realise the extent of it or how they calculated my chances of survival.
       When I was in coma at the ICU, a friend of mine actually took the initiative to ask 5 different doctors from different hospitals and practices and all of them did not expect me to make it out alive or gave me a less than 5% chance of survival. It seems that only a few people survived more than 80% burn in Malaysia.

        I am indeed very grateful to the doctors in the ICU and the plastic doctors from Penang General Hospital who did not give up on me, even though the chances of my survival were very bleak at that time. If they have not given their best, I would not have been alive today. For that, I am grateful.

       It is common to read or hear horror stories of those who are admitted in General Hospitals, where patients are neglected or not properly treated. Not many success stories are being told.  Therefore, I feel that my story needs to be told for a more balance view.  I have seen dedicated doctors and surgeons who are often exhausted, sleep deprived and going all out for the patient.  It is not easy being a doctor at General Hospitals with heavy workload and limited resources. They could just quit and work for private hospitals for less work and more pay. However, some still choose to continue to serve patients dedicatedly at General Hospitals and that is truly admirable.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Empathy in Adversity

      “Empathy is about finding echoes of another person in yourself” – Mohsin Hamid

    Around 8 months in the hospital, my body was still weak and my legs were still painful but I was starting to be able to stand long enough to be transferred to a wheelchair. One evening, my sister put me on the wheel chair to visit the nearby convenience store located at the hospital.

      As she was about to leave me outside and enter into the store alone (the store was narrow and filled with goods, hence it was not convenient to bring the wheelchair inside), a tall Malay boy in his late teens or early twenties came out of the convenience store. Suddenly, he stopped walking and started to stare at me. Then he approached me.

      I noticed that his head was misshapen, had stitches and was dented at one side, an indication that he had undergone a brain surgery.

       He looked curious, “What happened to you?” while pointing to my head which was covered in bandage. 
        I was startled by his blunt and direct question.

       “She was burnt,” my sister replied.
      I could feel my sister was hesitating to leave me with this boy outside of the shop.
       Waving my hand towards my sister, “Don’t worry, I will be OK. You can go in.”
       However, my sister was still in a protective mode.
       Before entering into the shop, she gave a warning to the boy. 
“You can talk to my sister but don’t touch her, there are a lot of germs.” She was not actually trying to scare him, I was having MRSA infections (a type of super bacteria that is resistant to common antibiotics) every now and then. 
       I narrated to the boy about the gas explosion. He then asked, “How long have you been in the hospital?.”                                           
       I replied, “Around 8 months.”   
       Suddenly, I could see tears coming out from his eyes falling to his cheeks.
       “Don’t cry.” I said to him without thinking and started feeling emotional myself.
       I then asked, “How long have you been in the hospital?”
      Wiping his tears away, “3 months” he answered.
      At that moment, there was a short silence. 
     Although our sickness and pain may not be the same, it felt like there was a sharing and bonding between us, a connection of suffering between 2 strangers.
      Trying to comfort me, and also perhaps comforting himself, he said, “have patience”. At the same time, a woman came out of the convenience store and he quietly followed her.  
      A person who has suffered is able to relate and show empathy towards those who are suffering. I find this true in hospitals, especially among the patients.