Thursday, April 19, 2007

Chapter Six - The Countdown Begins



I knew I was telling a plain lie, but we had to keep him from worrying further about his actual condition. Did he have the right to know that he was going to die? Of course, he did, but who would have guessed, things might have got worse when anxiety took over.

TIME AND TIDE waits for no man. I knew that time was running out for Father. When he was younger, time was what he could afford to waste, but as his life drew closer to an end, it was something that he could not lose even a moment. Every minute counts. I realized the countdown for him had just begun.

In the morning of October 5, I sent him to Tung Shin Hospital for his usual check-up. On seeing his condition, Dr Yap immediately arranged for him to be re-admitted. His skin had dried up by now, due to excessive loss of body fluid as a result of a week-long diarrhoea. He was immediately put on drip.

What happened right after that was like a breeze. His condition grew worse. He could hardly speak. He was always complaining of pain in the head and feeling very dry. Friends and relatives who learnt of his condition made it a point to visit him again.

For a second time, Pastor Law visited Father together with Pastor Timothy on that same afternoon when he was re-admitted. Father later told me that he had assured them that he would visit the church immediately after he got well. I kept silent for a moment, knowing that he wasn’t going to be well again.

“Don’t worry about that. Just get well first, Father,” I said, almost whispering into his ears, as I held his hands tight.

Very Timely Indeed!

By the time Father was re-admitted in hospital, I was already exhausted and was about to fall ill any moment. I had also sprained my back muscles as a result of having to hold him up each time he wanted to get up from the toilet bowl. While he was admitted in Ward 710 for three days, Mother and I had good sleep for three nights to help us regain our stamina.

By Wednesday, October 7, I had recovered fully from my sprained muscles. That evening, Father was moved to Room 823, to give him some privacy staying in the ward. He had to sleep alone.

When asked the next morning, a nurse admitted to us: “He has a lot of requests every one or two hours. It’s difficult looking after him.”

“A dying man with lots of requests!” I thought to myself. “Why should the nurses complain when they know that this is a dying man?”

Mother returned a smile to the nurse as we walked out the lift. She had guessed it correctly that Father was not easy to look after.

“I think I will stay overnight in the hospital to look after him,” I told Mother, as we were walking towards the ward.

“Yes, I am feeling better now myself,” I reassured her. She didn’t say a word, but gave her silent consent.

As we approached Room 823, three brothers from Grace Assembly in Taman Mayang had already spent some time praying for Father. Father was initially hesitant, I was told, to welcome the three strangers – Roy Rajasingham, Benjamin Patrick and Andy Lee – whom I later nicknamed, the three prayer muskeeters of Grace Assembly. Only after they had introduced themselves as my friends, Father relented them to pray for him. A nurse, who happened to be a Christian, also reassured him that they were my friends after finding out more about Roy, Benjamin and Andy.

“Can we pray for you, Uncle?” Roy had asked him.

When Father nodded his head, they prayed for good health and sound sleep at night. For nearly 20 minutes, while they were praying, Father dozed off to sleep until Mother and I arrived at the ward.

God sometimes have a good sense of humour, I thought, as Roy shared with me what had happened while they were praying for him.

“While we were praying, he just bowed down his head. He then started snoring,” Roy told me, with his usual smile. “That’s exactly what we have been praying for – that he would be able to sleep very well.”

Asking To See Grandmother

That evening, my eldest sister Su Lin asked Father: "Do you want to see Uncle Billy?"

He shook his head vehemently. No reason was given, but his answer was very clear.

"Do you want to see Grandmother?" she asked again.

Father nodded his head.

My brother-in-law, Victor, who was on his way to the hospital, was immediately informed. He came over to the hospital to pick Su Lin before rushing over to pick Grandma from Cheras.

Father stared at me blankly and said: "Yap. Yap."

I asked, "Dr Yap?"

He nodded his head. He was referring to Dr Yap, who was attending to his case. He shook both hands and pointed to his chest. He was trying to say, "No more hope?" It was obvious that Father wanted to know the cause of his illness. There was the dilemma again whether to reveal to him his condition. After all, he was already about to go and we all knew it.

I looked straight at Mother. After some discussion with her outside the ward, we decided not to tell him that he had lung cancer. However, in the process, I had actually talked and prepared him with the idea that someday all of us would have to leave this world. Indirectly, I was telling him that he was not going to live very long. But, to tell him that he had lung cancer, would only get him more worried. And, his condition might just get worse as a result.

I returned to the ward and told him, "No, all is well with you. The doctor has not been able to diagnose anything yet."

I knew I was telling a plain lie, but we had to keep him from worrying further about his actual condition. Did he have the right to know that he was going to die? Of course, he did, but who would have guessed, things might have got worse when anxiety took over. I suppose in different situations, the approach would have to be different.

The moment Grandmother walked in, Father wept.

Grandmother had become emotional and started wailing

“Lay Geok,” she called out. “You should outlive me, an old lady. You cannot go so fast.”

Father could not control himself by now. I kept comforting him, while Mother and Su Lin helped to calm Grandmother down.

Knowing that Father had very little time left, I had earlier made it a point to pick Grandmother up to visit him at the hospital. As Grandmother was already nearly 90 years old, I did not tell her the real reasons behind the visit. I only wanted to give her a chance to see Father for a last time.

Midnight Nurse

Soon after Grandmother left, I was alone with Father in the ward. Judging from his condition, I decided to stay overnight in the ward to look after him. The nurses could not have attended to him every minute of the night. It was better to have someone close to him to take care of the minor requests like wetting his dry lips with drops of water.

"You have to be patient. Your suffering is only temporary. Wait for the new body that God promised He would give you," I whispered into his ears. His pains were unbearable by now. He could hardly respond. The room was filled with his groaning of pain.

Pastor Sia of Beautiful Gates visited Father briefly just to pray for him that evening. Father must have felt grateful when I told him that I had borrowed the wheelchair he was using from Pastor Sia's centre for the disabled in SS2, Petaling Jaya.

Pastor Sia herself had come to visit Father in the hospital in her wheelchair. And, her friend who ferried her in a van was also not feeling well. I later told her that she reminded me of Joni Eareckson Tada in the United States, who had begun a ministry to the disabled, shortly after she herself was paralysed from neck down. She took Jesus to be her personal Saviour – and, in the process, found hope to live a fresh new life. The very thought of committing suicide had left Joni after that decision. Today, Joni stands out as a very well-known social worker – one who ministers from her wheelchair – and her wealth of experience allows her to reach out to many souls. Pastor Sia was impressive in her own ways because of the grace of God she experienced in her own life.

When she left, my sister Su Lin dropped by again with the rest of her in-laws. Father did not talk very much, but managed somehow to wave his hand to say "Goodbye" when they were leaving.

Staying overnight in the hospital was not easy. Fortunately, we managed to borrow a lazy chair, which I placed beside Father's bed just to make sure that I could wake up whenever he called. By now, his lips were dry. Every drop of water was like a foretaste of what heaven was like. His diarrhoea problem had resulted in him losing a great deal of body fluid. I remembered the final moments when Jesus was hung on the Cross, He also cried out: "I thirst." I had to keep feeding Father with water and Milo using a straw as he was unable to help himself to a cup.

Although the room was fully airconditioned, yet he was complaining of feeling very hot. He kept saying: "Oh, it's very hot. It's very hot here." The doctor and I suspected that the tumour cells had travelled to the brain. This perhaps explains why the function of the hypothalamus in the brain, which works like a thermostat, had been disrupted, resulting in Father’s inability to regulate his body temperature. I kept wetting his lips and giving him some drops of water to quench his thirst, while humming the songs, "What A Friend We Have In Jesus" and "Shepherd of Love."

Asking To See Family Members

Before I went to bed, I had the strong urge to whisper to him: "Father, I love you." It had been very difficult for me to say those magical words, but I somehow managed.

Although he was not able to respond, I felt that he felt a strong sense of being loved. At his death bed, his son was looking after him.

I woke up the next morning at about 3 o'clock when he called me. "Joe," I heard his voice. I was known by that name at home.

"Saturday?" he asked, wanting to know whether it was Saturday.

"No," I replied.

"Friday?" he queried again.

"Yes, it's Friday. Why?"

"Agnes' wedding," he said, repeating himself, and referring to my cousin's wedding on Friday night.

"Agnes' wedding," he repeated himself.

"Why are you so concerned about Agnes' wedding?" I asked. "Don't worry about the wedding. You have to get well first."

I kept on giving him water to quench his thirst. He was complaining of feeling hot, even though the room was fully-airconditioned and I was already feeling cold. I went over to the nearest window and opened it.

Then, clasping all his five fingers as if to say he wanted to eat, I asked: "You're hungry?" He shook his head, indicating that he was trying to say something else. Desperate that I could not fully understand him, he kept showing his five fingers.

"You mean five o'clock?" I asked.

He nodded his head. By now, it was only 4.35am. I told him, "It's not 5 o'clock yet."

When it was 5 o'clock, I told him: "Yes, it's 5 o'clock right now." He started turning over to his left and called out: "Everyone .... here." With his kind of condition, I immediately interpreted that as his wish to see all his family members before he took his last breath. He seemed to know that he was dying.

I called home.

“Mother, he wants to see all of you right now. Please come over quickly,” I told my mother.

Mother was a little hesitant initially, but she finally rushed over to the hospital with the rest of the family members at about 7am.

Still not understanding why he had said 5 o'clock, I went over to the toilet. I heard him counting out loud: "Five o'clock. Six o'clock. Seven o'clock. I want (to) see morning sun." One could hardly expect to see morning sun at five in the morning, of course, but I later learnt from my niece, Li Lian that her grandfather loved to look at the morning sun. According to Li Lian, he would take a walk in the morning, come back to the house and take a good look at the morning sun.

It was clear to me later that he knew he was dying, but somehow, God gave him a little longer to live in order to do what he wanted to do. He had not said his last words yet to the family. He had also not seen his brothers and sisters.

I went to work as usual at morning. Later, I learnt that Grandmother visited him a third time with other relatives on Friday afternoon. He was already losing his usual vigour by now, according to Grandmother.

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