Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Farewell to my aunt

Today marks the 25th day that I had been away from my blog. The absence had not been planned or on purpose. It was just that I had been very busy trying to get over a personal loss. It hadn't been just me; my whole family is now trying to adjust ourselves to a home without my old aunt, my late father's sister. She passed away two days after my last blog entry.

For a long time already, she had been suffering from osteoarthritis in her knee joints. Both left and right. Then in October or November last year, she began complaining about a back pain. We took her to so many doctors and specialists. Injections she had, pills she took, but the pain persisted. One doctor even suspected a problem with her renal system because that was the general direction where the pain was coming from.

And eventually in February, just a week before Chinese New Year, we persuaded her to be warded at a private hospital in Province Wellesley. It was there that we finally learnt that her back pain was caused by a compressed T12 bone in her spinal column.

It must have been from a fall a very long time ago as she couldn't remember when or how she got it. I suspected the ache must have been there all this while but with age and her osteoarthritis catching up with her, she was now feeling the discomfort even more. And with the bone pressing on her nerves, the old injury was now affecting both her hips and knee joints. The orthopaedic surgeon said that at her age, it would be very risky to operate and the only solution for her was pain management through medication and physiotherapy.

Despite the pain, my aunt still wanted to get on gamely with her life. As she could no longer take her daily morning walks to the market, I had to drive her there. At least, the brief time at the market would keep her mind and body busy. But from April onwards, she asked me even to stop taking her there. It was becoming almost impossible for her to walk unaided anymore.

At first, she started using a walking stick, one with four mini-legs for more stability but later, I decided on a walker. It helped her mobility but by early May, even that became an ordeal. She couldn't be on her feet for long.

We heard of the Institut Perubatan dan Pergigian Termaju (Advanced Medical and Dental Institute) in Bertam. This was a research hospital run by the University of Science Malaysia. A very modern hospital with good facilities but basically little known and consequently under-utilised. The orthopaedic specialist warded her for observation. This was the eighth of May.

We could see that her medications were working and her pain was actually getting less. But she kept complaining that her appetite wasn't improving and she still suffered from lightheadedness and dizziness, and couldn't move her bowels well. There were occasional bouts of vomiting as she couldn't put her food down. All this we had expected as she had been complaining about them even a long time ago.

When my son and I went up to see her on 18 May, she was well enough and happy. We thought everything was beginning to be alright with her.

Then in the morning of 19 May - can't be sure of the time but it could possibly be around nine o'clock or so - we received a very innocuous call from a nurse at the IPPT telling us that my aunt wanted broth for lunch. So okay, my wife started to prepare this broth. Just before noon, another call came in to ask why we weren't at the hospital yet. We were told that my aunt was in critical condition and would be moved to the Kepala Batas Hospital. For the first time, we were alarmed. What had suddenly happened to the old lady?

By the time we arrived at the IPPT, we were told that they had already moved her to the Kepala Batas Hospital. We rushed there to find her in the critical ward, basically already semi-conscious and with two or three tubes stuck into her. The prognosis wasn't good. The resident doctor there told us to actually prepare for the worst. They would try to help as much as possible but with her condition, the chances were deemed very slim.

We hunkered down, expecting a very long night. About a quarter before midnight, my wife noticed that her breathing had become shallow and her heartbeat was suddenly slowing down. The nurses tried to revive my aunt, even by using a defribrillator, but there was nothing more that could be done. My aunt's date of demise: 19 May 2013.

My family's style has never been to prolong the mourning period for more than three days. So the funeral was held on the 21st of May and my aunt's remains were cremated. We collected her ashes on the next day and her urn was placed at the Batu Gantong columbarium next to that of my father and mother.

The 24th of May being Wesak Day, we carried out one of her final wishes by doing dana for her at the Buddhist Hermitage Lunas. The next day being the seventh day of her demise, we held prayers at the columbarium followed by one at the Triple Wisdom Buddhist Temple in Pangkor Road on the island and then another offering of dana at the Sri Mahindarama Buddhist Temple in Kampar Road.

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