19 October 2016

Coming To The Surface

I am rising from my deep dive.

I can feel it.

I've been reading to help myself.

Author Jody Day says in her book "Living the Life Unexpected":

"Being depressed is not necessarily always a problem; it has a valuable part to play in giving us the rest and space we need to reconstruct our identity after losing someone or something very dear to us."

"We reject those who try to cheer us up...we are in a deeper place than that, and we know that's where we need to be."

"The depression that is a part of grief will pass when it has given you the space, rest and introspection you need to move forward with your healing journey."

"Once we begin our grief work, things can begin to shift quite quickly, and you can start moving forward with life again."

"Acceptance is about coming to terms with our destiny and making peace with it. It doesn't mean we like it, or that we think it's fair. It just is what it is."

"Acceptance does not mean that we go quietly. But what it does mean is that the energy that was locked up in our grief becomes available to us again, to dedicate towards a new future."

I took a picture with Vera today. I haven't done so in ages. It's a good sign.

As long as Vera doesn't give up hope, I can't.

30 September 2016

Stemming The Downward Spiral

The last 2 months have been rough. Not for Vera, but for me.

It became increasingly clear that she had lost vision and it would now be her new normal.

I was heartbroken.

Since Day One, I'd mentally prepare myself for all kinds of deterioration - lungs, limbs, but never that she would lose the little sight she had left in one eye. She no longer focuses on faces like she did before. We are quite sure she can't see us now, or we're probably blurry shapes.

I was falling apart. I did not feel like doing anything. I'd burst into tears, sitting in the park. Sorry not for myself, but Sorry that this determined little girl would have to start all over. With less faculties.

I reached a point where I would zone out to cope. I stopped caring about Vera, focusing on Daen instead. The little buzzy was what kept me going. I knew I had to stop myself from spirally downwards further.

Ian, dependable as always, stepped in to love and care for Vera when I zoned out.

Then Vera started to improve in her strength. We are seeing her stroke-like hand respond slightly to our daily physiotherapy. She even started to attempt to do her signature crunches!

But the biggest glimmer of hope, was that she still wanted to pull us in for a hug - this time with just one movable arm.

And she actually seems to be in good spirits, despite all that has happened to her body.

How many of us can do the same? As it turns out, her condition, her "unknowing", is her greatest blessing.

How can I give up when Vera is so determined to go on?

And at this bottom of the U curve, her teachers, therapists, doctors and nurses, and friends are there for us. Coming to visit, especially the super- caring Dr W and Nurse E from Nuh Homecare team. I am so grateful.

Like our friend Kenneth says, she's "reset to zero", something our medically fragile kids are prone to.

I've also had to "reset to zero". Perhaps that's what we all need some time in our lives to take stock, to recharge and reflect.

I'm taking it by the day now.

Vera will get better. And so will I.

28 July 2016

Smiling A Little

Amidst her drowsy state most of the day, we're beginning to see her smile return like brief sun rays through the clouds.

I'm just so glad to see her smile again.

27 July 2016

What Am I?

Someone recently asked me, "How I find the strength to go on? How faith helps me, was I an Atheist."

I'd better find out, I thought.

I googled Atheist: someone who does not believe in the presence of a God. Nope.

Free thinker seemed too broad and unfocused and Humanist seemed too focused on humans.

Then I found this other term; Agnostic (why does it sound like "caustic")

Agnostic: a person who holds the view that any ultimate reality (as God) is unknown and probably unknowablebroadly :  one who is not committed to believing in either the existence or the nonexistence of God or a god

I guess, at least for me, that comes closest to my belief.

Since I do not follow any religion, where do I get the strength to go on for Vera?

I don't know, but these words from philosopher Krishnamurti, though rather deep, ring a bell for me.

J. Krishnamurti, “A New Consciousness” from This Light in Oneself—True Meditation

“One has to be a light to oneself; this light is the law. There is no other law. All the other laws are made by thought and so are fragmentary and contradictory. To be a light to oneself is not to follow the light of another, however reasonable, logical, historical, and however convincing.
You cannot be a light to yourself if you are in the dark shadows of authority, of dogma, of conclusion. Morality is not put together by thought; it is not the outcome of environmental pressure, it is not of yesterday, of tradition.
Freedom is to be a light to oneself; then it not an abstraction, a thing conjured up by thought. Actual freedom is freedom from dependency, attachment, from the craving for experience. Freedom from the very structure of thought is to be a light to oneself. In this light, all action takes place and thus it is never contradictory. Contradiction exists only when the light is separate from the action.
The “ideal,” the “principle,” is the barren movement of thought, and it cannot coexist with this light; one denies the other. Where the observer is, this light, this love, is not. The structure of the observer is put together by thought, which is never new, never free. There is no “how,” no system, no practice. There is only the seeing that is the doing. You have to see, not through the eyes of another. This light, this law, is neither yours nor that of another. There is only light. This is love."

Leona is Four

In the world of Trisomy 18, parents lose their babies in utero, give birth to them stillborn, or lose them days or weeks after birth.

In Trisomy 18 terms, a child who makes it past her first year is a survivor.

Leona has just turned four.

To see that she made it past the initial years and is now thriving (you should see her lotus-root limbs), it's an awesome feeling.

To experience her grabbing fingers, joyful grins and pure gaze is a privilege.

The spirit is strong with this one.

Thrive on, little Lioness!

21 July 2016

Wading In The Well

Wading in the well.

That's what I've been doing the last 2 months.

It's quiet, dark and damp.

I wade in endless circles, looking up at the sun that's so near yet so far.

We can't get Vera out of her stuporous state.

The medication for her seizures, they knock her out. She wants to wake, but can't.

Our worst fear is that Vera can't seem to focus. She doesn't look at us now, even up close. We suspect her sight has been affected.

When we call her, she no longer turns towards us. (Is her hearing affected as well?)

Yet, the girl shows signs of life. Her left hand moves with a vengeance - swiping, scratching, it's very much alive. Fighting like a one-arm bandit.

Vera, fight on. We gotta get out of this well.

12 July 2016


I had a nightmare about Vera. I was on a motorbike. I rounded a corner and saw her in her pink top and grey shorts faced down on top of another child on the tarmac.

An accident.

Instead of going to her, I swerved away.

05 July 2016

Suctioning Seriously Sucks

Warning: This is a ranting post.

I'd never thought I'd rant in a post, but here it is.

Suctioning your own kid sucks.

Sticking a tube down your kid's throat, agitating her to gag and cough sucks. Best part, she resists with all her might and we can't get the secretions out.

Seeing tears from her eyes each session, with no crying sounds, and you're the one causing it. My tears? They drip from my heart.

I'd not expected to suction her for so long after discharge. Discharge right? Well already that's why discharge right?


Full recovery of lungs, will take months. Secretions will therefore take months to clear. I'd been eager to discharge her. In all her past admissions, the need for suctioning at home stopped after a week back home. Things go back to normal.

It's a nightmare this time. It's been 5 weeks I've done this.

For Vera, it's been suctioning every day since mid-March, that's 4 months. For a girl who's never needed suctioning at all when well.

I just want this suctioning nightmare to end.

30 June 2016

At My Lowest Point

2 weeks ago I hit rock bottom.

Suctioning frequency increased, requiring waking up in the middle of the night every night. This is coming home following 2 intense months of near-death hospital drama.

It reached a point I wanted to send Vera away - back to the hospital. "No coming home until suctioning zero and back to normal sleep hours." I thought to myself. (I had started suctioning in March. It is June and I am still suctioning.)

The only problem was, sending her back to hospital would just expose her to infection again.

Here I am, stuck in a situation I can't change that's wreaking havoc on all of us.

Even Daen has wised up. He came into the room once and saw me tending to his sister and said, "Oh, not available" and walked away.

In the good times of the past, we had much more time together.

He's used to the busyness of suctioning Vera in the morning by now. As a result, he readies himself for school with less prodding - less attention, more independent.

Vera's still not back to normal hours. Until she does, our lives can't really go back to normal.

09 June 2016

US Time Girl

Vera came back from hospital on US time zone. The no-day-no-night of hospital wards altered her circadian rhythm. When we wake up at 8am she'll fall asleep. She'll wake at 6pm.

We took turns to stay up with her through the night and it was terrible for us.

I refuse to follow her time. She's got to follow us instead. Now I just let her be at night while we sleep. I wake occasionally to check. And yes, we've resorted to help from sedatives.

I'm banking on Mr Sun to work his magic, so working in as much sun time as possible.

Vera's lost all her usual movements except for one arm. But I can't dwell on that right now. Gotta get her back to Singapore time first.

Suctioning is still on going with no end in sight. I'm hoping Mr Sun will dry up her lungs too.

19 May 2016

The Spider's Web Undone

Right now I feel just like a spider. A spider that has spent so much effort artfully weaving its fine, intricate web, only to have the rain come and destroy the whole web.

Vera has lost so much of what she could do before this illness.

She's basically like a baby again. All the YEARS of effort - from her many teachers, ourselves and most of all Vera herself - gone down the drain after the hurricane came and went.

Yes yes, well meaning friends tell me she'll get better and be back to her normal self. Who really knows? I don't. All I know now is the PAIN of seeing Vera lose so much function. The HEARTACHE of no more scooting around, head control, sitting by herself, infectious smiles and generous hugs.

Yes yes she's out of danger, we're lucky she's still with us...but now's the time I'm really reeling from the aftermath. I MISS THE OLD VERA SO MUCH. And I need the space and time to get used to the new Vera.

Of course I'm going to try my best to help her regain whatever she used to have.

But right now, I wish I had the spider's non-human ability to just build its web over and over again each time it's destroyed, as if that were what it was born to do.

18 May 2016

Mummy Falls Sick

And as so many times in the past, I fall sick once Vera is back home from the hospital.

Well, this is the 4th time I'm sick since she fell sick. My body just can't take the stress.

Caring for a sick child is hard when your sick yourself. Waking up in the night to do suctioning, is becoming harder as the years go by.

Hopefully things will become more manageable when I recover.

15 May 2016

Day 2 Back Home

Vera was discharged from the hospital on Friday.

We had been there 4 weeks in PICU, 3 weeks in High Dependency.

While we are so relieved the daily hospital visits have ended, the journey to full recovery has just begun.

Her caregiver and I have to continue suctioning round the clock, as the secretions will not be completely gone for a while.

Vera's different than before. If you've seen how active she is, the change is evident.

As of Day 2:

Head control: poor
L hand: moving slightly like before
R hand: not moving much
L leg: slightly moving
R leg: not moving much
Sitting up: no
Signature smile: no
Remarks: grimacing at times

I've been on unpaid leave - thanks to my very kind boss - since Vera was hospitalised.

While I wish she could bounce back to her normal self and life can resume as normal, it's not going happen.

She shows signs that she's trying, so hopefully with time she can regain whatever function she used to have.

29 April 2016

Difficult Decisions

Over the past month, Ian and I have had to make some of the toughest decisions as parents.

1. Deciding whether to intubate Vera

When Vera worsened and struggled to breathe, we were suddenly under pressure to decide very quickly if we wanted to intubate her. We knew intubation would be painful (having a tube down your throat all the time, and she'd have to be heavily sedated and on strong painkillers). Seeing her struggle to breathe, our gut feel was to go ahead, and for sure, it was the right decision.

2. Deciding whether to "upgrade" to more powerful Oscillator

When she was intubated and put on the Ventilator, the settings kept increasing to support her. Question was, if we'd reach the max of Ventilator capacity, do we upgrade to the Oscillator? After learning that they would need to paralyse her body in order to put her on the Oscillator, we decided not to.

3. Deciding what to do if she de-sats again

At the maximum settings of the Ventilator, Vera had two episodes where she struggled to keep her oxygen up. Each time, she had to be bagged several rounds to bring her back up. Those were her darkest days. We were asked what we wanted to do if she should de-saturate again and could not be brought back up. Doctors and ourselves were primed for it to happen a third time, but Vera spared us from that agony.

4. Deciding whether to re-intubate her

As the time came to extubate Vera, we were told that there was a possibility that she may struggle to breathe on her own without the tube. In such a case, putting it back in was an option. Re-intubation meant another few weeks of sedation, and subsequent extubation success was also not guaranteed. At such a point, surgery to insert a trach at her throat may have to be the ensuing course of action. We did not want Vera to go from a life of no suctioning when well to suctioning regularly round the clock. We decided against re-intubation.

It meant the stakes were high. She HAD to breathe on her own when off the Ventilator. To give her the best chance, together with the doctors, we tried to prolong the period she was on the Ventilator, to give her enough time to prepare. The trade-off? Very bad withdrawal symptoms later on for being on the sedatives for so much longer.

Going through this life-threatening episode has been a great learning experience for us.

We've experienced first-hand the kinds of treatment and equipment used in life-saving.

It gives us much food for thought: If it were us, how far would we go to save ourselves? If we were so knocked out and can't communicate, would we agree with whatever was done to us? How would we tell our loved ones, that we want to keep fighting or when enough is enough?

21 April 2016

Light At The End

Today we see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Vera is once again able to breathe on her regular mask that we use at home.

Now it's mainly to manage her fever (yes still) and residual secretions (which may take another 1-2 weeks of suctioning to clear, so it's still early days to discharge).

It's been a month now for us at the hospital. The longest stretch ever.

Looking back, we have had so much support to tide us through this very intense experience - our families, our friends, the Ronald McDonald House Charities, and most of all the very caring and excellent team of doctors and nurses in NUH PICU.

Thank you all!

19 April 2016

Extubating Today

Vera will be taken off the ventilator today. The breathing tube down her throat will be removed and she will have to breathe on her own.

This morning, she started grimacing, from the tube discomfort possibly. We are so happy to see that she is moving her face muscles.

As the pain relief and sedation wears off, she can feel the tube in her throat. I bet she wants it out.

We hope that there are no further complications that can derail her over the next few days.

17 April 2016

The House That Supports Us

Having your child warded in an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) is probably one of the most stressful periods in a parent's journey.

If your child needs to be here, it is likely because he or she is seriously ill.

For parents, it's a harrowing roller coaster ride.

One day your child is happy at home, the next moment he or she is admitted to a regular ward.

Suddenly, things escalate and your child struggles to breathe.

Your child is rushed to ICU, and undergoes an emergency procedure to connect them to a ventilator that breathes for them. Heavily sedated, they can't respond to you.

Fear, uncertainty, confusion, gut-wrenching pain - all these emotions hit you all at once. Because you face the real possibility of losing the child you've given life to.

In such a situation, you don't think about leaving your child's side. You'll curl up and sleep fitfully in the chair next to your child. You lose your appetite. And weight. You burn out. You fall sick.

Which is why the first time I stepped into the Ronald McDonald Family Room just outside the NUH ICU, I just sat on the couch and broke down.

After a mad week starting with round-the-clock suctioning at home to Vera landing in the ICU, I was a stressed out ball of nerves. Being welcomed into an inviting family room gave me the much needed regular respite from the battle I was mentally fighting with her in ICU.

My husband Ian and I went on to spend nights sleeping on this couch. One morning, when doctors called to inform us that Vera's condition had suddenly worsened, we could rush to her side in less than a minute.

When doctors prepared us for the worst, we were lucky to be offered a room at the Ronald Mcdonald House.

At our most emotionally trying time, we had a "base camp" to retreat to, food we could help ourselves to and most importantly a bed to get proper sleep. All this at no cost.

It felt like a 'mini holiday' for Ian and I, at a time when we needed it most.

There's even a kid's room, so parents' other children can be kept occupied.

Before staying in the Ronald Macdonald House, I was unaware that there are parents who stay by their young child's side for MONTHS on end - basically living everyday life in a hospital.

Thanks to donors of the Ronald McDonald House Charities, ranging from organisations to individuals, we parents get tangible support for us to soldier on and care for ourselves and our children.

Volunteers, security officers, cleaners help to upkeep the house, much like the work needed to maintain a motel. Funds are needed to repair or replace equipment and facilities, and to stock the kitchen.

Photo from Ronald McDonald House Charities Singapore
So the next time you see this box at the counter when ordering McDonald's, you know your change is going towards supporting families facing their child's medical crisis.

To donate in cash or in kind or volunteer, visit www.rmhc.org.sg or email contact@rmhc.org.sg

To help raise awareness for this meaningful charity, simple share this post.

15 April 2016

Safety Stops

Today will be 3 weeks in ICU for Vera. (In her past 8 years, the longest she's ever stayed in ICU is 3 days.)

Her medication dosages have been weaned down further. Ventilator supports have also been reduced progressively to see how she tolerates breathing more on her own.

Meanwhile, she has been treated with anti-fungal for her Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) and antibiotics for secondary lung bacteria infection. Due to the rawness around the central line (neck area), it has been replaced with a PICC, a line through her arm. Secretions from suctioning are clearer and less viscous now.

She's experiencing uncontrollable tremors, mainly in her upper body. Withdrawal from sedatives possibly. She's had a bout of seizures as well. Not surprisingly since her fever has lasted nearly 4 weeks.

Vera is now, in scuba diving terms, at multiple safety stops. Clinging to the anchored rope because currents can be strong and she can be drifted away from where we would like her to be. She's on a slow ascent to let her body get ready for the next crucial hurdle: extubation.

14 April 2016

Mummy's Medicine

Vera, this is the only medicine I have for you - all your favourite songs. If you want more song, please breathe on your own soon.

09 April 2016

Slowly Resurfacing

Slowly, as the sedation is weaned down, Vera becomes more semi-awake, drifting in and out of sleep state.

She seems aware I'm there.

She seems to know that she has gone through a very difficult experience.

Tears fall frequently.

For a child that's happy all her life and cries in protest only during suctioning and plug setting, this must be a traumatic experience for her. Much so since she has never been so sick before.

Her body is stiff and tense, she's not moved her limbs in 2 weeks. But at least now she has re-surfaced from her deep dive, and we can connect with and comfort her, with singing and massaging.