It is never easy taking care of the elderly sick – more so when the person has to struggle with Parkinson’s Disease (PD). And when the person who is grappling with PD is your own mother, who raised you through difficult circumstances, it can be really painful. At present, there is no cure for PD, but a variety of medications provide dramatic relief from the symptoms.
From one caregiving journey to another
The situation can be even more daunting when you move from one caregiving journey to another. And that is, precisely, my predicament.
I looked after my late wife Doris Lau for 40 years as she battled schizophrenia for 44 years. It was an arduous journey as caregivers are often all alone in their unenviable task of taking care of their loved ones. But the experience I gained in bringing my wife to a full recovery has proven to be very useful in helping my mum to cope with PD.
A nasty fall and mum ends up in hospital
By some strange coincidence, my mother ended up in this home after she suffered a nasty fall in her Potong Pasir flat at 5pm on 6th December 2013 when my only sister Veronica (who we affectionately call “Girlee”) was at work. My sister, who lives alone with my mother, usually arrives home from work at around 8pm. Girlee was often upset with mum over her frequently walking about the house without the use of the quad stick, sometimes at night when the lights were switched off. She was concerned that mum would fall as her legs were very weak. This resulted in mother and daughter crossing swords when mum did not heed my sister’s advice.
When Girlee arrived home at 8pm on that fateful day on 6th December 2013, she was in a state of shock when she found mum sitting on the bed – bleeding. Mum had fallen down in the kitchen and there was a trail of blood from the kitchen, to the hall and to her bedroom. In a panic-stricken state, Girlee phoned me and Terry. My mother was confused and frightened and did not have the presence of mind to summon for help from all her children whose contact numbers were readily available to her.
Securing a nursing home for mum
Mum had to be hospitalised in Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) for three months – longer than necessary, as the process of securing a home for her to be taken care of by professionals was difficult – given the long list of people waiting for admissions into nursing homes.
Eventually, after assessment from the hospital and the Agency for Integrated Care (AIC), mum was moved to St John’s Home.
Unfortunately, my mother could not adjust well to St John’s Home as she was in dire need of assistance – to bathe, move about and go to the toilet. Due to manpower shortage, the home could not provide fulltime assistance for my mother and she felt very unhappy. At times, mum mistakenly believed that her children had abandoned her. That was when she started feeling depressed.
As a family who loves our mother dearly, my brothers and I had to go back to the drawing board after mum fell ill in St John’s Home and required hospitalisation – again. In the dialogue sessions with the social workers at TTSH and the staff at the AIC, we impressed upon them that our mother required full-time assistance for her multiple needs. It was a very stressful period for our family.
After a few weeks of meetings, negotiations and justifications with TTSH and the AIC, we finally managed to secure a bed for mum in the Catholic Nursing Home of St Theresa. On July 1, 2003, the Catholic Welfare Services, Singapore took over the management of St Theresa’s Home from the Little Sisters, with the support of the Brothers of Mercy and Infant Jesus Sisters.
St Theresa’s Home is a voluntary welfare nursing home registered with the Ministry of Health which provides subvention for the upkeep of its residents and facilities. The Home also depends very much on financial support from benefactors and members of the public.
The symptoms of PD starts appearing
Mum is so much happier staying in St Theresa Home although she has been diagnosed with PD. With Parkinson’s, she has the tendency to repeat things: “I’m in St Theresa’s Home, I’m in St Theresa’s Home, am I right?” mum will keep asking the same question over and over again every time her children visit her. So we have to exercise lots of patience otherwise, you’ll end up chiding her. And that will make her lose her temper.
With some local nuns and a team of dedicated healthcare workers from Myanmar, Philippines, China, Sri Lanka and India ho have a lot of empathy and patience for the residents) mum can even crack a joke or two as she teases the staff regularly. The nuns, one of whom is Sister Bernard will put Holy Water on mum every night and talk softly to her before she goes to bed. Then there is another pleasant nun in Sister Joe whom mum and my sister like very much. Both nuns will keep me updated on my mother’s health and frame of mind whenever I visit.
With PD, mum can get very impatient at times. She raises her voice to her children and even throws tantrums. And as she ages, we know that the PD can worsen the condition despite the medications that are being given to her.
Given my vast experience in taking care of Doris for so many years, I advise and guide my siblings to practise the three ‘Ps’ (Patience, Perseverance and Prayer) whenever they visit mum. We must always remember that mum had lots of patience with us while we were growing up.
It is not going to be smooth sailing for all of us during mum’s more difficult years – more so when many of my siblings, including my sister, have to work hard to earn a living.
Harsh words hurt
Girlee recalls how her harsh words had badly affected mum when she was living with her in their Potong Pasir flat:
“After work when I came home at around 8pm, mum would look so sad and hungry even though I would buy food for her on the way back home because the catered food was always the same boring food. I would be too stressed and speak harshly to mum, and she would look so pathetic. Then I would go into my room and cry my heart out for treating her in that impatient manner. Minutes later when I went into her room to check on her, her eyes would be swollen. Seeing her in that state, made me feel so guilty and remorseful, I would then explain to her that I do not mean to talk to her in that tone, but I was just too stressed out at work. Even now as mum spends her twilight years in St Theresa’s nursing home, she will scold me at times when she is cranky when I visit her. But now when she behaves in such a manner, I just keep quiet because I know that if I speak harshly to her and should she pass on, I will regret those last words I spoke to her. I will always remember that it was no easy task for mum to look after me and my five siblings as a single mother. We were all so happy when my youngest sibling, Terry, was born and mummy would never fail to hug and kiss him and me every day. I clearly remember how mum would walk in the unrelenting rain and the blistering heat through the kampong to bring Terry to his primary school at St. Andrews. She would wait patiently for class to end after which she would bring Terry home.”
Mum, you have taken care of us for so long. Now it is our turn to take care of you. Thank you mum for everything!
– Raymond Anthony Fernando, 65, motivational speaker and author