Pa's security staff went beyond call of duty
AFTER mama died in October 2010, papa's health deteriorated rapidly. The past five years have been challenging. But as always, papa was determined to carry on as normal as possible, as best as he could.
He developed Parkinson's disease three years ago, which severely limited his mobility. He had great difficulty standing and walking. But he refused to use a wheelchair or even a walking stick. He would walk, aided by his SOs (security officers).
Papa was also plagued by bouts of hiccups that could only be controlled by medication, which had adverse side effects. Over and above the frequent hiccups, his ability to swallow both solids and liquids was impaired, a not uncommon problem in old age.
Papa searched the Internet and tried a wide variety of unorthodox hiccup therapies. For example, he once used rabbit skin and then subsequently, he tried chicken feathers to induce sneezing, so as to stop the hiccups. Although the sneezing sometimes stopped his hiccups, it did not do so consistently enough. So papa resorted to reducing his food intake, because he felt that eating too much could precipitate hiccups. I am sure many of you have noticed he lost a lot of weight and appeared thin and gaunt.
Papa was stubborn and determined. He would insist on walking down the steps at home, from the verandah to the porch where the car was parked. (Daughter-in-law) Ho Ching had a lift installed so Papa need not negotiate those steps. But as long as he was alert and aware, he refused the lift even though it was a struggle for him to walk down those steps, even with three SOs helping. But the lift was not installed in vain. On several occasions when he was ill and needed to be admitted to SGH (Singapore General Hospital), he did not protest when the SO guided him onto the lift.
The SOs were an integral part of papa's life, even more so in the last five years. They looked after him with tender loving care, way beyond the call of duty. One doctor friend, who came to help dress a wound papa sustained when he fell, noticed this and said to me: "The SOs look after your father as though he is their own father."
I am well aware of that. That is why so much of the speech is dedicated to the SOs.
Papa believed that goodwill goes both ways. He was very considerate towards his SOs. Once while in Saudi Arabia on an official trip, one SO came down with chicken pox. The doctors decided that the SO should be isolated in some hospital in Saudi Arabia for two weeks. Pa thought that very unkind to the SO and insisted that the SO return to Singapore together with the rest of the delegation. He was not going to leave any Singaporean behind, not least an SO.
Sensing he was special, all the SOs have been very kind to papa. On behalf of my family, I would like to thank all of them. I know each of them well. I even know the number of children they have. The SOs were not only staff whose job was to look after papa, but to me they were also friends of the family.
Soon after my father died, Assistant Superintendent Yak called to inform me. After being in my room alone and unable to go back to sleep, I went downstairs to the SOs' room and sat with the two SOs on duty, watching black and white footage of papa in his younger days. I needed the company of friends. Junji zhi jiao dan ru shui. There is a Chinese saying that the relationship between two honourable gentlemen is as understated as plain water. That was the relationship between the SOs and me.
One occasion, while having lunch at home, papa choked on a piece of meat. Fortunately the SOs knew what to do. ASP Yak and Kelvin together carried out the Heimlich manoeuvre several times, but to no avail, because pa's abdominal muscles were very tense.
Yak then called for help over his walkie-talkie. Liang Chye was the only senior SO downstairs, and sensing something strange in Yak's voice, he came running up. They formed a human chain. They coordinated their pull, and after several attempts, the piece of meat was finally ejected. By this time, papa had already turned purple. But within seconds of the meat being dislodged, he was mentally alert.
I would like to give special thanks to Liang Chye and Kelvin, and especially ASP Yak, whose presence of mind saved papa's life.
I would also like to thank all the nurses, doctors and specialists who have looked after papa over the years, especially those who were involved in the last five years of his life, when his medical problems multiplied and became more complicated.
At a ripe old age of 91, he had multiple medical problems and many specialists, so the list of people to thank is a very long one. I know them and I am grateful to each and every one of them for the care they have provided to papa.
When pa was not well at home, I was in fact the first line of defence for the doctors, meaning I would try to handle it on my own until I thought that it was out of hand and I would rather call a doctor.
The most common emergency papa had was pneumonia, so one particular doctor was called most frequently. He does not wish to be named, and in fact he is so shy that he refused to turn up even, and so I will have to call him Dr X. After several calls, I learnt that Dr X would be up by 5.45am to send his children to school.
One morning at 5am, I had to call him. I apologised for waking him up and asked him to tell his registrar on duty at SGH what to do, adding: "You don't need to rush in to see pa. You can see him after you have sent your children to school." Dr X replied: "Today is Sunday." But I know that even on Sundays, Dr X makes his rounds at SGH. Even my father noticed after the first encounter with him.
During his last illness, papa had to be cared for in the medical ICU (intensive care unit) of SGH. This was a very difficult time for papa, the medical staff, as well as for the family. The ICU staff were diligent and meticulous in their care, and no effort was spared to help papa and tend to his every need. The doctors had meetings twice a day to discuss how to proceed, and this happened on weekends, as well as Chinese New Year, which I really felt was extremely impressive and a lot of effort went into it.
To all the medical staff who helped papa, my family is extremely grateful. I also want to thank the (Prime Minister's Office) staff who kept the office running smoothly in papa's absence.
My brothers have said much about papa. I just want to focus on one point: What have I learnt from pa? What is the biggest lesson he taught me?
The influence parents have on children depends on many things. To a certain degree, it depends upon the temperament of the parent and the child.
LIKE FATHER, LIKE DAUGHTER
Temperamentally, I am very similar to papa. So similar that in a given situation, I can predict how he would feel and respond. The SOs will know. They looked on with some degree of amusement at the way pa struggled to complete his 12 minutes on the treadmill three times a day after each meal. Even on days when he was tired, he would still try to hit 12 minutes even if he needed more rest in between. In comparison, the SOs can easily tell when I am not well, simply because when I am well - I have got a 20m corridor with thick cushion - I will do literal barefoot running. And you times 20m about 800 times. Yes, it is a little mad...I did 16km yesterday. I did 16km today.
About 15 years ago, my father came into my room and he said: "Mama and I should be very happy that you remain single and hence will be able to look after us in our old age. But you will be lonely. Also, you have inherited my traits but in such an exaggerated way that they are a disadvantage to you."
I will not deny that.
Papa, I know you would have preferred if I had married and had children. But I have no regrets, no regrets I was able to look after you and mama in your old age.
What is the most important lesson I have learnt from papa?
It was never to push anyone simply because he or she is weaker than me or in a socially inferior position...And never to let anyone bully someone else if I was in a position to stop such bullying. And if I saw someone being bullied unfairly by his superior, I have no hesitation to come to the rescue of the victim. And since I am by nature pugnacious like my father...I enjoy a fight so long as it is for a just and good cause.
We have seen an astonishing outpouring of emotion on the passing of my father this week. There are many reasons people feel this way about papa. But I think one reason is that they know papa was a fighter who would always fight for them, no matter what the odds were. They knew that he was ready to fight for them till his last breath.
This week has been a difficult week for me. And I do not break down easily. This morning when I went out of my room at 10 past six, the maid was already setting the dining table and had moved papa's chair and placed it against the wall. It was a poignant moment because it came home to me that this farewell is forever. And I nearly broke down, but I will not break down, I am a Hakka woman.
So farewell, papa. I will miss you. Rest in peace. And...be as tough as Hakkas come.
This is an excerpt from Dr Lee's eulogy, made at Mandai Crematorium on Sunday. She is the daughter of Singapore's first prime minister Lee Kuan Yew.