Family first for super dad despite ailments
JOHN Low suffers chronic pain from arthritis and rotator cuff disorder, or a tear in a tendon in his shoulder.
But that is the least of his worries, said the father of three.
Epilepsy, cerebral palsy, kidney failure and mild intellectual disability are just some conditions that plague his family.
Yet when asked about the stress of looking after their needs, Mr Low, 58, said with a shrug: "One step at a time."
His resilience and positivity in the face of adversity made him one of 32 recipients of the Singapore Health Inspirational Patient and Caregiver Award on Tuesday.
It recognises patients, and caregivers for their dedication in improving the health outcomes of their loved ones.
Speaking to The New Paper before the award ceremony, Mr Low went through the list of his family's ailments.
His wife Irene, 47, had a heart operation in 2009 and has end-stage renal failure.
His eldest child, Cassandra, 21, who is waiting to go to polytechnic, has anaemia.
Second daughter Celia, 19, is partially deaf and needs a hearing aid. She also has mild intellectual disability and knows just a handful of words like "papa", "mama" and "didi" (Mandarin for younger brother).
His son, Bernard, 12, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, and needs round-the-clock care.
Mr Low was supposed to have an operation for the tear in his shoulder tendon in February, but he had to reschedule it.
"It was during the Chinese New Year period. What if my wife needed me to carry heavy things for her? What if anything happens to my family when I'm not around?" he asked.
He recalled an incident that still haunts him to this day - his wife fainted after a stroke in 2013.
"I remember it was a Sunday. I had just stepped into the flat when she suddenly fainted. The packet of rice in my hands fell to the floor," he said.
That was how Mrs Low found out she has end-stage renal failure.
"In 2009, when her heart doctor told her to check her kidneys, the advice fell on deaf ears. She didn't care. That's why this happened," Mr Low said, chiding his wife.
Mrs Low now goes for dialysis on Monday, Wednesday and Friday evenings at a centre near their three-room Tampines flat.
She said: "By the end of the four-hour session, I'm always very weak and drained, so my husband comes and takes me home."
On weekdays, Mr Low wakes up at 5am to bathe Bernard, who uses a wheelchair. He then makes breakfast for his family, usually a simple affair of cereal or bread.
Celia leaves home to go to the workshop at the Society for the Physically Disabled (SPD), an organisation that helps people with disabilities, using transport provided by SPD.
Mr Low accompanies Bernard in the school bus to Rainbow Centre Yishun Park School, which runs special education programmes, and he stays with his son till the end of school.
"Bernard needs me to be around. I have a doctor's letter certifying that I have to do that," Mr Low said.
After school, they reach home at about noon or 12.30pm. Bernard is left to play alone while Mr Low does housework.
Said Mrs Low: "He does all the chores, like laundry and mopping. I am only in charge of cooking.
"Everyone in the family is not particular about food. Whatever I cook, they eat."
He keeps track of each family member's medication and doctor's appointments by writing them on a piece of paper stuck on the fridge.
The couple are jobless and rely on the $1,240 a month in financial assistance from the North East Community Development Council.
Medical social workers help them with the medical expenses.
Mr Low, who used to run a provision shop but gave it up in 2004 because of the high rental, conceded that it is not enough.
But he refuses to fret excessively.
"If we don't have enough to eat, let the children eat first because they are still young. My wife needs fresh food because of her kidneys.
"I can eat less. It doesn't matter," he said quietly.
When asked if he takes a day off to relieve himself of his caregiver duties, Mr Low shook his head.
"What for? Even if I go out, I will keep worrying about what's going on at home. We try not to go out as a family because it can get a little troublesome," he said.
Bernard, for instance, sometimes takes things out of people's bags out of curiosity, but those who do not know about his condition may think he is a thief, Mrs Low said.
It is evident from the family dynamics that Mr Low's love for his family is what keeps him going.
During the interview, the couple would pause to bicker over little things. Mr Low said he sometimes calls his wife a "tiger" at home.
While Mrs Low tended to a restless Bernard, Mr Low took out a cardholder filled with pictures of him and his wife in their younger days.
"Very pretty, right? Don't tell my wife I carry them around. She will confiscate them," he said with a cheeky grin.
He then let on that his only worry now is about his children when they grow up.
"Who will take care of them? I don't know.
"One step at a time," he said, repeating his mantra.
THE NEW PAPER