Wednesday, May 22, 2019

DOC, I HAVE A LUMP IN MY THIGH (Part 1)


It has been exactly one month since I had a lump removed from my leg. Thank God, it's out and the incision wound has almost fully healed. And thank you, friends and SeniorsAloud members, for the concern and wishes for a speedy recovery.

How did all this begin? About three years ago I noticed a pea size lump just below the skin on my inner thigh. I saw the GP about it and was told it was nothing to worry about. I felt no pain or discomfort, and continued with my usual busy schedule. Sometime during my year-long studies in Singapore, I could feel that the lump had increased in size. Not wanting to disrupt my studies with possible bad news, I decided to let it be till I graduated in early August 2018.

My calendar was so packed with festive celebrations, family events and social engagements that I finally had an MRI done on 21 March 2019 at Mount Elizabeth Hospital, Singapore. The result was not clear-cut. So the advice was to remove the lump and send it for a biopsy. By then it had grown to 3cm in size. As I still had a couple of events to see to including a hike at Setia Alam Community Trail on 20 April, I opted to have the surgery on 25 April. The date was later brought forward by the doctor to 22 April.

Here is a pictorial account of my hospital stay and the weeks following the surgery. It is more for my personal record, but am sharing it here so that my family and friends have an idea what the entire experience was like.


On Monday 22 April, Moon helped me to check in at 3.30pm. Had to fast from 10am. Surgery was scheduled for 5.30pm same day. Here I am relaxing with a book and waiting for the nurses to prepare me for the surgery. The room is spacious and comfortable. I like the sofa which offers more seating for visitors and also doubles up as a bed for overnight company.


As I had showered earlier, I used only the toilet. The nurses sponged me in bed the next day after the surgery. The published rates for a single room is $688. It is probably the most expensive room I have ever stayed in, including hotel rooms.


Thumbs up and ready to be wheeled to the operating theater. This would be my third operation so I knew what to expect. I had my gall bladder removed in 1989 and part of my liver taken out in 2006. Orthopedic surgeon Dr Henry Chan had popped in earlier to brief me and to assure me all would be fine, and there was nothing to worry about.

It was winter temperature in the operating theater. Freezing cold. I was told I would be given general anesthesia, so I would not feel a thing at all. The last persons I saw before I blanked out was Dr Chan and his colleague Dr Leon Foo chatting away nearby. It was a calming sight. No urgency. No panic. This was going to be a standard procedure without any complications - hopefully.

When I was wheeled back to my room some hours later, I felt no pain, just some discomfort but was alarmed to see a bottle of what looked like blood hanging by my bedside with a tube that ran right up to my right thigh. It was to drain the after-op discharge/fluid. This was certainly not the usual catheter bag of urine. Belle said it looked more like a bottle of strawberry juice or watermelon juice. Cold comfort!

I was able to enjoy a late dinner after which I had to take the first of my many medications. The night passed uneventfully till the next morning when Dr Chan dropped by to see how I was doing. Great, I said. No pain at all, and I had an appetite. I was told that a physiotherapist would come by later.

(Left) My first meal after the surgery - late dinner. (Right): Lunch the next day.


(Above) The four meals I had during my 2D1N stay. Breakfast was served quite late at 8.30am compared to the hospitals in KL/PJ where the nurses will wake you up as early as 6am to get you washed and ready for breakfast and for the doctors when they make their rounds.


The physiotherapist came in at 9.40am to show me how to take my first steps with the walking frame. She was super patient and encouraging. Unless you are in a similar situation, you would probably wonder why something as simple and basic as walking requires instructions. I learned how to get up from bed with the help of the walker and how to transfer my weight more to my good left leg when I walked.


A hospital aide later came in to do a survey mainly asking me questions about my stay and the services. As you can see, it was done like flash cards


(Left) A close-up of the tubing and the bandaged wound. (Right) At a follow-up visit two weeks later when the dressing was removed.


My biggest challenge at the hospital was having to put on these medical compression tights. Aptly named, as it took Glen (the vendor) and one nurse, each working on one leg almost 45 minutes to complete the task. Glen called it a sweaty workout. Belle said my legs looked really shapely. Certainly not the case two days later. The above photo (left) was taken immediately after wearing the tights. Two days later, my feet began to swell (right) and remained so in the weeks after.

(Part 2 to follow).

Monday, April 29, 2019

FINDING FULFILLMENT IN OUR RETIREMENT


Ikigai - the Japanese word for 'sense of purpose in life' has been very much on my mind lately. At this stage in our lives when we don't need to get up every morning to go to work, what would make us look forward to welcoming each new day?

As I write this, I think of my senior friends who complain about retirement being a long stretch of boredom, with nothing much to do. Beyond looking after their grandchildren, going shopping, playing golf, travelling, meeting up with friends, what else is there? Is this all there is to living life to the fullest in our retirement years?


Retirees with too much time on their hands are the envy of those with 1001 things to do, and never having time enough to do them. The grass is always greener on the other side.

Then there is another group - the lucky ones who are blessed with good health, money to spare, and nothing much to worry about. But money does not guarantee happiness or peace of mind. The rich too feel a void in their lives, an emptiness that needs to be filled with something they have yet to discover. This is one reason why many billionaires turn philanthropists. It makes them feel good to use their wealth for altruistic purposes.


In finding our ikigai, perhaps we could borrow KonMarie's tagline 'spark joy', not so much to declutter our homes but to apply the same principle to an activity or interest. If it sparks joy in us, then this could be our ikigai to fill the void, the emptiness in our lives. We will have a sense of purpose in doing good, in sharing and giving back to the community.

Volunteering at community farm Kebun-Kebun BangsarSeniorsAloud contributes towards two plots of vegetables there.
                   
Some have found pleasure in activities such as gardening, painting, writing. But these are primarily solitary activities. They spark joy only in us. Why not take it one level higher, one step further to also spark joy in others by sharing our passions?

SeniorsAloud members helping out at Pitstop, a community cafe that serves meals to the poor and homeless.

I am, of course, referring to giving back to society where it matters. You will be surprised how good it makes you feel to be able to help others, and know that you have made a difference in someone else's life.

SeniorsAloud members who love animals are encouraged to volunteer at SPCA and other animal shelters.

Volunteerism can be in a myriad of ways - from donating money, time or energy, or sharing our skills and experience to just lending our shoulder to lean on for someone going through a difficult period.

A study on volunteerism among older people revealed these benefits:

~ Volunteering leads to better health, and longer life because doing good generates positive effects on our physical and mental health..

~ We make new friends, develop social confidence, and boost our social skills.

~ Our time is gainfully occupied, and we experience a sense of greater self-worth and trust.

However, to receive the positive health benefits, volunteers need to commit to an activity on a regular basis, at least one to two hours a week.

To quote a former chairman of Malaysian Institute of Management (MIM), "It is never more rewarding than seeing that a lifetime’s accumulated wisdom and experience are put to good use at one’s golden age."

And to quote former US President Franklin Roosevelt, "The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little."


SeniorsAloud members presenting a cheque to widow and housewife, Helen Chan. She has three grown sons, two of whom are autistic.

And here's how we seniors can do our part, either as an individual or as a group.

~ For those of us with money to spare, we can donate to a deserving charity or a noble cause. Even RM10 can go a long way if many contribute. Some charities such as MAKNA (National Cancer Council) or Hospis Malaysia would welcome our help.

~ For those of us with time to spare, we can volunteer to help out at welfare organizations or community support groups when they are hosting an event.

Participating at Alzheimer's Disease Foundation Malaysia (ADFM)'s annual event to raise awareness of AD.

~ For those of us with energy to spare, we can start our own project to raise funds for charity, or create awareness for the less fortunate in society. SeniorsAloud has a Grant a Wish for the Elderly initiative that you can support whenever we organise a fund-raiser. The funds collected go towards helping the elderly or communities in need


(Top) Donating supplies to Tong Sim Old Folks Home. (Above) A bag of rice goes a long way for the poorest of the poor in Sentul. Our gifts spark joy in us and in the recipients too.


There are so many ways we can give back to society, including donating preloved items e.g. books, clothes, toys, to charities, NGOs and community centres. Personal items that no longer spark joy in us, may spark joy in others. 

Don't know who or where to donate your preloved items? Just contact SeniorsAloud and we will put you in touch with Kedai Jalanan and other community groups.

If you have materials but don't know what to do with them, donate them to Mums Sew With Love. They will put the material to good use. SeniorsAloud members pictured here with some of the single mums.

SeniorsAloud has a volunteer group that helps out at Pitstop and Kebun-Kebun Bangsar. The members are available to volunteer whenever the call comes from NGOs or community service groups. We are also looking at helping out at libraries and visiting welfare homes and activity centres for seniors (e.g. Pusat Aktiviti Warga Emas or PAWE). If you are interested to join our volunteer group, contact Choke Ling 012-2001929 or Kamil 019-6641951.


Be a volunteer and enjoy better health, make new friends and discover the joy of making a difference in someone else's life. This is what gives meaning and purpose in our retirement. Give it a try and experience the satisfaction and health benefits it brings.

Article written by Lily Fu
SeniorsAloud founder
MSc Applied Gerontology, MESL

Sunday, March 31, 2019

LOOKING FOR A GOOD AGED CARE FACILITY? READ THIS FIRST.


SeniorsAloud regularly receives emails and whatsapp messages enquiring about nursing homes for a loved one. First, let me say that we do not operate a nursing home. Second, we are not working with any aged care facility or retirement home operator.

Most of the enquiries we receive lack details, so we can't advise even if we would like to help. Here's a typical one:

"Hi, I am looking for a suitable nursing home for my elderly aunty. Can you please recommend a good one? Thank you."

Not much detailed info for us to work on, is there?


We always recommend doing an online search first, and narrowing down the list to a handful of addresses based on location, fees and facilities. Next is to follow up with a visit to each of the homes. Never rely on website info alone to make a choice. Glossy images may belie actual reality. They are part of marketing strategy to attract and appeal to potential clients.

Here's a checklist of what to look for on your first visit to the home. Be sure to ask the right questions.

1. Is the home licensed? This serves as a good guide as certain conditions need to be fulfilled before a license can be issued. Operators of aged care facilities in Petaling Jaya, for example, should have two licenses - a business license issued by MBPJ and the other by Jabatan Kebajikan Masyarakat (JKM). Ask whether there is a proper admission procedure. Is there a board of trustees or at the very least a management committee to oversee the running of the home? Homes that are run by one or two individuals with little relevant experience or qualifications are likely to be unlicensed. There must be checks and balances to ensure proper and efficient supervision and management of the home.

A simple, uncluttered room that is clean, airy and well-lit. Would be better to have bed rails to prevent the elderly from falling off the bed. The bedside rug should be non-slip and the edges weighted down to prevent tripping.
A morning exercise session for the elderly residents.
    2. Are the nurses and other staff trained? Remember, you will be leaving your loved one in their care 24/7. Do they treat the residents with respect and kindness? Do the staff include medical/health professionals e.g. doctor, physiotherapist? Do the staff look overworked or unfriendly? Are they mostly foreigners or locals? Are they able to communicate with the elderly to understand their needs? What are the provisions for emergencies? Do the staff keep you informed about your loved one when you are away? What is the staff/resident ratio? A rough guide would be:
    • For semi-mobile residents who require some assistance with daily activities. Ratio is 1:8.
    • For wheelchair bound or bedridden residents who may have mental sickness. Ratio is 1:4.
    • For fully dependent residents who have mental or behavourial problems and are unable to cope with daily living on their own. Ratio is 1:2.
    A nursing home with a garden scores a plus point. Residents can enjoy the outdoor sunlight and fresh air, or engage in some exercise, or in gardening.
    3. What is your first impression of the facility? Clean? Odourless? Well-ventilated and well-lit? Elder-friendly furniture and fixtures? Quiet surroundings? Safe and comfortable environment? Any greenery? If it's a double-storey building, look for a fire escape outside. If the home looks uninviting from the outside, there really is no point in ringing the doorbell. It will be a total waste of your time.

    Daily activities and planned meals at a home for the elderly.
    4. Are there planned meals and activities? Is the menu changed daily? Are the residents left to themselves to watch TV most of the time? Does the home arrange for outings or for volunteer groups to visit regularly and entertain the residents? Do the elderly residents look neglected?

    Karaoke session; Bingo. Some homes conduct handicraft and art therapy.
    5. Ask about the fees. Be prepared to pay more if you expect a certain level of care and facilities. The range can be as low as RM1000 a month to as high as RM5000 or more, depending on the type of care required, single room or dorm, and services provided. What do the fees cover besides meals? Laundry? Diapers? Medication? Personal toiletries? Hair cuts? Personal grooming? Daily checks for blood pressure, etc? Are receipts issued for payments? Is a deposit required?


    To meet the needs of a growing elderly population, operating an aged care facility, whether it is a nursing home or a daycare centre, has become a thriving business. Private nursing homes are a common sight in residential neighbourhoods. Most are housed in converted bungalows rather than in purpose-built facilities. Nearly all have attractive websites promising appealing surroundings and tender loving care. Don't be taken in by the hype.

    Ask around for recommendations from friends who have a family member in a nursing home. Let your fingers do some research online to back up a recommendation. Then contact the home to arrange for a visit. If they say you are welcome to drop by anytime, it is a good sign that they are prepared to be 'inspected' at your convenience, and not theirs. Remember to ask the right questions during the visit, and make a mental note of everything you see, both good and not so good. 

    This was one of the best aged care facilities I have visited. Pity it had to close due to the location - too far for families to visit daily.
    I hope this article gives you an idea of what to look for in a good home for an elderly. You will be surprised how many homes you will strike out from your list before you finally find one that could be the answer to your prayers.

    (Note: Images of homes featured in this post are the property of SeniorsAloud. Permission is required to use the images.)

    Thursday, February 14, 2019

    FOR SINGLES ON VALENTINE'S DAY


    It's Valentine's Day - again. While couples young and old celebrate the day exchanging gifts and Valentine cards, my thoughts, as always, are with those who will not be sitting down to a romantic candlelight dinner. Reason: they are single. To them, I say, "Happy Single Awareness Day!" I am one of you too. No need to dread this day. Indeed, our numbers are increasing. Today being single for an older woman is no longer a social stigma. If truth be told, women in unhappy marriages envy their single sisters but they do not have the courage to break free. To the happily married ones, a toast to you on this Valentine's Day.


    Unless you are married to someone wonderful, it's better to remain single. I am not putting down the institution of marriage. But I seem to be hearing more couples getting divorced than getting married, especially among older couples. Once the children are grown and flown, a couple's marriage is put to the test. Retired couples, in particular, find that being in each other's company 24/7 can either rekindle the old flame of romance and passion, or it can extinguish forever the last sparks of a dying marriage.

    Which one are you? There's a third one - being single and NOT available. 
    It takes a lot of effort, compromise even sacrifice to keep a relationship going. Many young couples don't have the patience to work at it. Gone are the days when wedding vows were taken seriously and couples remained married 'till death do us part'. Even after death, the bereaved spouse stayed faithful to the memory of the dearly beloved. Second marriages were almost unheard of, as were divorces. Indeed, to ask for a divorce would be akin to asking to be ostracized.

    Today on Valentine's Day, I dedicate the day to my parents. I remember them as a very loving couple. As a child, I used to listen with fascination to the love stories my mother told me about how my father wooed her. Their courtship days were like chapters taken from a Barbara Cartland novel. My father simply adored my mother, and spending time with her was something he treasured as we saw him only during the weekends. His work as a medical sales representative often took him outstation and away from the family.

    My father treated my mother like she was a fragile porcelain doll. He was always eager to please her and make her happy. My mother bore him six children during their 10 years together. I was the eldest. My youngest sister never got to see my dad for he passed away in 1957 after a short period of illness. My mom was heavily pregnant with her sixth child when my dad left her - forever.

    My parents - Annie Goh Kwee Foung and Jackie Fu Fook Im (1947)
    My mother will be 94 this October. She has never remarried, and has remained a widow all these past 62 years. I am sure she still misses my father, that is, on days when she can remember, when her mind is clear, and her memory is sharp. For my mom has Alzheimer's. The other day when I showed her this picture of my dad and her, I asked if she knew who the couple was. Without any hesitation, she said 'That's me and that's your father. But he's gone now. He was very good to me.'

    Whether you are single, married, divorced or widowed, today is the day we celebrate LOVE. We should be celebrating love every day, in the little things we do, for the people we love. Love doesn't have to cost a cent. Love can be a genuine smile, a warm hug or an affectionate kiss. Or a good deed for someone we don't know but who needs our help.

    Spread a little love today, and every day.

    HAPPY VALENTINE'S DAY, EVERYONE!



    (This post is updated from an earlier one posted on Valentine's Day 2014.)

    Tuesday, January 1, 2019

    A GREAT START TO A NEW YEAR


    Woke up on New Year's Day to find this whatsapp message on my phone: Congratulations, you are in The Star today. A quick flipping of pages led me to the article, reprinted below for easy reading. A great start for 2019, if I may say so.

    Pioneer batch of MSc Applied Gerontology graduates August 2018. Original photo: Wee Teck Hian
    Never let age stop you from pursuing your dreams. This was the advice Lily Fu, 70, gave her course mates in her valedictorian speech when she graduated with a Masters of Science in Applied Gerontology from Nanyang Technological University, Singapore, in 2018.

    Fu truly embodies that philosophy. She was the oldest in her class, but the self-professed “lifelong learner” didn’t let that or “the limitations of the ageing body and brain” get in the way of pursuing her ambition.

    “I often say, you must have passion to achieve your dreams. Passion is a magnet. It will attract the right people and opportunities to allow you to achieve your dreams,” says Fu, who received her scroll in August 2018.

    It was her zeal that led her to enrol in the Masters programme, even though the retired teacher couldn’t afford the costs. She says, “Going back to school was something I’d wanted to do for a while.”

    “I’d enrolled in all sorts of courses related to ageing at the University of the Third Age (under Universiti Putra Malaysia’s Institute of Gerontology). Then in 2010, Prof (Dr Tengku) Aizan (Hamid), the director of the Institute of Gerontology, encouraged me to pursue my Masters, but the timing never seemed right.

    “I heard about a Masters of Science in Applied Gerontology programme at the Singapore Institute of Management (now Singapore University of Social Sciences), but the logistics and fees posed a huge obstacle. Every scholarship I looked up had an upper age limit and mine was above that ceiling.

    “Then in 2016, my daughter who resides in Singapore told me about this new course at NTU. I attended a preview and liked what I saw, but the fees were too high – tuition alone would cost me S$34,000 (RM104,000).

    “But seeing how passionate I was, my daughter and son-in-law offered to pay for me, so I grabbed the offer. I hope this becomes a trend, where retirees can pursue their passion, funded by their adult children,” says the mum of two and grandma of five.

    Being a full-time student at 70 wasn’t easy, Fu admits. She had to get used to new modes of learning and keep up with course mates who were much younger. But her can-do spirit and determination to not let age stop her pushed her to graduate – and also be class valedictorian. “It wasn’t so bad because my class was diverse in every way,” she says.

    “Also in Singapore, there’s a huge focus on respect for the elderly. On trains, people give up their seats. On the road, they give way to pedestrians. Bus drivers help the elderly and those on wheelchairs to get on and off. I learnt a lot about what we can do for our elderly in Malaysia and I have come back with lots to share.”

    The Masters programme covered many aspects of ageing including policy, advocacy, physiology of the ageing person, mental health, gerontechnology (assistive devices and technology that can help the elderly) and thanatology, the scientific study of dying.

    “I never thought I’d be in a Masters of Science programme, but it was an interdisciplinary programme that was rich with the top people from the hospitals lecturing us. With my Masters’ credentials, people actually listen when I give talks, even though a lot of what I say is the same as before,” she says laughing.

    Me and my coursemates Meera and Minyi. Original photo: Foong Ming
    Building A Community
    Advocating for the elderly is something the Batu Pahat, Johor, native has been busy with for the last decade. In 2008, Fu started SeniorsAloud, a blog to raise the issues facing the elderly in Malaysia.

    It’s a platform for seniors to network and share their stories. Though it started as an online portal, the blog has grown into a community of seniors who meet regularly for activities and workshops. The idea, Fu says, is to enable and help them empower each other to lead active, healthy lives.

    “When I started SeniorsAloud, there weren’t many (initiatives) for the elderly. I had become a senior myself, and because I use public transport, I noticed the many issues the elderly face in this country.

    “I’ve been taking public transport for years and I realise how unfriendly it is for seniors. Our bus stops don’t have any information about the buses and their routes. If there is a notice, the words are so small – how are the elderly going to read them?

    “Another issue is the lack of wheelchair access. Even in KLCC, a premier mall, there’s very little disability access. A lot of doors are closed for seniors, a lot of needs are not met, and I want to give us a voice,” says Fu.

    To create awareness, she began writing articles (now over 1,000) which she hopes will get the attention of policymakers who could initiate positive changes. She says, “Going online was the best solution because it was free and I could reach more people.”

    “I had to learn how to set up a blog, take photos, write stories and design flyers on my own. I also went for a course on citizen journalism to help me write news stories,” says Fu, a retired teacher who taught at Kuen Cheng Girls School for over 30 years.

    Recruiting members for her online community was tough, she confesses. Though there were no membership fees, many retirees were put off by the name of her portal.

    “People don’t want to be labelled ‘seniors’, though they enjoy senior discounts. We need to project a positive image of the elderly and this starts with seniors ourselves. If we keep saying we’re too old to do things, how do we expect people to see us? We must change,” she says with conviction.

    Before long, SeniorsAloud drew the attention of organisations and companies who invited the elderly to participate in programmes. Fu was invited to speak on ageing matters, but she realised that for people to take her seriously, she needed the “right credentials” which is why she pursued her degree.

    SeniorsAloud has about 500 registered members and another 500 who regularly visit Fu’s blog and social media page. Among the ongoing education and awareness programmes organised for the SeniorsAloud community are workshops to help seniors go online.

    “There will come a time when we seniors will be mostly home-bound. But if we know how to use technology, we can remain connected to friends and the world. We can network with our friends and family even though we may not be able to go out,” says Fu. “Another is to be aware of online scams that target the elderly.”

    With the knowledge and insights she’s gained from her time in Singapore and a change of government in Malaysia, Fu hopes to contribute to improving the lot of seniors in Malaysia.

    “The new measures and incentives announced in the Budget 2019 are encouraging and we will have to see how these get implemented,” Fu says. “I’m ever willing to share my input and to be a part of bringing change for our seniors.”

    (The original article can be read at https://www.star2.com/family/2019/01/01/yearstarter2019-advocating-seniors/)

    For the transcript of my valedictorian speech and more photos, go to https://www.seniorsaloud.com/2018/08/my-class-valedictorian-speech.html