By CRYSTAL CHAN
IT’S A typical evening and the family of four sit at their table, having dinner.
Three have cutlery in their hands.
Only one, in a wheelchair, eats with cutlery stuck to her magnetic hand gloves.
Such moments remind Madam Teo Siew Kim, 60, of what she has lost – both her hands and her lower limbs to gangrene.
Before, the feisty Madam Teo was adamant that she would not amputate her limbs after they turned gangrenous, even though doctors had told her she could die if she did not seek treatment.
The limbs became gangrenous after complications arose while Madam Teo was treated for septic shock.
‘I had said that amputation would be a last resort. But looking back, holding on to my limbs was futile as they were rotting away and had lost their functions,’ she said.
‘My family also had to wear masks when they cleaned my wounds, as the flesh was so smelly.’
In the end, it took a high fever to change her mind.
On 11 Nov, Madam Teo was admitted to Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) with a high temperature – 39 deg C.
Doctors there were concerned the limbs had become infected and advised her to have an amputation.
TTSH doctors who cared for Madam Teo told The New Paper that without amputation, her life could be in danger.
Speaking to The New Paper in Mandarin, Madam Teo recounted: ‘The fever was unbearable. The heat seemed to be moving up my legs to my head. I also began shivering as I started feeling cold too.’
Doctors amputated her limbs on 16 Nov and she was discharged on 3 Dec. The amputation saved her life. But she now struggles with how her life has changed.
‘My family has been supportive, so emotionally, I’m okay,’ said MadamTeo, who has been unable to do chores or continue volunteering in Chinese temples.
‘But at times, I feel bad when I see how my situation has turned my family’s life upside down. My husband and daughter took unpaid leave to care for me.’
The New Paper visited her at their four-room flat in Pasir Ris on Tuesday. During the two-hour interview, the petite woman displayed the same cheerfulness she had shown during our first meeting three months ago.
Madam Teo said: ‘I want to thank the TTSH doctors for their care and concern after my limbs were amputated. They focused not only on my physical condition, but also my emotional welfare.’
But she turned serious when she talked about how she has been coping since the amputation.
She said: ‘I was a perfectly normal person before this and I thought gangrene happened only to diabetics. I’ve never had diabetes or other chronic illnesses.
‘Sometimes, I ask what is the point of saving me if it means I have to lose my limbs.
‘Apart from eating, I can’t do anything. My husband brushes my teeth, dresses me and bathes me.’
The family is considering fitting Madam Teo with prosthetic legs so she can at least stand, but TTSH doctors said that it would still be difficult for her to walk. The doctors said: ‘She has also lost all her fingers and she can’t hold on to a walking frame to help her to walk.’
As Madam Teo’s arms are intact save for her amputated fingers, she cannot have prosthetic arms.
Madam Teo’s sister, Siew Lian, 56, visits regularly to help with the cooking while her husband’s younger brother pays the maid’s salary.
Her husband, Mr Ong Or Thor, 64, has been on unpaid leave from his job as a part-time driver since her limbs turned gangrenous.
Every day, he spends an hour dressing her wounds. He and the family’s Indonesian maid carry her to her motorised wheelchair when she wakes every morning.
Their daughter, Hwee Peng, 34, a civil servant, returned to work sometime in October, while their son, Kok Heng, 36, is an odd-job worker.
Mr Ong said: ‘No one wanted this to happen to my wife. But since it has happened, we just have to cope.
‘We intend to send my wife for occupational therapy so she can learn to do some simple tasks on her own.
‘But we’ll take things one step at a time.’