This is a story about an 85 year-old man, who came into my life for a short while, but left a lasting impression to me.
He came to us with his smile, and his cancer. He’s be in the ward because of some chest pain, and after it is relieved, he’d stay for a little longer, just to have a quiet rest away from home.
When we do our rounds, he’d sit on his bed, and offer us all a seat. Not just for boss, no.
One day he actually went around his bed, took a chair and told my friend to have a seat, because I was sitting in another. He’s such a gentleman.
In the morning he’d walk to the counter, with his smiles and his tremors, and ask for hot water, and his medications.
He’d walk to the bathroom, take a stroll outside the ward, do a bit of stretching, and then come back to his bed, waiting for us to do our rounds.
If he’s too sick he’ll just stay in bed and sleep.
On weekends he’d ask, “Is Ah Lim around?” Lim is my boss’ last name. I’d smile back at him and say, “He’s not around today, uncle, he’ll be here on Monday.”
That’s when I’d take a seat next to him, and listen to him telling his stories. And he had a lot to tell.
He’d talk about how, in another hospital, they did a scan for him, and told him he might have lung cancer.
Then they told him he’ll need a biopsy. They said it will only hurt a bit.
So uncle went for the biopsy.
He told me how painful it was.
One fine day, he went for the clinic appointment, hoping to get the biopsy results. He wanted to know what it was.
Sadly for him, he was told that the biopsy sample was lost.
He was very sad. He went through all the pain for nothing.
He could have sued the hospital, but he did not.
He’d talk about how he was asked by his then future father-in-law, to move from mainland China to Malaya, to marry his girl, and start a new life here.
He talked about starting a business, he makes clothes. T-shirts like the white one he was wearing. Cool and comfortable.
He’d talk about his eight children, and his many grandchildren.
He’d talk about his wife, who’s even more sick than he is. Who’d cry if he stayed too long in the hospital. Once she starts crying, he’ll ask to go home. So we let him.
He’d show me his cigarettes. How he lied to the nurses about not smoking. How he can’t live without a cigarette, after over 70 years of smoking. On how he smokes three puffs at a time, finishing three sticks a day, saving one whole box for the week.
He’d show it to boss too, who’d laugh and said, “I don’t want to know, uncle. You can smoke if you want but you don’t have to show it to me.”
All with his smiles and laughs, and his tremors, which would be gone when he rests, but comes again when he walks.
His eyes were so small, they would be almost shut when he laughs.
Such soft-spoken, nice-mannered gentleman.
One night he had terrible pain. The nurses kept calling me. I came at 5am, gave him some morphine.
After an hour he had no more pain, and fell asleep.
He was so happy the next day. He sat and chat with his family, they were all there that afternoon. Because boss told them something about his pain. He told his daughter, in front of me, “I’m going to give them a nice top. They have been so kind to me. Please tell your brother to bring something for these two doctors.”
I did not know what to say.
Uncle, whatever I did, was not from me. I just wanted to see that smile from you again. And now you’re smiling. I said, in my heart.
Early next morning, he went to the nurses counter. Stood there, with his tremors, smiling.
“Uncle, why don’t you get some sleep?” they asked nicely.
“I just wanted to watch you work,” he said. And he stood there, watching, still, with his smile.
A few hours later, the pain came back. This time even worse. Higher doses of morphine. He was bleeding inside.
His blood pressure dropped. His consciousness faded away. He groaned, then he sighed. Until the fentanyl took the pain away.
In the afternoon his daughter called me to his side. “My brother has something for you.”
Two packets. Two red jackets. “That’s so nice of you,” I said.
At that moment, uncle tried to open his eyes. “He heard you,” said his son.
I went to him. “Thank you, uncle, this is very nice.”
Quitely he said, “Ho laa…”
All I wanted to do was to sob next to him. But all I did was hold his hand.
* * *
He passed away that night.
I’ll miss his smiles and laughter.