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“Precious Gems 18″ – Before I Die
01 November 2017

“Precious Gems 18″ – Before I Die

On a balmy Saturday afternoon, many people gathered at the Atrium of the Toa Payoh Hub to participate in Project Happy Apples (PHA) Life Stories Exhibition. This exhibition took more than a year to plan and was put together by second year students from NUS Yong Loo Lin School of Medicine. The objective – to make more people aware about what we can and should do and also think of at the end of our lives. This exhibition certainly made hospice care more visible and helped people better understand what HCA Hospice Care does.

The first exhibit that caught my eye was a life size mockup of a warm and homely bedroom, placed side by side with another life size mockup of a cold and stark hospital room. The students had painstakingly gone round to corporates, hospitals, people’s homes to borrow sofas, beds, cabinets, hospital beds and equipment, to make a point. The banner above the exhibit stated in big, bold words – “7 in 10 wish to die at home, less than 3 in 10 eventually do.”

In addition, there were several 2-metre blackboards with the words “BEFORE I DIE…” on which guests were encouraged to write their thoughts using chalk. Each panel had questions like “What or Who are you most thankful for?”. One response I saw “My family and friends for their love and care for me. Most to God for giving me life”. Other responses included “my Granny”, “my success”, “Chng Lay Siok” and even “this event”. Another question “How would you like your family and friends to remember you?” had responses like “a grateful and happy person”. Yet another question “What is the one thing you regret not doing earlier?” had this response which put a smile on my face “Not finding a girlfriend earlier”. There were other pertinent questions like “How would you live your last years of life?” “What would you do for your family member if they only had one month left to live?” Some of these made me think quite hard about how to answer them. I was happy to note that I found it difficult to find even a small space to write my answers for all the boards were filled with colourful writing in different languages.

Other interesting exhibits included a “Telephone Booth” for which we used a headset to listen to a short script discussing how we would like to live our last years. We were then encouraged to fill a response sheet and share the input with our family.

There were also life stories of patients. Our very own daycare patient, 92-year-old Uncle Johnny*, specifically went to the exhibition, sat himself right in front of his story panel and cheerfully smiled to have his photos taken. He regaled visitors about his past and how the PHA students befriended him and helped him with his autobiography. He was generous in his appreciation of HCA, thanking us immensely.

Visitors could also take home an Advance Care Planning (ACP) booklet “My Care Wishes”. This booklet allowed visitors to document their personal care plans, share what matters to them, how to give loved ones peace of mind and most importantly, allow them to live well with a personal ACP.

What struck me most was that people of all ages came by to participate or at least to take a look. Quite a few asked specific questions about death and before death assistance. I had always thought that the older people found this topic taboo but these were the main people asking the sensitive questions.

It was an exhibition that was well thought out, well planned and successfully implemented. I am sure all that attended found it most beneficial and that it was an afternoon very well spent.

*not his real name.