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"Precious Gems 36"- Gems are precious. Buddies are priceless.
02 May 2019

We greeted Grandpa Tan at the gate and we heard Salmah* asking Grandpa if she should open the gate. Grandpa nodded his approval and we were invited in. Salmah wasn’t very sure where Grandma was and told us she might be at the market. Salmah was from Indonesia, but she conversed with Grandpa and us in fluent Mandarin, interspersed with Cantonese.

Grandpa was neatly dressed in a polo T-shirt and a pair of seasoned berms. He was seated comfortably on the sofa, with his legs propped up on a pouffe. Grandpa has stomach cancer and he looked gaunt. His stomach was somewhat bloated, a far cry from the stout and elegantly dressed man, in the family portrait hanging on the wall just above where he was seated. Our nurse and doctor proceeded to examine Grandpa and asked questions about his appetite, sleeping pattern, motion passing and medication, all of which were clearly answered by Salmah. 
Not long after, a man walked into the house with a cup of soya bean drink. Salmah greeted him and took the cup from him, to prepare it for Grandpa. The man patted Grandpa on his shoulder and when informed that Grandpa had a temperature of 38.3 in the morning, put his palm to Grandpa’s forehead and asked if he was feeling unwell. The man then asked Salmah to let Grandpa have half a cup of soya bean. Grandpa sipped it from a straw and was delighted. Grandpa mentioned that the milk he had been drinking caused him to be nauseous, as it was too sweet.

I was trying to place the man, using the family portrait and spotted him in the second row. I was thinking he was Grandpa’s son, but Wilson* soon quipped, “I’m Grandpa’s best buddy and his second son-in-law”. While our team was titrating medications with Salma, the two buddies chatted, updating each other on things and really enjoyed each other’s company. Wilson shared with us that Grandpa has three daughters and a son, all happily married. He has seven grandchildren, the oldest of whom will be starting work in July. Wilson told us that Grandpa really enjoys soya bean drinks and he would buy one for him every three or four days. He explained how he would come as often as possible to enable Grandma, his mother-in-law, to go for her usual morning exercise and ‘kopi’ gathering with her friends. She had been doing so for the last 25 years and it was difficult for her to stop it altogether, having to face Grandpa’s impending situation. He had also encouraged the family, who had differing views, to get a helper with experience rather than an inexperienced one. The entire family was thankful they found Salmah, who had previously worked in Taiwan and Hong Kong, looking after elderly folks for more than 10 years, until their passing. That explained Salmah’s fluency in Mandarin and Cantonese and her familiarity with medications and confident handling of Grandpa. Wilson told us Salmah would single-handedly carry Grandpa for his shower, cook appropriate food for Grandpa and has been doing a wonderful job. We were even more impressed with Salmah when we found out that she had been with the family for only 10 days.

Having gone on many visits with the team, this was one visit where I felt relief and happiness for the patient. Grandpa was well loved and well looked after by his family. He is prepared for impending death and his family is determined to let him enjoy himself, till his last day. The buddies around Grandpa are like gems, precious. But unlike gems, buddies are priceless. We must appreciate them!
*not their real names