Living with brain injury: 'Memories from my childhood were wiped clean'

YOUR LIFE: Every human being has a story to tell. In this series, Your Life features personal accounts by Singaporeans detailing their respective trials in life and their courage to face them.

Photo: Lim Joo Phiau
Photo: Lim Joo Phiau

The day of the accident was also the day of my grandfather’s wake. I was 24 years old, and I was on my way back from driving some relatives home when I lost control of the car. Two of my cousins were with me when the car skidded and crashed into a tree. They were relatively unharmed, but it took an SCDF crew to extract me from the driver’s side, which was completely smashed.

A section of my head caved in from the collision, and a part of my skull had to be removed. I was in a coma for a month.

When I woke up covered in tubes and drips, I discovered I had lost most of my speech and mobility. Neither did I have any recollection of the accident – nor recollection of anything at all. My family and friends who came to visit me in hospital were all strangers to me. Even my memories from my childhood were wiped clean.

Over the subsequent months, I slowly relearned bits and pieces of my life from the people around me, although I was often overcome by extreme listlessness, a lack of focus, and a consuming sadness. I regained some use of my left hand and leg, but it was insubstantial and I remained bedridden. Communication mainly consisted of me holding up a thumbs up or down with my left hand. It took years for me to learn how to type messages on a phone.

My mother took care of me in the beginning, before she remarried. That was when I met my stepfather, Mr Kua Sim Choon. I had met him before, but he was previously someone else in my life that I couldn’t remember.

Mr Kua worked full-time as a construction worker for another five months before he decided to quit his job to look after me while my mother worked part-time.

Over the next 13 years, Mr Kua became my pillar of support and showered me with unconditional love.

He treated me like his own son, and does so even today. He feeds and bathes me, and goes through simple mobility exercises with me in the hopes that I will one day be able to regain more movement in my limbs.

Occasionally, he would wheel me around the neighbourhood while I sit in my wheelchair. Now and then, we would visit the barber together. As time passed, I eventually grew used to my condition.

Some time ago, Mr Kua’s savings ran out. Providing for the both of us became tough, so he sought financial assistance from Community Chest, and we also received support in the form of donations.

As an ageing man he had his own health problems and even went through surgery at one point in time, but he never wavered.

Now in his 60s, things remain far from easy for him, but he has never stopped trying to provide for me as best as he could.

“You used to be weary of me (before the accident), because you didn’t want me to get close to your mother,” he once told me in Chinese. The memory is faint to me now, a piece of me from a lifetime ago. Little did I know back then that he would become somebody so important to me, and someone I remain endlessly grateful towards.

Interview conducted by Rachel Oh.

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