Sunday, March 11, 2012


As an old friend said when emailing for an update: “the regular blogs seem to have hit the buffers”!

It’s not been uneventful but we, touch wood, have had mainly minor health issues. My right knee for example is protesting its abuse and Lin possibly passed a kidney stone (renal calculus for those who enjoy medical terms) sometime in November.

Life goes on and there hasn’t been anything of note to pass on. And I just haven’t felt the need to write.

But I guess some news is due.

Our domestic helper suffered a stroke on Sunday a week ago, on her day off. Fortunately she was with a group of church friends and they had the presence of mind to call for an ambulance.

As is the usual procedure they took her to the nearest government hospital, Tan Tock Seng Hospital, which is known for its treatment of neurological conditions.

Her friends also called me and I went post haste to the ER to wait for the ER doctor’s verdict. 

The doctor had sent her for a scan and diagnosed that she had suffered a hemorrhagic stroke (a stroke caused by a rupture in a blood vessel, which causes bleeding in the brain).

The young doctor (they almost all look young!) asked me if she had a history of hypertension (high blood pressure to us mortals), high cholesterol or headaches.

I told him that I could not think how this happened because she is only 41 years old and in good health (until the stroke). No headaches, no illnesses, no hypertension.

She was warded that night in the high dependency unit and stayed there for a day and a half when her condition had stabilized sufficiently. Then she was moved into a general ward where she seems to have made slow but steady progress.

Despite many standards services in Singapore having descended to third world levels, I am happy to say that the standard of care in our government hospitals is world class. This is based on my experience with Lin at NUH and now with Analie at TTSH.

I have also visited friends at Singapore General which is probably as overloaded and as chaotic as Queen Mary in Hong Kong.

Come to think of it, except for having to share communal bathrooms (ugh!) because not everyone here is fastidious in their personal habits (despite many public campaigns), I would be happy to be in a 6-bed ward.

Anyway, I’ve been finding my way in a new situation. Every time I visit Analie and observe the hospital staff at work, I learn something new.  Tapping the knowledge and experience of one of my doctor friends has also taught me things about strokes and rehabilitation.

At first I felt at a loss because I had no idea how to get in touch with her family in the Philippines to inform them of the sad news. Then it occurred to me to look at the contacts list in her cellphone for names I might have heard her mention.

Thus, I eventually made contact with one of Analie’s relatives and through them made contact with her family in Iloilo (Philippines), although it was her cousin in Singapore who had the unenviable task of breaking the news to her family at home.

Since then I have been fielding  emails from them and attempting to find out what is available for stroke rehabilitation in Iloilo city.

I didn’t examine the insurance policy which her agent had recommended I obtain when she joined us. But I certainly caught up with my reading because we will need to make a claim. 

At that time the normal coverage was for SIN$10,000 but we had a policy for $15,000 - a better total payout, but I doubt if it will cover all her medical bills and her stay in a rehab. hospital until she’s well enough to travel home.

Given her condition we’ll be using a medical evacuation service to send her back to the Philippines. Thank goodness this is covered under the insurance policy.

What is sad is that foreign domestic workers in Singapore do not have any relief on their medical bills; they have to pay the full price and cannot be admitted into ‘charity’ hospitals which are only for citizens and Permanent Residents.

I asked about a Community Hospital for her rehab. and even then she only qualifies for an A or B1 which are not subsidized. She cannot be admitted into B2 Plus, B2 Enhanced and B2 Dormitory and C class wards - even though she is not a wealthy foreigner or a ‘medical tourist’.

This is something we would not normally think about, but have to face when it happens. So the burden on the domestic helpers and their employers is greater than one would imagine.

She has been a good worker and we like her, all the more reason why we would not scrimp on her care even though it could mean we are out-of-pocket for more than we bargained. She’s become part of our family although she has been with us just shy of two years.

Any of our Singaporean and Hong Kong friends reading this should examine their domestic helper insurance policies and upgrade them if necessary, given that health care has become a lot more costly.

I’ve also been looking for a replacement as it is highly unlikely she will be able work for quite some time, if at all. This too has been an experience - suffice to say that many agents extract their pound of flesh from helpers who are charged a sizable fee to come overseas to make a living.

They incur this debt when signing up in their home countries, the employer pays of the debt by paying the agency. Then, the agency instructs the employer how much (or should I say how little) to pay their helpers in their first seven or eight months in order to have the helper work off her debt.

Sometimes the helper only receives SIN$10 or SIN$20 for those months!

Governments too exploit their citizens by making them pay various forms of taxes and fees. Countries like the Philippines ‘export’ workers to all corners of the world and enjoy an increasing stream of revenue from the earnings that find their way back into the country.

They now have domestic helper training courses, but these don’t really prepare the helpers for what lies ahead.

So helpers make a lot of sacrifices and work hard to raise their families - and run the risk of abuse, critical illness and other misfortunes. Life being what it is, good employers are in the minority and few people are interested in taking on their cause.

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