Thursday February 7, 2013
The turning point
BY ANTHONY THANASAYAN
THE Thongs practically had it all. With a textile business that raked in US$35mil a year, they dined in some of the most expensive restaurants, stayed in five-star hotels and led a very comfortable life.
But all that changed virtually overnight one dreaded morning in October 2003. Their younger boy, Elliot, noticed that mum, Annie, didn’t look too well. What was supposed to be a simple visit to the doctor turned into a nightmare.
Annie, who had always avoided going to a clinic or hospital during her working life, was diagnosed as having suffered a major stroke.
She was admitted to hospital immediately. All this happened in New York where she and her family were residing.
“That was the most difficult episode in our lives. Everything started to collapse right before our eyes,” said Tom Thong, 65, who has been married to Annie for about 40 years.
“The Annie we all love was reduced to a vegetable,” Tom continued. “The hospital kept Annie for a month and had to discharge her under their policy.
“We were left with two options: to send her to another hospital or take her home. We opted for the latter because we couldn’t afford the hospital bill.”
When Annie returned home, she was dependent on the family members to do everything for her. Tom pointed out that it was very hard for Annie to accept her situation, as she had been a strong and independent person all along.
Tom put an inflatable mattress on the floor in the living room downstairs and Annie slept and ate there. Tom became full-time caregiver to his wife. Annie was unable to sit, stand or even talk. She could only utter sounds. But it wasn’t difficult for Tom to know when she was upset.
Little by little, they devised a way to communicate with each other – Tom learnt to ask the right questions and Annie made various sounds to indicate what she wanted.
“My boys had to learn to be responsible for themselves soon after realising that their mum was not able to do things she used to do for them. It became even harder when Annie refused to see some of her relatives and close friends. I knew she didn’t want them to see her in such a helpless state,” said Tom.
Over time, the situation began to improve slowly for Tom and Annie, 63. They worked out a daily routine on what needed to be done for family life to continue smoothly.
Annie’s condition also started to improve; now she is able to walk a few steps with support. She can also put together a few words even though it takes some time to do so.
The Thongs have since moved back to Kuala Lumpur. They were in the United States for 25 years. The Thongs do make occasional trips overseas.
Tom makes it a point to take Annie out with him – albeit in a wheelchair – whenever necessary.
He would like to see more wheelchair-friendly features in buildings, especially restaurants.
He pointed out that such features would enable people like him and his wife to go out more often.
“It is a vital part of rehabilitation for stroke patients,” said Tom.
The Thongs see everything that happened in their lives as a blessing from God.
“Living an extravagant lifestyle and wearing only branded attire may sound tantalising to many people. However, such a lifestyle also brings on unnecessary stress and a certain responsibility as well. It could rob one of knowing what really matters in life at the end of the day,” said Tom.
“What my wife and I went through has brought us much closer to each other and to our children. Before Annie’s stroke, there were times when we spent as many as six months away from each other when we were working. The experience has taught us to cherish what is truly priceless in our lives,” Tom concluded.
Tom and Annie will be spending Chinese New Year with Tom’s parents in Kuala Lumpur.