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Papa used to be a moody, churlish person. He could not get over the pain of his bankruptcy in the late ’70s. Many of our friends and relatives treated him with scorn and contempt. To support our family, he learned how to make steamed Chinese buns and sold them at the night market. Whenever he returned home with a beaming face, I knew that his buns had sold well. If he returned home sombre-faced, my mother would warn my siblings and me not to make him angry. We would watch in silence as he morosely threw all the unsold buns.
Throughout my childhood and early adulthood, there was a strong antagonism between Papa and me. I always provoked him, either carelessly or deliberately, with my stubbornness, lack of masculinity, and pickiness about food.
The day Papa received Christ as his saviour, he became a changed person. He no longer scolded me with harsh words or smacked me with his pain-inflicting palm. He started guiding me with the word of God, but the pride in me refused to make amends with him.
One night, my mother dreamed of a choir of angels chanting the verse ‘Renounce your old self, renounce your old self’ repeatedly above a kneeling Papa. The moment she woke up, she could still hear the song until it trailed off into silence.
During the first few months of this year, Papa was bothered by gallstone pain, and he was reduced to skin and bones. One afternoon in mid-April, we took him to the hospital, and on Aunt Becky’s insistence, the doctor put him on a drip. ‘Without that,’ exclaimed Aunt Becky, ‘he may die of malnutrition!’
Despite Papa’s obvious suffering, we were told that his condition was stable and that there should be no haste in getting his gallstones removed. Only painkillers were prescribed.
Over the next two days, Papa’s gallstone pain was reduced, and his appetite recovered a little.
One day, upon reaching home after taking me to school, Mama and Ah Hui were shocked to find that Papa was delirious with pain on the floor. They called an ambulance, which came after forty minutes due to some confusion with directions.
Upon arrival at the emergency unit, Papa lost consciousness, and to the horror of both Mama and Ah Hui, his heartbeat stopped. CPR was immediately performed on him.
When I arrived at the hospital, Papa had been revived twice but was still not out of danger. He was on life support, with many wires dangling from his body. A young female doctor told us that her team might not perform CPR again on him should his heartbeat stop a third time: “Even if he were to make it,” she explained, “his mind would be seriously damaged from the lack of oxygen.”
When Papa’s heartbeat stopped for the third time, the doctors surprised us by performing another round of CPR. I could not describe how devastated we were at the time. My tears fell at the sight of the doctors trying to revive Papa. Ah Hui and Mama kept praying, and the only thing I could beseech God was “Lord, have mercy on Papa.”
In the midst of the chaos, a doctor came to us asking if we wanted them to continue rescuing Papa.
“Even if he survives,” stressed the doctor, “he won’t be the father you knew before.”
Getting her drift, and without batting an eyelid, Ah Hui told the doctor very firmly to her face that she wanted them to revive Papa the best way they could.
Looking at how Papa’s body shook and jerked from the use of a defibrillator, many memories of Papa and me flashed before my eyes. We had quarreled many times in the past, and was this the last of him? Hiding my face behind a door, I burst into fitful sobs.
At this very critical hour, the old man next to Papa finally breathed his last. All his family members broke into wails. Ah Hui and Mama patted their backs, consoling them.
The next few hours were full of waiting, waiting and waiting.
Suddenly, we heard shouts of jubilation from the medical team. I dried my tears and rushed to Papa’s bed. Breathing had been restored back to Papa. I exchanged hugs with Mama and Ah Hui. But it was not over yet.
Papa was in a coma for eight days while in ICU. Just as the doctors had started to show signs of giving up on him, he came around. We found out that he had had a stroke, the outcome of the strenuous rounds of CPR and defibrillation. Upon learning that the left side of his body could no longer move like normal, Papa was crestfallen, but we managed to reassure him that he would recover. Many friends and relatives visited him, giving him hope.
We took turns taking care of Papa. Dominic, my younger brother, and his family flew in from Kuala Lumpur to help with the job of looking after Papa at night. We sponged Papa, cleaned his faeces, and dressed the bedsores he developed during his coma.
The day Papa was discharged, he smiled, a very weak smile, at the sight of our house and his ten cats.
Two months had passed, and Papa was slowly regaining his strength. Regular massages and exercise were able to restore mobility to his left arm and leg. He could now walk around and defecate on his own. But he had not fully recovered his ability to swallow, and he had to be fed Ensure milk and porridge with a tube inserted through his nose.
One evening, Papa told us that he had seen our grandparents during his coma. “They smiled at me in a bright light,” he recalled, “welcoming me with open arms.”
“Did you hear us speaking to you at that moment?” asked Mama and Ah Hui.
“No, but then Jesus appeared,” he continued, “and told me to return to all of you because my time on earth was not over yet.”