By Assunta Ng
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
Do you believe in fate?
If fate plays no part in my life, how do I explain what happened to me during my Hong Kong trip last month? We were supposed to stop over in Bali, Indonesia. But Bali’s volcanic eruption ended my desire for sunny weather and beautiful beaches. I could plan for another option. But then, planning duties for a community celebration dinner for newly-elected Mayor Jenny Durkan accidentally landed on our laps before my trip. Many friends knew that I didn’t want to plan another dinner right after a demanding Asian Weekly 35th anniversary gala. Yet, how could I refuse when the event was for the community?
My husband suggested that we could go to Macau or China on Dec. 23 for a few days during our two-week stay in Hong Kong. Why I wasn’t interested at the time was puzzling, as if I had the premonition that I needed to stay.
What seemed to be a predictable and quiet Christmas Eve dinner in Hong Kong turned out to be a day of suspense, rejection, and fright. As I reflected on those events, God had arranged it in such a way that I would be in Hong Kong the whole time, to take care of an unexpected crisis.
It was the Christmas Eve that I would never forget. My husband’s former high school classmate invited us for lunch with his family at Megan’s Kitchen, a restaurant famous for Chinese hot pot.
The restaurant presented us with an incredible lunch, but not from the menu. The host and owner were good friends. The soup was prepared with more than 10 different ingredients. It was one of the best Christmas meals I ever had. I enjoyed the feast, not realizing it would be the best part of the day. After lunch, I was keen to visit my former high school classmate, who was suffering from depression. All my childhood friends were delighted to see me, and I thought she would, too. I was wrong.
We haven’t seen each other for three years. I thought I would cheer her up. I never got the chance. She didn’t want to see us (me and two other classmates). No matter how many times I begged, rung the doorbell, and knocked hard on her door, she wouldn’t open her door, although she had agreed earlier to our visit.
It was a little annoying when I knew she was home. Either my persuasive powers weren’t strong enough to convince her to open the door or it took too much courage for her to face us. For people who suffer from depression, anything can trigger anxiety and sadness. Their challenge is that they’re constantly feeling overwhelmed. Their inability to transform unexpected and expected events into wonder, excitement, and hope, feel simple pleasures, and experience warmth and kindness from other human beings, is a tragedy. No, I am not mad at her. I just wish I could have helped to ease her pain. A witful leader, she read my palm years ago and said that I would be successful one day. A depressed teenager then out of a broken home, I believed her and began to see light in my future.
The only good thing was that the three of us old friends had tea at a cafe underneath her building, catching up on old times.
Little did I know that my classmate’s rejection would not be the worst part of the day.
During our dinner at a Vietnamese restaurant, I turned on my cell phone to take photos of the entrees, and a text message appeared.
“Nursing Home called. Mom has problem and has to go to hospital…Do you have your HK phone no. as contact?” It was a message from my brother in Texas, an hour prior. The nursing home folks didn’t have my contact information, so they called him.
Every morning in Hong Kong, I visited my mom at the nursing home. She has Alzheimer’s, and she didn’t recognize me at first. With a lot of explanation and coaching, she grasped a little. On the morning of Dec. 24, she was fine. She even gestured me to look at the man sitting across from her, who had tears in his eyes. He was moved to see that mom and I were holding hands, I assumed. He had no visitors. Mom even kissed my hand from time to time, and held my hand to her face. She even touched my face. She would laugh and giggle so hard with me that she cried. For many moments, we switched roles from parent to child. I was the parent, protector, comforter, and her the child, the weak and in need.
The role reversal is obvious: Mom likes being fed. So I did it often. What satisfied me was that I was able to rise to the occasion.
A beauty for most of her life, my mom, now 87 years old, is so frail and worn out. Is this what my future will be? What can we all do while aging so that we can maintain our quality of life?
Actually, there was a list of Chinese text messages on my phone. One was from the nursing home staff.
“Grandma has fever, and her face was pale. We decided to send her to the hospital.”
Another message was about the hospital she was sent to. I am not the type who checks my messages every second. Never in my wildest dreams did I think that my mom would be in the hospital.
It’s a good thing my son was present. He drove us to the hospital. When we arrived at the Eastern District hospital, we found out that my mom was transferred to another hospital because the first hospital was full. So my son drove us to another hospital in Wan Chai in another part of town. I wasn’t upset that the nursing home didn’t give me the correct information. I was just happy that I found my mom later.
Her face was as white as a ghost, and her hands were trembling violently as if she were having a seizure. Although her appearance shook me, I tried to hold her hand and calm her. Mom said, “I am dying.”
“How do you feel?” I asked while trying to still her trembling hands.
“I am tired and I feel like urinating,” she replied. I told the nurse.
“It’s okay to urinate since she has a diaper,” said the nurse. Old age can affect a person’s ability to control his/her bowels and bladder. Hence, diapers are used.
“Why are her hands shaking?” I asked the nurse.
“I am going to put on an oxygen tube and it will help her,” she said.
However, mom was resisting the tube around her nose. She kept pulling the tube out and wouldn’t listen. She was paranoid that someone was trying to kill her. The nurse had no choice but to tie her hands to the bed. Mom’s uniform had strings attached so the nurse would tie her to her bed. When I left, it was about 11 p.m. I felt distraught to see my mom in such a terrible state. I wasn’t sure if she would survive.
The next morning, mom looked like a new person — no more whiteness on her face. There were no tubes in her nose. With a little pink on her face, mom smiled at me. She showed me the needle on her hand. The nurse said it was antibiotics. Bacteria were found in her blood and urine. It’s not unusual for seniors to be infected with all kinds of diseases.
The laboratory report would take more than four days since it was a holiday. When would she be out of the hospital? “Don’t know,” the nurse said, “the doctor is on vacation.”
The visitors’ hours was 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. The hospital has strict regulations. Doors would open exactly at 11:30, and all the visitors rushed in. Mom was one of six patients in her ward. There were about 10 emergency wards for seniors. Only five or six nurses and aides took care of more than 50 seniors.
I don’t know how my mom could sleep. She was surrounded by the moaning and groaning of other patients, the noise of the oxygen tanks, the 24-hour lighting, male patients in the seniors’ ward, the doorless room, divided by only curtains, the bustling sounds of visitors talking and feeding their loved ones. Yet, Hong Kong hospitals are considered to be one of the best in Asia. Ironically, those standards wouldn’t be acceptable in America.
Though nutritious, hospital food is never appealing, so I brought my mom food. Upon learning that my mom was in the hospital, my friends messaged me about an energy drink.
She liked the milk product and the bread, including a tuna fish bun and corned beef bun I bought from different bakeries.
After two days, she accepted hospital food. I guess when you are hungry, you don’t have much choice.
Saying goodbye to my mom was difficult. Her blank stare reminded me of how Alzheimer’s patients get lost in thoughts and reality. Perhaps, it’s good that she couldn’t comprehend that I was leaving her, going back to the United States, and wouldn’t be back until 2018.
Our cousin and her favorite grandson would be back from vacation in January to see mom. I was the unexpected stabled force for mom while they were gone.
“It’s your mom’s blessings that you are home with her,” my friend said.
I was there when mom needed me. Consider it my blessing too, rather than fate that guided me.
And it worked so perfectly. Thank you, God, for giving me a meaningful vacation with my family and old friends in Hong Kong. Without a doubt, everything that happened in the past few weeks, was meant to be.
Assunta can be reached at email@example.com.