My hospice, my home

Mr Leong_Dover Park Hospice_June 2021_3

My hospice, my home

It’s possible to find fulfilment of one’s final wish in the most unexpected of places. Dover Park Hospice Medical Social Worker Clara Kong shares how it was possible for one of her patients.

I first met Mr Leong Siew Khai when he was admitted to Dover Park Hospice with stage 4 lung cancer on 4 November 2020. Mr Leong was a single Chinese man in his 50s who had lived alone in a rental flat for two years. His parents had passed on and he had not been in contact with his siblings for years.

As a last resort, Mr Leong chose to be admitted to our hospice, even though he perceived hospices as gloomy places. He had no other alternatives in receiving medical care, as he did not have a caregiver.

Mr Leong was a rather quiet and reserved man. Initially, it was extremely arduous for the care team to approach him as he was very guarded, refused to speak to the staff and would rather we speak to his close friend regarding his care plan instead. He had a mind of his own and would often be short-tempered due to the frustrations and discomfort brought on by his condition.

The team decided to approach Mr Leong at a pace that he was comfortable with, conversing with him regularly to explore how he was settling in at the hospice. We encountered numerous setbacks but the team persisted and gradually we noticed changes in him. He stopped chasing us away and began to open up to us slowly, sharing his interests and life stories with us. We learnt that Mr Leong was a devout Buddhist who enjoyed mobile games and, more importantly, someone who really treasured his relationships with the people around him.

On one occasion, I saw an opportunity to broach the topic of family with Mr Leong and noticed tears welling up in his eyes. He felt that he had no ‘family’ as he had nowhere to go, and his wish was to belong here. As much as he was grateful to his friends who visited often, his friends had their families to go home to. Unlike them, he did not belong anywhere. He felt empty and lost.

A few days after that conversation, we organised a Deepavali celebration for our patients and the team was pleasantly surprised! The once-cautious Mr Leong was fervently dancing to the music and even improvised the dance moves. The uplifting music and vibrant atmosphere had reminded him of his younger days at the discos and it was the first time we had seen him with such a radiant smile. As the team danced along with Mr Leong, he beamed and was choked with tears. In his own words, he was deeply moved and felt a sense of belonging for the first time in his life as he had always yearned for a family. He kept iterating to us that we were his ‘jia’ (family in Mandarin)’ and requested for photographs to be taken with the clinical team who cared for him, so that he could fondly cherish all the memories he had with the team. Mr Leong had also requested that I share these photographs on our social media platforms and to convey to all the non-Mandarin speaking staff that ‘jia’ in Mandarin meant ‘family’. His intention was to let every member of the team know what they mean to him, and that he deeply treasured the bonds he had forged with them. Each time his friends visited, he would always proudly show them the photographs and referred to us as his family.

Mr Leong’s wish at his end of life was simple — he wanted to be part of the Dover Park Hospice family, a ‘Jia’ that he had unexpectedly found at the darkest moments of his days. He told me that he wanted all his treasured memories with the team to be shared, since this was one of the most joyous times in his life. He wanted to let the world know that he had finally found a sense of belonging for the first time in his life and was part of a family — the Dover Park family. It was an extremely emotional moment for the care team as well and we fought back tears at Mr Leong’s words, remembering his initial hostility, his eventual acceptance and finding a sense of familial belonging with the team.

Three weeks after Mr Leong was admitted to the hospice, he passed away peacefully at his newfound ‘home’ surrounded by his cherished ‘family’. We were thankful that Mr Leong managed to fulfil his last and biggest wish, which we were deeply honoured to be a part of. Thank you, Mr Leong, for allowing us to be your ‘jia’.

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