DESPITE his wife's inability to recognise him, 78-year-old Uncle Poh Khuat, who has stage 2 lung cancer, visits his wife, 79-year-old Aunty Kang Ngo Hwee, up to six times every single day at Pearl's Hill Care Home.
Uncle Poh has always enjoyed a loving relationship with his wife, Aunty Kang. The couple tied the knot in 1964, had three children and ran a hawker business together. Aunty Kang cooked while Uncle Poh tended to the customers.
However, life threw them a curveball when Aunty Kang was diagnosed with dementia in 2003.
It began when Aunty Kang began confusing sugar with salt, a mistake she would never have made. Uncle Poh initially thought his wife was being absent-minded and attributed it to ageing.
However, after Aunty Kang went missing on multiple occasions, Uncle Poh sensed something amiss.
“There was once she was lost for three days and I was so worried,” Uncle Poh shared in Mandarin.
Alarmed, Uncle Poh took Aunty Kang to see a doctor and she was diagnosed with dementia.
As her condition deteriorated, Aunty Kang lost the ability to express herself. She relied on Uncle Poh to bathe, change and cook for her – all of which Uncle Poh did willingly out of love. Uncle Poh also took care of her medical appointments by noting them down on his calendar.
Aunty Kang struggled to accept her condition. Unable to express her frustration, she resorted to hurting herself with needles.
Then, life dealt the couple another blow – Uncle Poh was diagnosed with stage 2 lung cancer in 2016. Due to the daily chemotherapy and radiotherapy treatments, Uncle Poh’s immune system was weakened. Aunty Kang’s condition deteriorated in that same year and soon, she could not recognise her husband.
“I was not sad nor scared when I was diagnosed with cancer. I am not afraid of death. I am only worried about my wife if I’m gone,” Uncle Poh shared.
Left without a choice, Uncle Poh decided to place her at Pearl's Hill Care Home where she would receive better care.
Even though Aunty Kang was in good hands, Uncle Poh felt uneasy not being by his wife’s side. As a result, he makes his way to the care home every day without fail.
“I visit my wife up to six times a day. It’s not that tiring… just a short walk from my flat. I take it as a form of exercise.”
Uncle Poh also purchased a radio for Aunty Kang with a memory card that stores more than 900 songs. He leaves the radio playing when he’s not by her side to help her feel less lonely.
Besides music, Uncle Poh also bought several stuffed toys to keep Aunty Kang company when he’s not around.
He said: “Dementia has made her child-like… she began to like stuffed toys during the third stage of dementia. So, I bought some for her.”
For over a decade, Uncle Poh committed his life to looking after his wife. In 2017, it was finally his turn to be on the receiving end: Lianhe Zaobao, a Chinese-language newspaper in Singapore, fulfilled Uncle Poh’s dream by arranging a studio photoshoot for Aunty Kang and him on their 50th wedding anniversary.
Today, one of Uncle Poh’s favourite pictures from the photoshoot is framed and displayed on a table in his living room. Standing behind Aunty Kang with his arms resting gently on her shoulders, Uncle Poh’s pose is reminiscent of how he always has his wife’s back in sickness and in health.
Uncle Poh’s story, published in Lianhe Zaobao, tugged at the public’s heartstrings.
If you enter Uncle Poh’s house, you will be immediately drawn to a large print-out of the feature article. Unwilling to let it be a mere page in the newspaper, Uncle Poh had the story laminated and pasted on the cabinet next to his bed.
One particular image in the article caught our attention: Uncle Poh, dressed smartly in a black suit, stands facing a wheelchair-bound Aunty Kang who’s holding a bunch of flowers. The couple gazes lovingly at each other and their joy is palpable.
On days when Uncle Poh misses his wife, he looks at old pictures of her.
Uncle Poh said: “Even though I’m living alone, it’s not too bad as whenever I miss my wife, I’ll just walk over to the care home and pay her a visit.”
It’s no surprise that Uncle Poh's mobile phone wallpaper is a picture of his wife!
Aunty Kang’s dementia is in its final stages and while the future remains uncertain, Uncle Poh continues to face life with optimism. It’s also clear that love is all Uncle Poh and Aunty Kang need to continue navigating life’s rocky terrains. As long as they have each other to hold on to, nothing can set them apart.