Dad had undergone three surgeries on his spine within a span of two years. The surgeries were necessary as father had suffered work-related injuries during his younger days.

Grandpa had built a small business, selling a wide variety of products. As a young man in his 20s, Dad toiled as the sales and delivery man for his father’s business. Trolleys were not always helpful, especially on uneven pavements or steps in front of the shops. So Dad used to carry heavy boxes of packet drinks on his shoulder, as he delivered the goods from shop to shop. That was some 40 years ago; it was an era of manual labour in Malaysia.

When he was in his 30s, Dad felt the strain. His bones ached, but being less informed, he dismissed it as gout. He hobbled when he walked. After a hard day’s work, he would sink into his recliner for a well-earned rest.

When the pain became unbearable, he took steroid injections to ease his pain.

In 2008, Dad acted on his sister’s advice and consulted an orthopaedic surgeon. The doctor recommended immediate spinal surgery for his displaced discs.

Dad decided to try out alternative, non-surgical treatments but that did not work out. Father’s condition deteriorated. He finally relented and agreed to undergo surgery after he had a fall in 2012 and was unable to stand up.

The first surgery was the most major and expensive one. The doctor implanted 12 “screws” in his backbone. After a three-week stay in hospital, Dad was discharged and told to exercise and attend physiotherapy sessions.

In the beginning, Dad was optimistic and eager to walk, but a fall dampened his spirit. After that, he chose to rest in bed, and physical movements were limited to his thrice weekly physiotherapy sessions.

The family felt helpless. We tried to encourage Dad to be more active, but he claimed he did the physical exercises required of him, when we were not around.

Optimism ran thin as time went by. After a few months of non-promising progress, Dad grew frustrated. He threw tantrums and was irritable. Mum and my younger brother bore the brunt of Dad’s frustration as they were the ones who accompanied Dad and tended to his needs. They suffered emotionally, mentally and physically.

Dad is a rather big man, and he needed to be moved from the bed to the wheelchair and vice versa, several times a day. And there is the soiled bedsheets that needed washing, on days when his diaper overflowed.

A year later, Dad went to see another orthopaedic surgeon as he felt that the previous one who performed the first surgery, was giving him the cold shoulder. This second surgeon recommended two operations to re-inforce the screws that were implanted in his backbone. Apparently, the screws had loosened somewhat due to muscle contraction. In addition, another four screws were implanted.

After all the surgeries, everyone expected a better outcome. But it did not happen. Dad was still unable to walk. Over time, the doctor had to insert a catheter for Dad. And with that, Dad could not attend any physiotherapy sessions anymore. Instead, he had to be contented with the cycling machine that we bought for him at home.

Another year and a half year passed by. By now, Dad seems to have accepted the fact that he may not be able to walk again. Previously, he snapped at the suggestion to register as an OKU (Orang Kurang Upaya) but recently, he nodded when my aunt mentioned this again. He has gotten used to life indoors.

My friends and colleagues were shocked to learn about Dad’s condition. And they never fail to ask about the cost of treatment. The three surgeries added up to a six-figure sum.

Family life was never the same again after Dad became a wheelchair user. Even a meal out required careful planning. We needed to consider if the joint was wheelchair-friendly.

Despite all that we have been through, we still harbour hopes that one day, Dad will be able to rise on his feet again, and take those precious steps forward.

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