Discharged for the New Year - and Star Wars

ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

Man who fell ill eating raw fish gets to go home, keep promise to son, as family rallies around

A man who fell critically ill after eating raw fish porridge got to keep a promise to his son of watching the latest Star Wars movie with him before school reopens.

Mr Sim Tharn Chun, 52, was discharged yesterday after spending the past 40 days, including two weeks in a coma, in hospital.

He fell ill a few days after eating raw fish porridge on Nov 15.

His family was told that his condition was likely caused by the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria, leading to meningitis.

While Mr Sim is excited to watch Star Wars: The Force Awakens, he may need to read the subtitles to enjoy the movie, as he has lost his hearing completely in the right ear and is left with only about 10 per cent of hearing in his left.

COULD HAVE BEEN PREVENTED

This illness is completely preventable and avoidable, and yet it has hurt my husband physically, and all of us in the family.

MRS CATHRYN SIM, on how more should have been done to caution the public on the possible dangers of GBS infections

His wife, Mrs Cathryn Sim, 43, a financial consultant, booked five tickets for the family to watch the 3pm screening yesterday at Causeway Point in Woodlands.

Mr Sim, country manager at technology giant Honeywell, also needs assistance to walk.

Mrs Sim said she is looking at installing grab bars and anti-slip flooring in the toilets at home.

Despite doctors advising him to continue rehabilitation at Yishun Community Hospital for at least another month, Mr Sim insisted on being discharged yesterday because he did not want to spend the new year in hospital.

He will continue his rehabilitation at home and his first session will be held next week.

Mr Sim, who was in a festive mood yesterday, said he hopes to recover his hearing and his sense of balance in the new year.

He hopes to be back at work before Chinese New Year next month.

However, he also regretted those thin slices of fish that landed him in such misery, and felt bad about putting his wife and family through such stress.

While he grapples with his hearing loss, he takes comfort in his family's love.

"Although I'm going through this situation with uneasiness and displeasure,  I still see that my wife and children love me," he said.

Mr Sim is usually the affectionate one. His daughter, Charis, a law and management student at Temasek Polytechnic, recalled how her father would ask her about her day every day, despite getting non-committal answers.

Now, the tables have turned, as his three children go to him for a goodnight hug and kiss daily, a tradition that stopped in their childhood.

GBS, the likely cause of his illness, is a common bacterium found in the gut and urinary tract of 15 to 30 per cent of adults, and does not usually cause disease in healthy individuals. It is also not known to be transmitted through food and water.

However, it may occasionally cause infections of the bloodstream, skin and soft tissues, joints, lungs and brain.

A spate of reported GBS cases prompted the authorities to ban the use of freshwater fish in all ready-to-eat raw fish dishes on Dec 5. In addition, both freshwater and saltwater frozen fish are now being tested for GBS bacteria.

Mrs Sim believes more should have been done to alert the public to the possible infection earlier.

"This illness is completely preventable and avoidable, and yet it has hurt my husband physically, and all of us in the family," she said.

While the incident has taken a toll on the family, she retained her sense of humour.

She said: "Now, I can blast my music loudly. He used to say: 'Lao por (wife in Mandarin), it's too loud'."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 01, 2016, with the headline 'Discharged for the New Year - and Star Wars'. Print Edition | Subscribe