Retiree's escalator fall at Bishan MRT: Family worried about medical costs

Retiree Lim Chwee Leong, 64, remains comatose at Tan Tock Seng Hospital almost two months after he fell while riding an escalator at Bishan MRT station.
Retiree Lim Chwee Leong, 64, remains comatose at Tan Tock Seng Hospital almost two months after he fell while riding an escalator at Bishan MRT station.PHOTO: LIM KA HOCK

Working as a freelance contractor, Mr Lim Ka Hock was earning barely enough to support his elderly father and teenage son, when misfortune struck in November last year.

On Nov 12, his 64-year-old father, Mr Lim Chwee Leong, fell backwards while riding an escalator at Bishan MRT station. He suffered serious head injuries and went into a coma.

Almost two months later, the elder Mr Lim remains comatose, with chances of a full recovery still uncertain, Mr Lim, 46, told The Straits Times.

Mr Lim's father, who has diabetes and high blood pressure, underwent surgery immediately after the accident to remove a blood clot in his brain.

He later went through a tracheostomy to enable him to breathe on his own and has since been transferred out of intensive care.

The elder Mr Lim's case was one of 63 accidents involving escalators in November and December, according to figures in a Building and Construction Authority (BCA) media release last Thursday.

Nearly four out of five such accidents involved those above the age of 60, like the elder Mr Lim.

The BCA also asked the public to use escalators safely during the holiday season. There are more than 6,000 escalators in Singapore.

Mr Lim, who visits his father at the hospital about once a week, said: "My father is able to open his eyes only sometimes, but just for a few seconds. He is still unable to recognise others."

Over the past month, he has had sleepless nights worrying about his father's medical costs and his son's school fees and expenses.

"We were already living from hand to mouth, but now, life has been much tougher," he said.

Mr Lim, who is divorced, lives in a four-room HDB flat in Bishan with his retiree father, two siblings and 15-year-old son.

He said that with the help of a government subsidy and insurance payout, the family is able to afford the hospital fees for now. But without freelance projects to work on in the past weeks, Mr Lim has seen his savings quickly depleting.

Last Wednesday, he started working for a friend as a delivery driver, which will earn him about $1,400 a month.

He hopes the money will help cover the cost of housing his father in a nursing home in the future.

"Doctors have told me not to give up hope, as there is a chance my father will wake up," he said.

"But even then, he may not be able to take care of himself. My siblings and I are working so there won't be a caregiver at home."

His father is eligible for a 50 per cent subsidy at the nursing home, but it will still cost the family about $2,000 a month, Mr Lim said.

The family has also had to make other adjustments to its lifestyle.

Instead of eating takeaway meals, Mr Lim sometimes turns to instant noodles with eggs or plain rice with eggs.

He said: "I just want to focus on earning enough money for my family first."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 02, 2017, with the headline 'Retiree's escalator fall: Family worried about medical costs'. Print Edition | Subscribe