Wife & Caregiver

She gave up job to care for hubby

As Singapore ages and family sizes shrink, spouses and paid staff will take on a bigger role in caregiving. In the second and final part of The Sunday Times Special Report on caregivers, Radha Basu catches up with caregivers who are already fulfilling those roles. 

After Mohamed Hussin Ahmad was diagnosed with end-stage lung cancer in November 2011, he would make the hour-long train journey from his Marsiling flat to the National Cancer Centre for chemotherapy alone.

His wife, Madam Zauyah, could not leave her job at a chicken slaughterhouse in Senoko. The couple, both 57, are childless.

They did not want to "disturb" friends and relatives either.

There were days when Mr Hussin, a retired delivery man, would feel giddy on the way home from the hospital. He sometimes felt nauseaus. But he would just drink some water and press on.

Then, one afternoon in February while he was by himself at home, Mr Hussin fell from the bed and fractured his hip.

As the door to the one-room flat was locked, it took almost an hour for help to reach him. He was warded in hospital for 12 days and has not been able to use his legs since.

As she still worked at the time, his wife of 34 years searched in vain for a daycare centre close to their home where he could be looked after. But the one near her place closed before she returned home at 6. She was told that it also did not accept older people like Mr Hussin who were in wheelchairs.

Madam Zauyah says: "That's when I decided I must stop working. He just could not manage alone." Her husband was warded in hospital for 12 days after the fall.

Since then, she has been his fulltime caregiver. She bathes, dresses and feeds him, changes his diapers and transfers him from bed to wheelchair and takes him for outings to nearby malls.

"He is a big-sized person and I have to carry him," she says.

They get by on $450 a month in social assistance payments from the Community Development Council, which also pays their rent and conservancy charges and $50 in utilities. They also receive $270 from Muis, the Islamic Religious Council.

While grateful for the help, Madam Zauyah's own future is also fraught with uncertainty. She might go back to work. But who will care for her as she ages?

Her siblings are getting on in years and their children have their own families. She hopes the state will look after her.

"Perhaps I can go to a daycare centre," she muses. "I don't know what will happen to me."