Woman refuses to leave toilet bowl for 2.5 years

She sat down on the toilet bowl in her master bedroom bathroom on March 25, 2009.

For the next 902 days, the small, white-tiled room became Madam Leong Mee Yan's home.

She ate her meals there and slept there. And no amount of cajoling from her husband would make her leave the toilet bowl.

Madam Leong, now 58, claimed that she felt a strong force holding her down every time she tried to get up.

She also imagined stones being hurled and water sprayed at her by people she could not see, preventing her from leaving the bathroom.

Said Madam Leong, who was naked throughout the 902 days, in Mandarin: "I didn't understand what was happening, I only felt all the sensations which prevented me from standing or leaving the bathroom."

During her two-and-a-half year stay in the bathroom, Madam Leong showered a total of 18 times, said her husband, Mr Ong Kian Ann.

Those were the only occasions that she would move from the toilet bowl.

Mr Ong, 64, said: "I had to take a stool into the bathroom for her. Then I would slowly help her shift from the toilet bowl to the stool, and she would bathe herself with the shower head."

Aside from her husband, Madam Leong, a Malaysian who's a permanent resident here, did not see anyone during those years, including her only child, Mr Ong Jiing Yih, 27.

No clear answer

No clear answer

She was reluctant to let anyone know about her condition, and would get upset whenever she overheard her husband talking about her on the phone.

On Sept 13 last year, Mr Ong decided he had finally had enough. With the help of his niece, he called the police and for an ambulance.

His wife was taken from their three-room Jurong West flat to the Institute of Mental Health (IMH), where she stayed for 18 days.

"They had to come into my flat, hold her down, then wrap her in a towel before using a wheelchair to take her to the IMH," he said.

This reporter asked Mr Ong repeatedly why he waited so long to get professional help for his wife, but he could not provide a clear answer.

He said: "Every time I wanted to get her out of there, she would refuse, telling me that there was a force holding her down and she just couldn't do it."

Their son added: "My mum and I have very similar personalities. We're both very straightforward and would frequently get into arguments.

"When she got to that state, her emotions became even more unstable, so I tried to avoid possible confrontations which could lead to blow-ups," he said in Mandarin.

Mr Ong, who has been unemployed since losing his job as a paint salesman in 1994, said: "The most challenging thing for me during that period was having nothing to say to her, and yet having to constantly be around to care for her.

"When it got unbearable, the thought of just leaving her did cross my mind, but I could not bring myself to do something so heartless. After all, she's my wife."

Lovingly cared for throughout ordeal

Lovingly cared for throughout ordeal

The couple have been living on their son's monthly salary of $800 to $900 as a freelance journalist. He is now looking for a full-time job.

In the meantime, the family lives on the $318 that Mr Ong withdraws from his CPF account each month and $200 monthly from ComCare, a fund that provides assistance to needy Singaporean families.

Mr Ong claims that Madam Leong's long visits to the toilet and hallucinations began in 1991, after one of her sisters pressured her for money.

"We took her to see various general practitioners who gave her medicine, but nothing helped," he said.

During her stay in the bathroom, Madam Leong lived on a diet of porridge, bread and biscuits, prepared lovingly by her husband, her only caregiver.

When she felt bored, the television and radio served as the only forms of interaction she had with the outside world.

Mr Ong, who barely left the flat so he could care for her around the clock, placed the TV set within view so she could watch from the bathroom.

When fatigue crept into her tiny frame, Madam Leong slept with her upper body hunched over her legs and supported by both arms.

She pressed her arms against her thighs, now shrivelled because of the extended period of inactivity.

Her limbs are now too weak, and walking beyond a couple of steps is impossible.

Daring to hope

Hope for the future

She spends most of her waking moments in a reclining chair in her living room.

She sleeps in the chair, because extending her legs in an attempt to lie down brings pain.

Bruises on her knee and discolouration on her skin, especially her back, also bear testimony to the mental bondage she was in.

"She used to weigh about 50 to 60kg. Now she is about 30kg," Mr Ong said.

During her stay in IMH, Madam Leong received treatment for her condition, which Mr Ong was unable to provide further details on.

"The doctors said she was experiencing hallucinations," he said.

Currently, her bathroom visits last up to an hour or two, a duration which would be considered long for most people.

But Mr Leong is grateful for the improvement, which is possible only because of the eight pills his wife swallows every day.

He now hopes that with physiotherapy, she can one day regain the use of her legs and walk again.

This article was first published in The New Paper.


What to do

What to do

Dr Nelson Lee, Medical Director & Psychiatrist of The Psychological Wellness Centre, told YourHealth that patients with symptoms like Madam Leong's are likely to be suffering from a mental condition called schizophrenia.

This condition is in line with her belief in a delusional force holding her down, hallucinations, as well as the decline in function and bizarre behaviour she exhibited.

"Conditions such as this usually develop as a consequence of genetic risks and environmental stress," Dr Lee added.

Dr Lee advised family members who suspect their loved ones to be suffering from schizophrenia to bring them to see a doctor as soon as possible.

If visits to the family doctor are not helpful, then they should see a psychiatrist, he said.

"Mental disorders such as schizophrenia are very amendable to medical tretament," Dr Lee said.

"With the appropriate treatment, including an appropriate choice of medications, patients can recover well."

They can also call IMH's crisis helpline at 6389 2222 for more assistance.