Elderly man refuses surgery for rotting leg: 'He is afraid of amputation'

Mr Lim (above) is often seen on a public bench, his swollen, decaying foot hardly fitting in his slipper.
PHOTO: The New Paper

Cutting a lonely figure, Mr Lim is often seen on a public bench, his swollen, decaying foot hardly fitting in his slipper. But he tells The New Paper he doesn't need help.

Frail and alone, Mr Lim is a feature in his estate in central Singapore.

His left leg started to rot in 2012.

Today, the decay has reached just below his left knee and residents say they have seen him scrape maggots off his wound.

The cause of the wound is unclear but Mr Lim's family history suggests his leg may have turned gangrenous from diabetes.

Ask him about the leg, which is almost always surrounded by flies, and he will tell you he is cured.

Mr Lim says in Mandarin: "No problem, no problem. There is no pain, it is okay already."

Residents who live near, or know of, him often walk past holding their noses. Some steely ones try to block out the smell and hand him some change.

Mr Lim, 64, hides a tragic story. He is in urgent need of medical help but refuses it. 

And existing laws do not allow the authorities to override his decision.

When Mr Lim walks, he drags his blackened leg, one hand holding up trousers that appear baggy for his skinny frame.

Unemployed and single, he survives by collecting a few dollars each day for the past three years, he says.

His youngest sister, Madam Lim, 51, agrees that he is need of medical attention.

"He has never seen a doctor before in his entire life, even when he was sick. I have asked him to get his leg treated time and time again, but he refuses," says Madam Lim, who holds a part-time job and doesn't live with her brother.

"My brother is simple-minded. He is afraid of amputation, and he doesn't understand the complications."


She suspects that Mr Lim's wound might be linked to diabetes, given her family's history.

No one knows for sure, and Mr Lim is not interested in finding out.

We are not using their full names as Madam Lim does not want to jeopardise her efforts in convincing her brother to undergo treatment.

His immediate neighbours and shopkeepers familiar with his plight tell The New Paper on Sunday that they are frustrated by Mr Lim's stubbornness.

They have called for the police and emergency services multiple times but Mr Lim has steadily refused to step into the ambulance.

And they complain only because their efforts to help him have come to naught.

A shopkeeper, who wants to be known only as Janet, says: "I have been giving him food, money, even cigarettes. We tell him to go see a doctor but he doesn't want to. He says he would rather die."

Mr Abu Bakar Ismail, 58, who owns a restaurant nearby, adds: "I have to chase him away from my premises because customers complain about the smell. I, too, want to help but how?"

Retiree Paul Thanabal, 61, who alerted TNPS to Mr Lim's plight, says: "At this rate, he will die soon. Something must be done for him."

Mr Lim lives alone in a two-room rental flat, sleeping on a mattress in the living room. He used to share the flat with his younger brother and father, both of whom have died.

His sister visits twice a month to mop the floor and clean the spartan flat.

She also pays a worker to clean Mr Lim's bathroom twice a year as it gets "too smelly" for her to do it herself.

Living two units away, Mr Tan See Bah, 69, says the smell from Mr Lim's flat is unbearable.

"It is very bad. You can smell it from afar and it is worse when he walks past. He doesn't take care of himself," says the retiree.

Despite Madam Lim's efforts, the flat is always filthy each time she visits. She also finds bloodstains from her brother's leg on the floor.

Tearing up, she says: "How can I ignore my own brother? As long as I live, I want to take care of him. I have been doing this for the past 17 years."

Mr Lim brushes her aside whenever she asks about his hygiene.

For the two weeks that TNPS observed Mr Lim, he always wore the same white checkered shirt and brown trousers.

"Those clothes, he has been wearing them since August," says Madam Lim, who has bought new clothes for her brother.

"I am completely helpless. I don't know what else I can do. He is a time bomb just waiting to go off."


This article was first published on Jan 3, 2016.
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