The carpenter stood dumbfounded as the powerful automated table saw cut through his left hand.
Mr Li Yuan Jun's hand was a bloodied mess within seconds. Two of his fingers and thumb were lying on the floor next to him.
His co-workers at the workshop informed their boss, Mr Wilson Chan, who was in an office upstairs.
Mr Chan, 40, took Mr Li to the nearest hospital, Parkway East Hospital, about a 10-minute drive from their premises at Defu Lane. But Mr Li's ordeal on July 15 was far from over.
After he arrived at the private hospital's accident and emergency (A&E) department at about 1.30pm, it was a long wait before he knew the fate of his hand.
Mr Chan was in a dispute with the hospital over payments for the operation to reattach Mr Li's fingers and thumb.
He was upset that he was told to pay $30,000 before the surgery could proceed, and later went onto the hospital Facebook page to complain.
The hospital, however, said the financial counselling for Mr Li's surgery took only about 30 minutes before it decided to proceed after obtaining a small deposit from Mr Chan.
Mr Li, 46, said of his accident: "I was so stunned that I didn't shout or cry.
"I was just thinking 'hurry, hurry' (to get it fixed). My hand didn't look like a hand any more."
Mr Li, who is from Shandong province, in China's east, has worked here for seven years, five of them with Mr Chan's construction and renovation company, Artdecor Design.
He was bleeding heavily after the accident, said Mr Chan.
"There was so much blood and the smell was still there for days. We had to use chemicals to wash the floor," he said. At the hospital, the A&E team attended to Mr Li immediately and ensured that his condition was stable and not life-threatening before he was placed in a ward. A hand surgeon visited him at about 3pm to assess the situation.
As Mr Li waited for the operation, he was worried about losing his fingers and thumb.
"I would look at my bandaged hand, then I would look at the clock. I was so scared that the longer I waited, my fingers couldn't be reattached.
"My livelihood depends on my hands," said the carpenter of more than 30 years in Mandarin.
The nine-hour operation to reconstruct Mr Li's hand eventually took place at 7.30pm. He was discharged two days later.
He is on six weeks' medical leave and needs to go for weekly follow-ups.
Mr Chan said that Mr Li's recovery would take at least three months and he might never regain full use of his left hand.
Even if he does not regain full use of his injured hand, he will get to keep his job, Mr Chan said.
"He worked hard for us and helped make money for my company. I can't just dismiss him like that. He can help out with the lighter chores and play the role of a mentor," said Mr Chan, who has about 30 employees.
Mr Li, who earns about $1,800 a month, is the sole breadwinner in his family of three. He has a 20-year-old son.
He said: "I'm keeping this news about the accident from my family in China. It wouldn't make a difference if they knew and they will just be worried sick.
"If they ask why I won't be able to send money back for the next few months, I will just make something up."
Boss, hospital have their say
Mr Wilson Chan was unhappy that Parkway East Hospital had asked him to pay $30,000 before the reconstruction operation of his employee's hand could proceed.
The owner of a construction and renovation company posted his experience on the hospital's Facebook page on July 15, right after his worker, Mr Li Yuan Jun, went in for the operation.
HIS VERSION OF EVENTS
After arriving at the hospital, he paid a deposit of $4,700 for general surgery.
Later in the afternoon, he was told that the full hospital bill, which includes the surgeon's fee and hospitalisation, would be $44,000.
Mr Chan said he told the hospital he would have to consider moving Mr Li to a public hospital because his insurance coverage was up to a maximum of $30,000.
After negotiations with the hospital and surgeon, the cost was brought down to $30,000 and Mr Chan gave the go-ahead for the operation to proceed.
At 5pm, the hospital told him that he had to pay the full sum, he said.
"I couldn't raise such a big sum at that time and said I would come back with the money by 10am the next day, but they refused," said Mr Chan.
The operation eventually went ahead without him having to pay the $30,000. He settled the bill the next day with a cash cheque of $25,650.
Parkway East Hospital chief executive, Dr Ahmad Adzuan, said that the hospital makes exceptions, on a case-by-case basis, to treat patients in critical condition even if they are unable to afford the cost of treatment.
"In Mr Li's case, he was attended to at the A&E department immediately upon his arrival at the hospital. He was subsequently put under observation in the ward, where he was cared for by our nurses and later reviewed by a hand surgeon," he said.
"The hospital eventually decided to proceed with the surgery to reattach the severed fingers anyway, despite having no assurance of full payment."
Apologising for Mr Li's experience at the hospital, Dr Ahmad wished him a speedy recovery.
"We are pleased to note that Mr Tan's surgery was completed successfully."
Hospitals must advise
Ministry of Health (MOH) guidelines require hospitals to provide full financial counselling to patients and advise them of their rights and options before proceeding with further treatment.
After counselling, a deposit of the entire estimated bill size is required upon admission, according to the websites of several public hospitals.
For example, at the Singapore General Hospital (SGH), deposit payment is required for admission to Class A and B1 and for certain procedures in Class B2+, B2 or C due to the withdrawal limit under the Medisave regulations.
Patients who cannot pay the deposit are not denied admission to the hospital for basic health services, provided they are admitted to a Class B2+, B2 or C Ward, according to SGH's website.
Partial or waiver of deposit is accepted at the hospitals if a Letter of Guarantee from the employer or insurance company, Medisave, Hospital Identity Card, Civil Service Concession card or any other benefit card is presented upon admission.
This article was first published on July 29, 2014.
Get The New Paper for more stories.