Old and home alone: 'I'm just waiting to die'

Sitting on a broken swivel chair, the 69-year-old man passes most of his time by watching television in his bare one-room flat.

He occasionally lights a cigarette.

They are his only pleasures, but have become a luxury ever since the chronic smoker was forced to stop working in March last year.

Showing his slightly swollen feet, Mr J. Chua laments that his life has gone downhill after his gout (a type of arthritis) worsened.

Working odd jobs his whole life, the primary-school educated man had been suffering from pain in his legs for years, but it became unbearable last year.

Mr Chua lives alone in a rental flat at Beach Road after his mother died eight years ago.

He did not wish to be identified by his full name nor have his face shown as he did not want his friends to know about his plight.

He said in Mandarin: "I used to go for karaoke with my friends, go out for good food.

"It's not that I don't want to go any more, but with my legs like this, I really can't."

Mr Chua's situation worsened after he suffered a fall at home last December.

Unable to stand on his own, he called a friend who lived nearby, but she was working.

She managed to rush over to his flat with her sons only two hours later. They called for an ambulance.

Since January, Mr Chua has been in and out of Tan Tock Seng Hospital at least eight times.

He now keeps a well-charged mobile phone - an old Nokia model - in his pocket at all times in case of an emergency.

There are also alarm cords in the living room and toilet which can be activated during an emergency.

"It sounds bad, but I'm just waiting for death. If I fall down and become unconscious, it can't be helped," he said matter-of-factly.

Mr Chua is divorced and has lost contact with his wife and three children. He was self-sufficient, with a job that paid him about $1,600 a month until his gout worsened last year.

Losing his job crushed his spirit, he said.

"I've been working since I was 15. Because of my work, I was irresponsible and neglected my family. But now, even my job is gone," he said, choking back tears.

Pointing proudly to a bicycle in a corner of the flat, Mr Chua said he used to ride to work every day.

Asked for help

But his mobility is now limited and he has applied for a wheelchair. He has a walking aid but prefers moving around his home in a swivel chair.

With his savings dwindling, he has also applied for public assistance and is waiting for approval.

"I hate to beg others for handouts, but I have no choice. I have to apply for help now. I can't possibly wait for my savings to hit zero before I start asking," he said.

When The New Paper visited his clean, spartan flat last Tuesday, he had bank documents and hospital letters ready, and was waiting for a representative from the Ministry of Social and Family Development to visit.

Welfare organisation Lion Befrienders visits him thrice a week and volunteers from Habitat for Humanity visited him two weeks ago to spruce up his flat.

Mr Chua prefers not to join in the activities provided by the seniors' activities centre near his flat because he finds it difficult to go downstairs.

He gets lunch and dinner delivered to his home every day.

But things are looking up - he is waiting for a knee replacement operation, which would hopefully stop his pain.

Keeping his neatly organised packets of painkillers in a plastic drawer near his bed, Mr Chua winced as he mentions how the pain often worsens at night.

"There are many people who are helping me. I won't starve. But no one can understand my feelings, unless they are in my situation," he said.

This article was first published on June 16, 2014.
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