She crawls around her flat to do chores, and cares for kids, ailing husband

Her hands are calloused from crawling around her flat over the years.

And the same hands that she used to drag herself across the floor are the ones that are used to care for her dying husband.

Madam Fatimah Bivee, 53, lost the use of her legs to polio when she was just eight months old.

The sprightly woman, who lives with her 53-year-old husband and her two children in a three-room flat at Aljunied Crescent, has been unemployed since 1989 when she was terminated from her job as a production officer at a company in Joo Koon Circle.

Madam Fatimah told The New Paper: "I tried to apply for so many jobs, but at that time, my children were still young so it was difficult for me to juggle work and take care of them."

Her husband, with whom she has a strained relationship, is a permanent resident and has been suffering from terminal lung cancer since September last year.

He was previously working as a security guard at Tangs Orchard and had just gone through a major operation at Tan Tock Seng Hospital.

"Both my husband and my daughter kept it from me for five months because they were afraid I would worry," said Madam Fatimah.

"Of course I will worry! Even if there are problems between us, he's still my husband and I will take care of him when he is sick."

Madam Fatimah's daily routine includes waking up at five in the morning to perform prayers and prepare breakfast for her family.

She gets her 12-year-old son to feed her husband before he leaves for school.

Afterwards, she sweeps and mops the floors while crawling. In the evening, she helps her son with school work.

When she does venture out of the flat on her motorised wheelchair once a week, it is to buy groceries for her family.

"Because of the financial difficulty my family is in, it's more economical to cook. It's also better because at least I can make sure my family has nutritious food," she said.

She also has to watch her diet because of her health problems, which include diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

RUNDOWN

Asked about the condition of the rundown motorised wheelchair parked outside her door, Madam Fatimah joked about a situation she had got herself into.

She had to cross the overhead bridge on her way to buy groceries when, halfway across, the wheelchair started to move more slowly.

"The wheelchair battery is spoilt and sometimes, it runs out very quickly. So that day, I had to go back to my flat to charge it before going out again," she said with a chuckle.

Looking at the state of the motorised wheelchair given to her by the Agency for Integrated Care 12 years ago, Madam Fatimah said: "The wheelchair is falling apart, but it takes me places. I don't know what I'd do without it."

Madam Fatimah in the motorised wheelchair she has used for 12 years. She said the battery is spoilt and runs out of power very quickly.

Member of Parliament for MacPherson SMC, Ms Tin Pei Ling, was alerted to Madam Fatimah's plight during a home visit on May 14.

"We were looking through the list of bursary recipients and found out that Madam Fatimah's children have been receiving bursaries since 2011. So we wanted to find out if there's anything we can do to help," said Ms Tin.

"Despite her physical disability, Madam Fatimah is a very strong and positive woman who dotes on her children."

Aside from the financial assistance from various agencies, Ms Tin along with several grassroots volunteer agreed that Madam Fatimah needed a new motorised wheelchair.

Ms Tin's call for help was answered when a volunteer who was with her and who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua, 43, offered to get one for Madam Fatimah.

He told TNP: "During the house visit, when we knocked on her door, I was so shocked to see Madam Fatimah crawl out. After I found out that her husband is sick and her son is just one year younger than my daughter, I immediately wanted to help," said Mr Chua, a childcare operator and father of four.

Instead of a motorised wheelchair, Madam Fatimah opted for a four-wheeled electric scooter, which she said would help her travel when she finds a job.

Madam Fatimah expressed her gratitude to both Ms Tin and Mr Chua.

"Sometimes I feel shy asking for help, but I'm very thankful for everything they have done for me," she said.

Madam Fatimah's new wheels

Madam Fatimah Bivee's plight caught the attention of a volunteer from the People's Association who wanted to be known only as Mr Chua.

After the flat visit, he sought help from other volunteers to arrange for the purchase of a new motorised wheelchair for her.

When she requested for a motorised scooter instead, they reviewed a range of options before they decided on a four-wheeled one from Agis Mobility.

On Saturday, along with Mr Chua, Agis Mobility directors James Lee and Andrew Lee, who gave a $250 discount after learning about Mr Chua's intentions, delivered the scooter to Madam Fatimah's home.

Mr James Lee said: "When we heard about her plight, we wanted to contribute as well, so we gave her one of our best motorised scooters at a discount."

After she got used to it, Madam Fatimah rode the scooter to Mr Chua.

Madam Fatimah with her two children, aged 12 and 16, sponsor Mr Chua (left) and Agis Mobility director Andrew Lee (right). 

Eyes brimming with tears, she thanked him profusely.

Madam Fatimah told TNP that she is hanging on to her old wheelchair for when she needs to run errands around the area.

She said: "I cannot repay what Mr Chua has done for me. I'm very thankful and I pray for his happiness."

Mr Chua said: "When I saw how happy she was when she got the scooter, I was very touched."

"I don't want her to think about repaying me. It's just my good deed for the day."

fnawang@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2016.
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