Hey there. As promised, see?
Reader’s Digest (May 2009) – Sister Boey’s Gone Home
This story is about a person’s past. Soo Chan Hua was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 12. At Tan Tock Seng Hospital, he suffered a lot from the surgery and the treatment. He recalled that it was Sister Boey who helped him through the hard times with kindness and patience. Even after Chan Hua recovered from cancer, Sister Boey never seemed to have forgotten him. When they met coincidentally at the MRT station, Sister Boey offered him an ang pow. It was a simple act but filled with care and concern as Chan Hua indeed needed money to support his family. Chan Hua only knew later on the Sister Boey was a woman of character, filled with love, she has helped many people overcome their pain and fears and never bothered about herself. She was willing to use her whole life to help others. This is truly a great sacrifice. Eventually, Sister Boey also caught cancer but was unwilling to let others worry about her and died soon after.
I find this short story extremely touching and sad at the same time. It tells the world that there are still some out there who are willing to give their whole life to others.It tells us that the world is not completely deprived of kindness and love. This can also give selfish people a lesson, teach them to care for others. I hope that there are more like Sister Boey out there. With one more of these people, 10 people will feel warmth in their darkest days, 10 people will be able to get up on their feet once more to fight the challenges in life. Sometimes, these type of people are actually right beside you, but you fail to notice them only until it is too late, learn to cherish them and be grateful. By saying, “Thank You”, it will make a whole lot of difference in their lives.
I know that I have been saying these inspirational reflections for so long, you might think that is because I only have the mouth to speak it but not willing to do it. I will admit, I am not perfect, it is easy to say but not easy to do. I have not done all of these correct acts yet. However, I am willing to work hard to achieve that and I hope we can do this together, make the world a better place.
As I peered through the open doors of Ward 41, a voice from behind me asked, ”Are you looking for Sister Boey again? She’s gone home already.”
I couldn’t hide my disappointment. ”Is there a chance I might be able to catch her here sometime next week?” I asked the nurse.
”Why not call before you come? Sister Boey’s working part-time now, and her hours are not as regular as they used to be.”
I left feeling empty and irrationally lonely.
It’s no surprise that my feelings for this place were so strong. Tan Tock Seng Hospital in Singapore was where I had endured the agonies of cancer.
In 1988, just before I turned 12, I was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s disease. I underwent surgery to remove a huge tumour on my spine, then started a long series of painful treatments: a year of radiotherapy followed by two years of chemotherapy. I was perpetually nauseous, and my hair fell out. Then there were the painful needles to administer drugs and extract spinal fluid and bone marrow. It was like something out of a horror film.
There were times when I felt that I wouldn’t make it, when things were so bleak that all I could do was shut my eyes and wrap my hands around my legs as I curled up in my hospital bed.
Sister Boey was a nurse on my ward, and when I was at my worst, she would stroke my arm and say soft words of comfort. With patience and love worthy of a saint, she helped me through my ordeal.
Eventually the cancer subsided, the treatments stopped and I returned to school. Although life appeared to be normal again, I carried the emotional scars created by that terrible time.
One wet December day, about three years after I had gone into remission, I met up with Sister Boey at the Novena train station. Outlined against the vast building, she seemed so tiny for someone who inspired and warmed up
entire hospital wards.
She smiled and handed me an ang pow, a red packet meant for money. ”A little something for Christmas. I wanted to give this to you before the season passed by. But, aiyah, we can never find time to meet.”
She knew that I was living with my younger brother in a rented apartment while I attended Catholic Junior
College. She also knew how short of money I was. I hated taking handouts, but I loved Sister Boey like a mother and couldn’t refuse her.
”You know that you can come to me for help anytime. I have enough to spare,” she whispered before we parted.
Over the years she kept finding excuses to give me money – every festive season, every birthday, every whatever. I felt guilty that I couldn’t do a thing for her in return.
Sister Boey retired not long after my last unsuccessful visit to her ward. I phoned her now and then, and she would cheer me up if things were going bad.
I never heard a word of complaint from her – no outpouring of worries, no grumbles about bosses or neighbours, no bellyaching about getting old. She always seemed happy with her life.
So I was shocked when I learned that Sister Boey had breast cancer. I also stayed in touch with Dr June Lou, the paediatrician who had treated me during my battle with cancer, and one day she told me about Sister Boey’s condition.
I called her that night. ”Aiyah, nothing much lah. I’m getting better,” she declared. ”You don’t have to come and visit me, OK?”
Of course I went to visit her at her small flat.
The chemotherapy had taken its toil. She looked frail and worn, and she had lost her hair. She mentioned how she spent her time looking after her young nephews. Even in her condition, she was doing what she did best – nursing.
Her voice was cheerful, and her eyes were still filled with her joy for life. She gave no hint of pain. But I knew the pain was definitely there. I had been down that road.
As I was leaving, I felt the urge to hug her and say, ”Thank you for everything you’ve done for me. I love you.” But I was a coward. I feared it would be too embarrassing for both of us, so I said nothing.
Being busy, I didn’t see her for several months, and then one night I received a phone call. Sister Boey’s cancer had spread.
When I returned to her apartment, she looked infinitely worse. The only thing holding her together was the skin around her bones.
Her appearance took me back to my mother’s final days, before cancer took her too. I came home from school each day to find a little more of her gone for good. Seeing dear Sister Boey now, I struggled to hold back my tears.
It wasn’t long before I was reunited with Dr Lou and other friends, this time for Sister Boey’s funeral. The chapel was packed with people. I recognised doctors and nurses from the hospital, and there were a lot of unfamiliar faces – no doubt former patients like myself.
I stood before the casket for a long time, looking at Sister Boey’s ashen face – a picture of peace.
There was a portrait of her before the casket. ”That’s a nice photo of her,” I heard Dr Lou say to Sister Boey’s niece.
”Yes, it’s her favourite, taken during her nursing school days. A lot of guys were interested in her, you know? But she was always too busy for boyfriends, too busy looking after others.”
Albert Einstein once said, ”Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.” That aptly described Sister Boey. And in living for others, she had lived for herself in the best way possible. As I looked upon her face the last time, in my heart I said the words I should have spoken when she could still hear me: ”Thank you for everything you have done for me. I love you.”
I said goodbye to Sister Boey, and left a bit of myself with her.
A Girl Who Wishes To Live In A Fantasy World