Sunday, June 7, 2009

My first encounter...a Muslim patient

In the whole of my Hospice journey I had two Malay/ Muslim patients. Today I want to talk about Aisha. I was asked by Matron to take this patient.

Looking at her case history, she had cancer of the stomach. Aisha worked as an attendant in a hospital. She stayed with her daughter and grandchildren in an affluent district.

Together with my partner I went to visit Aisha. I found her in good spirit and she was very happy to see us. We chatted and she got her maid to give us hot tea with yummy biscuits. As you know our Malay friends are mostly good cooks and good bakers, we were in for a treat.

As we spoke about her illness, apparently she was not ignorant about what to expect. She detailed the discovery that she had stomach cancer because she had indigestion and felt bloated all the time. She took us through her history from checkups to radiation and followed by chemo that made her lost all her hairs. She was wearing a bandanna (the type the Muslim women wear).

Although Aisha worked as an attendant in the hospital, she was well dressed and pleasant. We conversed in mixtures of Bahasa and English. This was one case that I do not have pressure. We took our leave after three hours. All these while we only saw maids and she explained that her daughter is a business woman and travels. Her grandchildren were overseas except for one which was in school. We promised we will see her soon.

The next time I saw her was two weeks later. This time she acknowledged that she had pain. She was still in good spirit and sat up to talk to me. We were in her bedroom but she insisted that she wanted to go to the living room so I helped her by holding her arm. This time she told me a little about her life story. She was divorced from her husband who cheated her of the retirement CPF to keep a woman in Batam. She was very upset and sad in the beginning and when she got this illness, she forgives him. I saw her discomfort and took her back to the room to lie down. She held on to my hand and closed her eyes. I knew she was lonely. Although she lived in a nice landed property with maids and she had nothing to worry about food and money, mentally she was lonely. The children gave her all the best medications and care but that probably was not enough.

Many of us overlooked that for a dying patient, it is not just physical pain that we need to be sensitive, we need to be sensitive about mental pain too. I rubbed her body and felt that she was hot so I told the maid to give me panadol and a tower. I stayed with her until evening..

Following weekend I went to see her again. When I entered the house, the maid told me that Aisha was in bad pain. I walked into her room and when she saw me, she held out her hand. She kissed my hand and held it tightly. I saw her breathing hard and I am sure the pain was bad. I am amazed at this woman. With so much pain she still did not groaned or uttered a word. The pressure she applied on my hand spoke volumes. I knew the time was near. I told the maid ‘Please gather the family’. The maid went out and a young man strolled in. He introduced himself as Aman and he is the grandson. I told him to gather his relatives and call his mother.

All these while Aisha held on to my hand and closed her eyes. I saw the heaved from the breathing. I told my partner to call the Hospice doctor. I checked and realized that the doctor had administered morphine by a syringe. I spoke to her…

Lian : Aisha, how are you feeling?
Aisha : sakit….(she breath in and out heavily)
Lian : I have called the Doctor and they will be here soon.
Aisha : I am frightened Lian.
Lian : Aisha, relax and let go. There is nothing you should be afraid of. You have been a good person, a good mother and a good grandmother.
Aisha : (nodded her head..and did not speak).

Aman came in again. I saw the sadness in his eyes and I saw tears. He went to hold his grandmother’s hand and begged for forgiveness. Aisha did not open her eyes. Relatives started to arrive. They came into the room, held Aisha’s hand and spoke softly into her ears but she did not open her eyes. They sat around doing prayers. The men came too but they all sat outside the room. Among the congregation, I am the only Chinese girl. A bit wired isn’t it? Aisha held on to my hand and I am not able to move or go anywhere. I was hoping to give some private moment to her relatives because some were sitting around her bed looking at her and curious about me.

I could see Aisha slipping way. Her elder sister came and sat at her side. She called out to Aisha and Aisha opened her eyes slightly but I saw that her eye focus was not there anymore. She probably recognized the voice and wanted to take a last look at her sister.

Doctor arrived and checked on Aisha. She spoke to Aman and his Mum. They were expecting that Aisha will pass away that night. Doctor did her duty and left a message that they call her when it happened so that she could sign the death certificate. Doctor patted my shoulder and asked if I am OK. I nodded my head. I stayed with Aisha until 11.30pm. More and more people arrived. The room was getting crowded. Aisha was silently heaving but she still held on to my hand. I looked at my watch and I said to her daughter that I should take my leave and let them have some private moment with her mother.

Aziza : Mak, Lian is going back. It is late so you let go her hand.
Lian : Aisha, I should leave now. Your daughter and relatives are here and they will stay with you.

Unexpectedly Aisha opened her eyes very wide. She looked at me. It was like she wanted to look at me for the last time. All these while she did not even open her eyes to look at her relatives. I was very touched. Between us, it was mutual…it is not words…but the look and the tenderness in the stare that she said ‘thank you and good-bye’. She unwillingly let go my hand. I took my leave. Aman promised to call me if Aisha passed away. I took the last bus home and I arrived home half an hour when I received Aman’s called that his grandmother has just passed away.

Muslim law is such that the body cannot be kept and because Aisha passed away at night, they arranged for all the cleaning, wrapping and prayers. Aisha was buried when dawn breaks.

I said goodbye to Aisha mentally and wish her well. I saw a documentary that when a Muslim die, the person leading the prayers will teach the dead person what to say when they are resurrected. It goes something like this…I may not remember them in the correct sequences..

Ask : Who is your God?
Answer : Allah is my God

Ask : What is your religion?
Answer : Islam is my religion

Ask : Who is your prophet?
Answer : Mohammad is my prophet.

…..and it goes on. During burial, women are not allowed to go to the cemetery.

Aisha is a wonderful person and I am glad I have known her.


  1. From your story I think it's obvious that Aisha felt the same way about you.

    I think a lot of people feel awkward around someone who is terminal as they don't really know how to handle it. Aisha's family clearly all loved her yet it seems she was quite lonely near the end, possibly because of this.

    Thanks for sharing.

  2. think about her makes my heart ached and yet felt warm. She is so nice. Aisha is not her real name... but the story is real. I need to safeguard her privacy.