Everything that happens when your mom has an aneurysm

1700H

It’s sudden — your mom collapses face down, surrounded by colleagues and heaps of paperwork. She lies unconscious on the carpeted floor as blood flows from one side of her brain to the other.

You're walking home after the last day of work. Packed your messy desk decorations and 7 months of memories into a box. Convinced yourself to walk the three hours from River Valley Road to Jurong East.

Plenty of time to think about life’s next steps, you think.

Except that there isn’t.

Your phone quivers repeatedly. At first you assume it’s yet another meaningless complaint about incompetent bosses and stolen pictures of scantily-clad chiobus.

It’s that group chat — the one that you're just an observer.

Instead, barrages of messages from your dad. All single lines, lacking punctuation with unfashionable shorthand. The kind he sends whilst driving, one hand on the wheel.

“mom is in hospital”
“fainted at work today”
“still unconcious”
“i'm on my way there going 2 be a long night”

You hop on the next 11 that comes along. No need to take a cab, Alexandra hospital isn't too far from here, you think.

You regret the decision the moment you board the bus. When it pulls up opposite Queensway shopping centre, 10 stops later, you already hate yourself.

The waiting room is crowded when you arrive, but you instantly recognise your dad’s tummy and the way he hobbles with his left leg. He’s joined by an aunt, a skinny lady who’s a older, bonier, less mercurial version of your mother.

They're leaving.

“The doctors here can’t do anything for her,” your dad says somberly while bony aunt wells up with tears. They're sending her to the National University Hospital (NUH), a larger, more well-equipped facility some 2.6 kilometres away.

Shortly, Mom emerges from a fluorescent chamber. The hospital crowd quietly parts as the stretcher makes a beeline for the door. Your dad is helped aboard the ambulance, and motions for you to take the family car and Bony Aunt with you.

As the doors close and sirens come on, you take one long, hard look at your parents, now both seated at the back of the ambulance. You wonder if they ever saw this coming. Or talked about it, even in passing. During one their dates, perhaps? Or at the maternity ward? Those long road trips to Malaysia?

Then the engines roar, and you pray — for the first time in forever – that your fellow Singaporeans are more gracious drivers than their reputation suggest.

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1930H

Rush hour makes for long drive to the National University Hospital on your mom’s 2006 Mitsubishi Lancer.

Bony Aunt doesn't say a word. Comforting words that have worked so well on television fail miserably.

She has known her sister for 60 years. They've picked up flowers together, worked together, watched the older Lee declare Singapore’s independence together. Maybe that’s why she sheds tears, and you haven’t.

The ambulance arrives a good half-an-hour before you. You hastily drop Bony Aunt off at the Ambulance Bay and are greeted by familiar dull-grey blocks as you search for the car park. Ah, yes. The last time you were here, your sister came down with a bout of dengue. Wait, no — was it when you lost Ah Ma? Whatever. Unless you're a nurse or a doctor due for promotion, hospitals have never been good news.

You don’t expect today to be any different. The numerous bed-ridden, wheelchair-bound folks you squeeze past only confirm that suspicion. On the way up to Ward 21, you pass Ward 22, where the people are significantly happier awaiting newborn children. Hospitals are a nexus for life and death, the beginning and the end, words you once wrote, thinking you were clever.

Now they've come back to haunt you.

The waiting area at the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) at the National University Hospital is a curious place. It’s a small square box with glass windows. Plastic chairs sit in rows on each side, accompanied by the odd potted plant. Yesterday’s and today’s copies of the Straits Times can be found occasionally, and a black box hangs in the corner, blaring movies such as Transformers (2007) and Ghost Rider (also 2007) for entertainment.

It is here that you find out that surgery on your mother will commence shortly. There’s 60% chance of death, the doctor says. 100% if they don’t proceed. You sanitise your hands and go to see your mother. The door opens, full of nurses in blue-and-white scrubs in the company of impatiently beeping machinery. In smaller, self-contained rooms, the patients lie. To your right a young man with gaunt cheeks stares blankly — not at you, not at anything. His skin clings stubbornly to his ribcage. Further on, there’s a diminutive woman with her eyes closed and mouth slightly ajar. Head shorn, breasts exposed, lying half-naked on the steel operating table.

It takes you awhile to realise that she’s your mother.

The immediate reaction is to tear your eyes away. Mom, Mommy, Mama. The woman who gave birth to you. The womb you dwelled in for nine months. It might be the last time you get to see her as a living being. And so you look on with your father, Bony Aunt, and HJ, who rushed down from Clementi.

Nobody says anything. Until the curtains are drawn, until the nurses ask, firmly but nicely to leave. It’s then you wished you had held her hand a little longer when you still had the chance.

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2330H

Jill’s cheery voice is the only thing heard in car as you speed towards Siglap on the ECP. Hit after hit, from Hozier to Clean Bandit. K, who must have said everything will be alright about 27 times in the past hour, is quiet.

At Exit 8a, you take a left, heading straight down before turning left to East Coast Avenue. For a split second it feels like Saturday, and the both of you have just returned from watching a movie — The Life of Pi, perhaps.

You drop K off at her home. She plants a kiss on your lips, as always. You wait till she disappears into the elevator before checking your phone. No notifications. Good.

Pedal to the floor, you make your way back to the hospital. You haven't felt this reckless in awhile. Taxi drivers, beemers and souped-up Subarus. Today, you streak past them as streetlamps meld into incandescent streaks.

The road is dotted with landmarks of your adolescence. Places so foreign, the last time you visited them was with your parents. You recall your father reminiscing about the good ol’ days at the Big Splash. Think about the time you brought mom to watch the National Day Preview at the floating platform — oh, how she annoyed you when she took out her trusty umbrella that blocked everyone’s view.

Then you sight the Singapore Flyer on the horizon.

“We just want to enjoy life,” she said then. How would being on a huge wheel overlooking the same damn city you slogged so hard in for 30 minutes be enjoying life? You never found the heart to question her.

Past the MCE’s tunnel, the familiar lights of the Pasir Panjang port terminus turn blurrier with each second. Slow down, you're going too fast. You depress the breaks to dip to a hundred, but still the wisps persist. It’s not until you feel the first teardrop roll down your cheek that you realise you've been crying.

And then Passenger’s Let Her Go starts playing. You know it’s unlikely the song is about losing a mother, but the never-miss-the-water-till-the-well-runs-dry narrative is simply too much.

Pull over under the overhead bridge. Turn on the hazard lights. Close your eyes. Five minutes is all you need.

You don't want to keep Dad waiting.

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0015

Save for the squelching of the nurses’ rubber soles, all is quiet at Ward 21's waiting room. Two foreign workers sprawl on the day’s Straits Times, their weariness overcoming the noiseless flashes of Tarantino’s Kill Bill.

You sit outside in the corridor, crossed legged. A single daddy-long-legs saunters across the vinyl. Instinctively, your finger hovers over it. Then you stop. Mom won’t be pleased.

Ivan is here. 371 mutual friends. He’s the most discouraging person that ever existed known to have a Facebook account. It’s hard to recall the last time the both of you can truly say to have enjoyed each other’s company. But he’s here. He greets your father, artfully ignores your old man’s reddened eyes and joins you slumped against the wall.

“Remember the time she cooked dinner, and you threw it out of the window?” Yes, of course. You enjoyed watching rice scatter as it hit the tiled roofs.

The reminiscing lasts a good two hours. As it does on all other occasions. In the dull fluorescent light, you study your friend in between the long pauses. You've watched him go from normal to fat to normal and then to fat again. You try to imagine him a little slimmer, without the stained teeth, double-chin and swollen eye-bags. Ridiculously hard. That’s when you realise that how old he has become. And I'm old, too.

Surely your parents have done the same. After all, 26 years is a long time. You can't help but think that you’re a reminder of their mortality, a yardstick of their time on earth. Each degree, each ceremony, each paycheck. Another nail in the coffin.

A few others come to visit throughout the night. Each time they ask about your mother, you say the same things. Brain aneurysm (it’s like a stroke). We're hoping for the best. No news yet.

At six in the morning with no news on the horizon, you decide that dad’s 60-year-old bones need a break from sleeping on plastic. Both of you drag your feet through the dimly-lit hospital labyrinth to the car park. You secretly wonder if you've seen your mother for the last time. No doubt, it must be cold, lying down on a metal table. Mom could never take the cold.

You start the engine. The beeping of low-value cashcard breaks the silence.

Somehow, you can't help but wonder if your insurance policy covers parking.

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