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“Everything looks good! You should be able to go back home tomorrow.”

That was my surgeon, Dr Hamid Razak, checking in on me.

“Tomorrow?” I gasped. I had been in my hospital bed for only three hours after my knee osteotomy surgery, thinking that I’d have a few more days lying on my back.

In medical terms, osteotomy literally means “cutting of the bone”. In my case, my right tibia (shinbone) was cut and then reshaped to relieve pressure on my right osteoarthritic knee joint.

I am now the proud owner of a stainless steel T-bar with screws implanted in my shinbone to regrow the bone that had been cut out. Airport security scanners, here I come!

Jokes aside, I was in no small amount of pain post-op, and truth be told, I was not quite prepared to feel vulnerable being out “out there” by myself without any supervision or medical help.

Thoughts swirled in my mind as Dr Hamid explained how I was to be on crutches for the next eight weeks, slowly increasing the weight I could put on my mending right leg.

Kindness from loved ones

Kindness from loved ones
Gifts from friends, family and colleagues. Image source: Katelin Teo

For a non-couch potato person like me, the first week of recovery was hard.

I constantly had to keep my leg elevated to prevent swelling, even while I was bathing! I was itching to move around to clean up my house but I was stuck to the sofa.

I relearned how awesome pockets are, to carry essential items like my handphone. Soon, these pockets got filled up with snacks like bread and small pieces of fruit. Don’t even get me started on how I managed to carry a hot drink from the kitchen while on crutches!

In my second week, I “graduated” to a wheelchair and I was unstoppable.

I zoomed around the house, hot drinks clattering in a cup and saucer on my lap. I cleaned the house and hung the laundry (with a very long clothes fork). I even tried to cook at one point but it was tiring standing on one foot. So I stuck with food delivery.

It’s amazing how quickly the human mind and body can adapt.

But as empowered as I felt, it was much easier with the kindness from my two teenage boys
My two boys, Ethan (left) and Evan. Image source: Katelin Teo

But as empowered as I felt, it was much easier with the kindness from my two teenage boys (kindness starts at home, as we say).

I didn’t have to use “eye-power” (parents, you know what I mean) to have them do small things for me or to wheel me out for a haircut or some makan.

Despite keeping my surgery on the down-low, I received gifts from close friends (even from overseas!) and colleagues. My sisters checked in on me often, and one of them even cleared her busy schedule to help me with admission for surgery.

As well as my cat Latte (bless her soul now) who was my constant wheelchair buddy.

Kindness from strangers

I believe that most people who see a person with a physical disability fall into two camps. One, they instinctively come forward to assist; or two, they avoid the issue totally, to the extent of not even making eye contact.

Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak.

Thankfully, during my eight weeks (56 days) of recovery, most of the people I met fell into the first category.

Parents of small children might see me coming in my wheelchair or on crutches and remind their little ones to be mindful of a “handicap” person coming and they would open doors for me at entrances, hold the lift or give me a wide berth so I can pass easily.

Then, of course, there are the “starers”, or the “glancers” who give me the side-eye, trying to puzzle out why I’m in a wheelchair or surreptitiously trying to figure out what’s wrong with my legs.

Kindness from strangers
Latte kept me company after surgery. She recently passed away. Image source: Katelin Teo

Almost three weeks (19 days to be exact) after my surgery, I had to go into the office to fix my laptop so I could continue WFO.

I didn’t mind, I was getting bored at home and I missed my colleagues!

But I was a little nervous since it was the first time I was out on my own, trying to manoeuvre myself in a wheelchair (and crutches) in a public place.

After the kind cabby helped me out of his taxi — setting up the wheelchair near the ramp at the bottom of the building — he drove off, leaving me looking at the steep slope with a medium level of concern.

I suddenly heard an irate voice.

“What do you want me to do!? There was no one at the door! They order food but no one is in!”

I looked around. It was a Grab delivery rider on the phone, apparently upset with his management. When he saw me, he hung up and stormed over to me.

I had just enough time to go “!” before he said in a rough voice: “Come, I help you.” And proceeded to push me up the ramp.

I was truly surprised at how he went a complete 180 from anger at his situation to compassion towards me.

I thanked him profusely and proceeded to wheel myself toward the service lift. Then I stopped. There was a heavy door standing between me and the service lift lobby. Darn.

Then I heard the same voice again, “Come, I open door for you.”

He had been watching to see if I needed more help.

Aww… what a kind brother!

In the office, I retold the story of the kind Grab rider to my colleagues, happy to be chatting with them again.

My boss, Dr William Wan, pushing me out of our new office.
My boss, Dr William Wan, pushing me out of our new office. Image source: Katelin Teo

They marvelled at how I managed to make it to the office on my own, and I said with a grin that it was all thanks to the kindness of strangers.

When it was time to go, I got a royal send-off by my boss back to the service lift.

Aw… what a kind boss!

32 days post-op, I returned to Sengkang General Hospital for a review.

This time, I left the house only on my crutches as I was planning to use a hospital wheelchair from the taxi stand.

Wheelchairs clamped together at Sengkang General Hospital.
Wheelchairs clamped together at Sengkang General Hospital. Image source: Katelin Teo

After getting out of the taxi, I tried to release one of the wheelchairs clamped by its safety belt (not the easiest thing to do while on crutches).

Aiyoh! Tsk tsk tsk, come let me help you!”

I looked around. A middle-aged passerby was rushing forward to help me set up the chair.

“Where are you headed? Aiyoh, why you come alone?” she tutted over me.

She even insisted on pushing me to the Medical Centre building (she was actually headed in the opposite direction) for my doctor’s review. I thanked her repeatedly for going the extra mile.

Ah… what a kind sister.

These are just two of the many experiences of kindness I encountered over the 56 days I spent on crutches.

Dr Hamid Razak, with his team, took great care of me.
Dr Hamid Razak, with his team, took great care of me. Image source: Katelin Teo

Last by not least, I want to give a shout-out to my very kind, gentle and encouraging surgeon, Assistant Professor Hamid Razak. The consultant orthopaedic surgeon at Sengkang General Hospital has the best bedside manners in all the multiple hospital admissions I have undergone in my adult life.

Ah… what a kind doctor!

As I write this article, I’m already off my crutches. I’m still walking slower than usual but I’m well on my way to recovery!

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I have to admit, there are moments when I kind of missed being in a wheelchair, because it forced me to slow down and in a moment of need, be a recipient of kindness from both friends and strangers.

I’m comforted to know that after 56 days of being on crutches, I now know that should I ever be in such a situation again, I don’t need to fear being alone “out there”.

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