Professional Family

By 28 April, 2016Thoughts

‘The pulse has stopped.’

I stared at my mobile, with hesitating fingers hovering over my iphone, wondering how I should respond back to the Medical Social Worker (MSW) over Whatsapp.

My colleague and I were rocketing our way to the hospital because of one unfamiliar MSW called my mobile – she is not supposed to have my number and if people I knew had to give my personal mobile away without checking in with me first, I knew something dead serious probably happened. There was minimum pleasantry and the MSW needed the next-of-kin number because my ex-client’s suddenly collapse and was in critical stage. It was that kind of setting where doctors/MSWs would try to summon all the family members into the hospital because this is a code red situation. I would imagine Thanatos (God of Death of the Greek Mythology) would manifest itself with a wicked ebony scythe, swinging the weapon with downward gusto and set the electrocardiographic heart monitor into an irrevocable horizontal line.

We reached the hospital tad too late; the MSW frantically came down and brought us through some maze-like secret passage, accessible only by authorized staff.

‘You can see her for the last time later; they are cleaning her up’.

There were important stuff needed to pursue; some things to type, some calls to make and even toilet to attend. Shortly, the real MSW in charge of her case came. Only then I realized that the one who called me earlier was just helping the real dudette out. When it was time for us to enter into the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU), I saw her lying motionlessly with her intubation still intact.

I inched closer – until it was near enough for me to place both hands over the bed rail, as if I was holding onto her arms. I let my eyes gazed over her countenance, before letting it loose around the room. I was just thinking if she could see us; after all, one possible outcome of death is a view from the view of a soul – whatever that really means.

The crazy thing about this case is that I actually predicted such an outcome. Not some necromantic powers to predict when she would die, but rather, a professional outcome plan first started by building layers of social protection over her safety due to elderly abuse circumstances. I remembered fighting bureaucratic systems and building the right alliance with the right people. Everything was going according to my case plan and I figured that all I needed to do was to make sure that these layers of protection shield her until she dies from natural death.

I was deadly accurate; and because of my involvement, she had two and a half years of real peace, safety and tranquil life before her final days.

Wow! This is a good job done isn’t it? However deep inside, this wasn’t the feeling that arose. A wave of unexplained sorrow came by; the feeling was neither grief nor attachment issues. It was a fresh sort of dolefulness that became perplexing to decipher at that moment. But the minute as I turned around to exit the MICU, what I saw instantly gave meaning to my feelings.

Four people – all social workers – went in. None of them belongs to the category of a family member, friend, neighbor, or simply someone who had some kind of informal relationship. Probably an hour ago, there were likely a few nurses and a doctor maybe. Nonetheless, everyone is a paid professional.

My feeling is a reflection not of a failure in my work, but rather the wistful realization that even if you construct and execute the finest of plans, this is still only but the second from the bottom best outcome – the lowest being completely isolated without help. Not accounting for the history of her children’s relationship patterns with her, but the expression of failure in the family system manifested in this manner is truly despairing. Ultimately, we are surely a poor substitute for the real thing.

Perhaps the mercy of the divine is that her death happens before this year CNY; festive seasons are always a bane to those who are socially isolated.

About Mark Lin

Mark Lin works in Montfort Care and is the brain for the Good Death project. He has been working in the social service sector since 2010 with a passion to serve the elderly population in Singapore. He loves potatoes very much


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