By Nasreen Ramnath
The steel beam fell away beneath his feet, and he was suddenly swinging like a pendulum in mid air. Holding on for dear life to a steel cable, he hung suspended 10 meters above a yawning pit. Terrified, he looked down and immediately shut his eyes to keep out the sight of the deep bowel beneath him filled with sludge and water.
Excruciating pain shot through the left side of his neck; the other steel cable had swung in and slashed him millimetres from his carotid artery. As wave upon wave of searing pain washed over him, he heard the distant sounds of alarms going off and boots running towards him. Gentle hands got hold of him and tugged him to safety. He blacked out.
When he regained consciousness again, Bepary Mohamed Dipu was lying in an elevated hospital bed, totally immobile. He tried to look around for help but could not turn his head. Only then did he notice the strange contraption strapped on to his waist, extending all the way up to his head. Trembling fingers reached up to feel the cold, hard metal outlines of the cage which held him in a tight vice . . . panic welled up in him, and he screamed out for his mother, his father, any human contact.
Doctors and nurses hurried to his bedside and gently explained to him that he had sustained a serious neck injury in the worksite accident and would need to be immobilized from the shoulder up till his neck bones healed. They assured him it would not be for long, only 8-10 weeks at the most. Little did Dipu realise then that those 8-10 weeks would be the longest and most terrible weeks of his life. Soon the tranquilizers took over and he slipped back into a deep sleep, dreaming he was back in his little village in Bangladesh, basking in the warmth and chatter of his five sisters and the loving care of his mother.
It was a long journey 24-year-old Dipu had undertaken in early 2011, leaving the quiet green fields of his home country to seek his fortunes in the faraway land of Singapore. Arriving here in March 2011, he was soon engulfed by the hubbub of this wonderful city-state and enjoyed his work with a construction company, working on Jurong Island as a general worker. A year passed and he was happy, sending funds regularly to his family back home.
It was one such perfectly normal day on 24 May 2012 when the accident happened, and his life and future suspended, literally, in a void.
Dipu’s first 24 days after the accident were spent in the National University Hospital. The 3-kilogram metal brace which was screwed tightly around his head has left him with permanent scars on his forehead. After discharge, still wearing the brace, he returned “home” which was a metal container housing twelve workers. It was hot and terribly uncomfortable with the brace on. He could not sleep at all. He could not even lie down flat. Nor wash himself properly. It was mental, emotional and physical hell.
But the biggest blow of all came when the contraption was finally removed on 25 July. The day, which should have been a happy one, turned dark when his boss told him, “For company safety sake, you are terminated. You have to go back home. Cannot claim insurance payout also as company will have problem then.”
From earning of $700-$800 a month, his salary had been reduced to a mere $468 while he was on medical leave. Now, on losing his job, he would not even be getting that pitiable amount. He also faced having to go back home with his treatment not completed and no savings at all. This meant that he would be adding to the burden of his old parents, instead of alleviating it.
Dipu approached Transient Workers Count Too for help. The charity is now helping him with the Manpower Ministry’s claims process.
In the meantime, with no money to buy painkillers, he silently bears the throbbing pain in his head and neck by trying to “sleep it off”. Each day passes, in despair and pain. Only the hope that justice will prevail, that one day soon his insurance compensation will come through, that his medical treatment will be completed successfully and he can return home whole and healthy again, keeps him hanging on.