By Nigel Lin
He gives us a big smile now, but in the evening of 12 May 2012, he lay writhing in pain after a nasty fall off the top rungs of his ladder — a scene like this and you would expect this poor soul to be receiving medical attention immediately.
Not for Fasal Ahammad Abdul Awal, no. He received a quick massage from his supervisor.
It’s common knowledge that one should never attempt to treat a serious injury without proper diagnosis from a certified medical practitioner. You can, of course, take the easy way out and believe that a massage would help prevent the injury from worsening. After his supervisor’s supposed “quick-fix”, Fasal had to endure an agonising five-hour wait for the company doctor to arrive the next morning.
Good intentions from his employers, perhaps. But was the supervisor hoping the problem would disappear with a rub or two?
Fasal now suffers from a nerve injury that starts from his left hip, all the way down to his left ankle. He also had to contend with bruises after his gouging equipment landed on his left leg, seconds after the fall.
“Doctor say blood cannot flow up and down, here not working,” he explains as he gazes down towards his left thigh, greeting it with a light pat. He then lets out a smile in an attempt to lift the mood (he is a pretty affable character), but I can sense the weariness and resignation beneath.
With an obvious limp that’s bugged him for months and sporadic numbness that affects the lower left side of his body, he has decided to return to Bangladesh in the hope of alternative work and income.
But “How to work? I cannot walk properly! I have good skills but now I am no use.”
He’s pretty good at what he does, and he’s proud of it. A 6G certificate issued by the Singapore Welding Society means he’s one of the more competent welders in the company, and he makes sure I take note of this, often throwing in bits of information about his welding capabilities, even without me asking.
“At what height did you fall from, can you tell me?”
“Oh, about there,” Fasal points across the street, his arms angled slightly. It looks like it was a little higher than one storey. I cringe at the thought of falling off a rung that high.
“Not easy, gouging, welding [at] that height. Only good worker, 6G qualification, company trust me to do the job. Must be very careful,” he carries on. I get his point.
He may not be counting his blessings now, but he sure can count on his friends.
Hours passed before Fasal finally met his company doctor, and despite the unbearable pain, Fasal took comfort in the doctor’s diagnosis that “nothing was wrong”, except for bruises that should heal.
His friends thought otherwise, and promptly brought him to the National University Hospital (NUH) -– in a cab. And yes, they bore the cost.
“Why did they send you to NUH, even after the company doctor said you were fine?”
“My friends know, very pain, must be something wrong. Must be.”
They were right.
Fasal has had weekly physiotherapy sessions ever since, with the aid of two of his closest friends. But fast forward to today and the storyline’s no different -– Fasal, like some others before him, was allowed to stay in his dormitory after his injury, but wasn’t given a salary. Four months later and still under treatment, his company cancelled his work permit.
He survives on pittance sent to him from his uncle who is also in Singapore, and his father who works as an odd-job labourer in Saudi Arabia. His close friends do chip in while they can, even with their less-than-mediocre salary.
His next medical appointment is scheduled three days after Christmas, but Fasal doesn’t see much point. “Doctor say same thing all the time. I walk like that many months, I scared I cannot support my sister and brother.”
“Are they both studying?” I ask.
Fasal nods, looks down and clasps his hands together. “I cannot make them end up like me.”
I can only wish the new year brings more hope to him.