“He needs to be around somebody at all hours,” says Debbie Fordyce, co-ordinator of TWC2’s Cuff Road Project. “The epileptic fit can come at any time, and someone needs to catch him to make sure he doesn’t fall and hurt himself.”
Fortunately, TWC2 has hundreds of workers on our register at any one time, idled by injury or salary disputes, and it isn’t hard to find someone to keep an eye on Shahjahan Abdul Aziz. It’s one of the few ‘benefits’ coming out of the exploitative and chaotic migrant labour situation in Singapore that creates this large pool of unemployed men.
Says Dipok, one of the workers who has taken on the job of watching Shahjahan: “When he have fit, he fall and become senseless . . . for one hour, maybe more.”
“The first few times we rushed him to hospital, shocked that he was unconscious,” recalls Debbie. “Now we don’t panic. It subsides by itself.”
The medicine prescribed by his doctor at the National University Hospital (NUH) seems to be helping. In February and March, he was having seizures two to four times a month, but at the interview (in May), Shahjahan says he hasn’t had one for at least three weeks already. It may be a hopeful sign.
However, it’s been a long journey to get to this point, and for Shahjahan, it’s still not the end of the recovery process.
At about 5pm on 24 March 2012, the end of a working day, Shahjahan was walking towards the company lorry that was to take him back to the dormitory. He had punched out of his worksite and was just metres away from his vehicle when another lorry drove into him.
“Coma three day,” he tells your writer. “Stay hospital two month and seventeen day.”
Bleeding internally under the skull, an emergency operation had to be carried out. A biscuit-sized piece of his skullbone was removed, and has been replaced by “plastic”, he says. Even today, an indentation just behind his right temple is visible.
He gradually improved for about six months, but late in 2012, a series of epileptic fits felled him. Describing a typical event, he says, “Very sudden, no time to sit down. I feel head turning and all darkness.” Then he loses consciousness.
This turn of events compounded an already dire financial situation for him. Although he has lodged a report at the Ministry of Manpower, the writer understands that the ministry has not yet ruled whether his case is eligible for compensation under the Work Injury Compensation Act (WICA). Apparently, officials are still waiting for copies of his medical reports. Shahjahan says he has not received any “MC money” from his employer other than a cheque in October for $993, which anyway looked like his salary for March rather than MC pay. The lack of MC pay may be connected to the fact that it is unclear whether this is a WICA case or not.
That said, the employer covered the cost of his operation and hospital stay. It fact, it has paid out $39,000, well in excess of its maximum legal liability of $25,000. Naturally, it is now reluctant to pay for more.
So, when the fits started and his doctor said he need a specific medication to control it, how was Shahjahan to pay for the prescription? Just a few weeks’ supply of tablets would cost over a hundred dollars.
The doctor also ruled that he would be unfit to fly unless the fits were under control. Shahjahan would only be certified fit to fly if he remained seizure-free for a two-month period. So, if Shahjahan is unable to pay for the prescription, he will not be stabilised, which may mean that he can never go home. What a Catch-22!
Transient Workers Count Too came to the rescue. Our Care Fund underwrote the costs of his medication and his monthly follow-up consultation at NUH. Hopefully, he makes steady progress.
Meanwhile, there are problems with his vision and hearing too, as a result of the accident. What if his case is ruled as outside WICA and he gets no compensation? There should at least be a case against the other lorry, with the vehicle insurer liable — an action which Shahjahan’s lawyers may pursue.
But first things first. He needs the epileptic fits to stop. And it’s our Care Fund – the donors to our Care Fund, to be precise – who make the key difference.