By Shri Devvi Elangovan
“Many pain…I cried because a lot in pain”, describes Miah Mohammad Soman of the moments following his accident. He looks uncomfortable, as he sits in front of us with his left shoulder slouched lower and seemingly stiff.
He was rushed to a private clinic in the Soon Lee area, but he was turned away. “They say cannot do,” remembers Soman. Most likely the clinic could see that treating his emergency was beyond them.
Then he was taken, not to a hospital, but to yet another private clinic. He was turned away again.
Finally, around 6:30, some two hours after the injury, Soman was taken to Alexandra Hospital, where an X-ray was taken. There, the doctor manipulated his shoulder, so that the bones move back into proper position, a procedure known as reduction. Soman was prescribed ten days of medical leave.
As it was my first interview for TWC2, I struggled to comprehend the exact details of the accident, partly due to his accent and quiet manner of speaking, and partly too because of the references to specialised shipyard-related tasks, which are beyond my depth of knowledge. However, what is clear is that around 4:30pm on 7 August 2013, Soman was working in a tight, confined and elevated space on a carrier ship. It had odd angles, as he tells us he “Can’t see anything”. He unknowingly walked into an obscured I-beam, causing him to fall off the gangway and down approximately 1.5m, dislocating his shoulder.
“My hand come over here,” he says. His good hand demonstrates how his left shoulder moved several inches down and forward till it was against his chest. I grimaced at the thought.
Soman, aged 28, first came to Singapore in 2006, but he joined Hong Yuan Engineering in May 2013. Only three months into his new job, he suffered the injury. Worse, recovery was anything but smooth, and the complications were mostly man-made.
For instance, at his second follow-up appointment where the doctor initially indicated he’d be given 61 days’ medical leave (MC), Soman recalls, “Boss say ‘You go to my car…I coming soon.’ ” Soman follows orders, but notices that the doctor and his boss go back into the consultation room. After that, his MC was reduced to four days, with three subsequent weeks’ light duty.
At the third appointment, Soman was asked by the same doctor, “You want light duty or you go home?”. When he tried to protest, the doctor got angry with him, says Soman, as did his boss, who told Soman that he would be sent home if he protested further. The injured arm at this point was still immobile; it was still in a cast, Soman adds. (Or perhaps a sling — it’s not entirely clear whether Soman used the right word.)
Soman settled for light duty. However, he was assigned heavy-duty work, such as operating the lathe machine, which he had to load with pieces of metal. Heavy ones too, he says. This attempt to work may have even worsened his injury.
This evening, he tells us he still feels a significant amount of pain in his left arm. “Now still paining,” is how he puts it and then scrunches his right hand in a manner suggesting a gripping type of pain. He also expresses that he is unable to sleep comfortably, as he has to sleep on his back these past months.
Throughout the interview, his left arm has not moved, remaining pressed against his chest.
He has since then sought a lawyer to lodge a work injury compensation claim (though TWC2 could equally have helped him do so for free). Hearing about the claim, “Boss say many many angry words,” according to Soman.
In October, things soured further. His boss came to Soman’s dormitory with four heavy-set repatriation agents. Seeing them, all he could think of, says Soman, was “Run, run, run!”
On my way home that night, it dawns on me that despite Singapore’s consistently high rankings for its quality of healthcare, there are still individuals who are not receiving ethical medical care. Is it ethical for a doctor’s behavior and decisions to be tainted by an employer? Shouldn’t a patient’s best interest be the chief priority– migrant worker or not?