“One man downstairs,” says a worker coming into TWC2’s Dayspace to TWC2 vice-president Alex Au. The Dayspace is located on the upper floor of a shophouse in Little India and is where we issue free meal tokens. “He cannot climb up the stairs,” the worker explains, “because he have injury leg.”
Monday, 22 March 2021, 7:30pm
Hearing this, Alex asks volunteer Micaella to pick up some forms and go downstairs to the five-foot-way to register the man there and find out what the problem is. “If a man cannot come to us, we go to him,” Alex explains to the newish volunteer.
A short while later, Micaella comes back up to tell us that the guy downstairs has a broken leg and clearly needs to consult with someone senior.
By this time, Debbie Fordyce, the president of TWC2 and our most experienced volunteer when it comes to injuries, is wrapping up her conversation with another worker and as soon as that is done, she goes downstairs to look into the broken leg case.
His name is Sheikh Md Sajjad, and he looks downcast. He was staying in the Geylang area when, on 13 March 2021, he was pushed by a stranger at the top of a flight of stairs outside his room and tumbled down. This is his second accident. The first, on 18 July 2020, happened at work and hurt his back. This later injury, unlike the first, is not work related, and thus, getting the employer to pay for treatment is, from our experience, a much higher wall to scale.
Treatment is definitely needed. Sajjad has a displaced fracture to his left tibia and fibula, with ligament damage. Surgery is necessary to align the bones. He has an appointment at the hospital on 24 March, which may be a good opportunity to find out more from the doctor what needs to be done…. and how much it will cost.
Wednesday, 24 March 2021
Debbie goes with Sajjad to Tan Tock Seng Hospital. Sajjad also has a friend with him to help him in a wheelchair.
At the consultation, the orthopaedic surgeon explains that time is of the essence. The bones must be aligned before they join at a wrong angle. Right away, he schedules a date for the operation for 1 April 2021, with a preparatory CT scan fixed for 30 March.
Sajjad is scared about the operation because the doctor speaks of metal implants. Debbie whips out her phone and shows him pictures from the internet of the internal fixation for injuries like his. Seeing these pictures and understanding that this is a routine way of dealing with such fractures helps to allay his fears.
Setting a date for the operation is well and fine, except that the employer has not agreed to pay for it. The scan will cost $700 and the operation is estimated to be anything from $11,000 to $19,000. Unless the hospital gets Letters of Guarantee (LOG) for the scan and the operation, they will cancel the dates.
Right after the hospital consultation, Debbie sends an email to the Ministry of Manpower (MOM), asking the officer in charge of Sajjad’s case to ask the employer for the two needed LOGs.
At the same time, we make an internal decision at TWC2 to underwrite the cost of the two procedures if necessary. We are concerned that MOM may face difficulty getting the employer to come through in time with the LOGs and we do not want Sajjad’s scan and surgery postponed. We prepare two LOGs in TWC2’s name for the hospital.
This has happened before with another worker, when TWC2 also had to provide the hospital with the required LOG so as not to miss the scheduled date. In that case, no LOG from the employer came through and we were subsequently billed by the hospital for the procedures. Later, MOM insisted that the employer reimburse us. That’s only right, because it is the statutory obligation of employers to provide necessary medical care, and if employers are allowed to evade their responsibility through deliberate delays, it would defeat the purpose of the legislation.
In any case, as a condition of a Work Permit, employers have to purchase medical insurance of at least $15,000. Even so, some workers face great difficulty getting their employers to cover their medical needs. At this stage, we don’t know if Sajjad’s employer will be helpful or obstructive.
TWC2’s donors play a big part in this. By ensuring that we have a healthy medical fund at hand, we are able to make quick decisions to underwrite medical care. Workers don’t have to suffer pain and distress at having medical intervention delayed.
Tuesday, 30 March 2021
Sajjad goes for his CT scan, once again accompanied by his friend and Debbie. Debbie takes the opportunity to submit TWC2’s LOGs to the business office of the hospital. Doing so ensures that the CT scan and the operation will go ahead as scheduled.
Later that day, somewhat to our surprise, Sajjad sends Debbie through WhatsApp copies of the LOGs from the employer. We’re glad to see that MOM succeeded in getting the employer to issue the guarantees.
Wednesday, 31 March 2021
MOM replies by email to Debbie to confirm that two LOGs have been issued by the employer to the hospital. Debbie replies to thank them.
Thursday, 1 April 2021
Sajjad goes for his operation, accompanied by Debbie and his friend. At the hospital’s business office, Debbie makes sure they understand that the employer’s LOGs should be used, not TWC2’s.
The operation proceeds smoothly and Sajjad is discharged a few hours later.
Sajjad one week after his successful operation
Monday, 5 April 2021
Sajjad goes for a dressing change. This is also when a nurse can check that the wound is healing properly. The visit to the polyclinic costs $51.35. TWC2 advances him the money for that from our medical fund, and Sajjad should be able to claim reimbursement from his employer later.
There will be more such visits as he is advised to get his dressing changed every three days.
Thursday, 8 April 2021
Sajjad comes by to the same five-foot-way below TWC2 Dayspace to talk to our volunteers and get his picture taken. He is in brighter spirits and shares with us the many photos on his phone that he has of his wounds, the stitches and bandages.
He complains that he has lost muscle mass on his left calf compared to this right calf. Debbie and Alex do not pick up this conversation thread since it’s a small matter which will resolve itself as the leg heals. What’s important is that he’s got his operation and, with MOM’s help, the employer is paying for it. The wall has been scaled.
When a patient has the luxury of grumbling about minor things, we know that the biggest worry has been lifted off his shoulders and he’s on his way to recovery.