It was Valentine's day that year, and my daughter had already been burning up several days. She had a congested chesty cough and had been throwing up much of anything she's eaten (not that she had a good appetite to start with) and I remember this well, because I was breastfeeding my baby son and was alone at home with the kids while my husband was out at work when she had vomited again - but this time, it was blood!
Blood was everywhere on her face, on our bed, on her clothes, on the floor. I had a baby in my arms and I was in complete shock. All I could recall was shouting "OH MY GOD" and then everything became a blur. I began sobbing and she must've sensed my fear because she started crying uncontrollably as well. This scene, was almost like it was out of a movie, so surreal. I remember picking up my phone, calling my husband, and frantically asking him to come home immediately.
We were admitted immediately and the doctor put her on an intravenous drip of antibiotics and ordered some chest x-rays. Both her lungs were quickly filling up with infection and the liquids from the infection was filling her lung linings so much that she'd feel like she's drowning whenever she laid down flat to rest. We had to incline her bed 45 degrees to prevent her from gasping for air in her sleep.
Four days have passed at the hospital, and still no progress. Her fevers continue to burn at 40 degrees and it would've been almost seven days since the onset of these horrific Pneumonia symptoms. We were told to we could be fighting a losing war - what does that mean? That my three-year old daughter would die? That there was no way we could treat her? Just what had caused this to happen? Is there anyone else who can save her?
I remember walking home to my flat with my head hung low for my laundry run one afternoon. My husband and I would take turns to care for her though it was hard for him to take time off work everyday. And since mothers are instinctively better at understanding their children's needs, I volunteered to be there day and night (except when I ran out of clean underwear and pined for my baby son). That day, for some reason, my neighbour Jessica had taken time off work and was lounging at home when she saw me walk past like a zombie. She stopped me in my tracks and I remember telling her I was praying for a divine intervention (and I'm not even a religious person).
What are the odds Jessica used to work as a nurse assistant to one of Singapore's best pediatric lung specialists? She told me I had the power to suggest a change of doctors and after she's helped me make some phone calls, our new doctor was on his way. He ordered an immediate change of hospitals, a new set of intravenous drugs and a new team of doctors to assist him.
We arrived at the new hospital with a renewed sense of hope. We were introduced to the new team of doctors - the SARS team (they have all the lung expertise gleaned from treating SARS patients), the physiotherapist (who would introduce more oxygen into her lungs), the surgery team (who would attempt to drain and remove the infectious materials from her lungs) and the nurses (who doubled up as story tellers, balloon artists and mothers when the real mothers become exhausted). We saw minute progress each day and sometimes things would slide backwards but our doctor confidently taught us to look at the overall trajectory; Upwards. From gasping for air, we saw her slowly come off the oxygen machine, and she began smiling more, and after twenty days, she had her first hair wash - on the bed (it was impossible to get a real hair wash with tubes sticking out of her).
However, I still had one burning question - What in the world caused this episode of Pneumonia? (Disclaimer: This isn't her first, she's had a much milder attack some ten months before this, and was quickly vaccinated against it after five days in the hospital. She shouldn't have succumbed like this if she has the antibodies against it.)
Her doctor was relentless with finding out the same. He ordered blood test after blood test, and each time a blood specimen was needed, we'd have to pin her down and force draw the blood from her non-existent veins. My tears would meld with her tears and become bigger balls of tears. I was enabling the pain and suffering but I truly needed an answer to prevent this from happening ever again. After several blood tests, we had an answer - Food Colouring.
But but but....isn't food colouring edible? It's present in almost everything (rainbow cakes, M&Ms, Skittles, cake frosting, caramel, etc) and kids are told by food industries to love everything colourful. No? I had to get to the bottom of this!
I spent my waking hours reading non-stop about food colouring and every new food-related topic I read would open a new can of worms. I would go on to find out that the food companies are merely money-making conglomerates and have caused the deaths of countless children, the suicides of countless farmers and still, there was no stopping them. These same companies are linked to human trafficking and child labour, but I shall not elaborate anymore on this blog. I highly recommend you take some time to watch this documentary.
I am no tree-hugger or raw vegan by now, but I highly advocate knowing where your food is from. This issue is bigger than we know it, and being a food import-dependent country, it is even more important to be reading labels and asking questions about the origins of the food we'll be putting into our precious bodies.
Even though my daughter got her life back after a month's stay in the hospital (and our savings completely wiped out), she now lives with permanently scarred lungs. We don't know the implications of scarred lungs very well, but we do know they will have to work harder to absorb oxygen. For that reason, we started spending less time at malls (except during the Monsoon season) and more time exploring the great outdoors.
We can't afford tuition so we teach her the real things through being directly with nature. To our surprise, she performed well in school and recently won an award from the minister! All those weekends of climbing trees, playing sand and watching sunsets have finally paid off!
I am very compelled to share this story of my little angel, because I know her story can help someone else. Let's all take some time from our busy routines to edit our lives - take on a different perspective at the food we're eating, and the lives we're leading. Is it sustainable for you? Is it sustainable for the earth?
Thank you for reading, and I hope you'll follow me on this journey of simplifying, healing and happiness.