When both my father's parents were still alive, it was a tradition in the Cheong family to gather at their house every Sunday for brunch and to catch up with each other's lives.
For me, it meant smoochy kisses on the forehead and cheek, and some quality time with my cousin, Chiah Howe, who's just a month older than me so we could really relate. On one such Sunday (i was 4, this was in 1980), it was bright and sunny outside, i remember. By the end of the day, i was lying flat on my back, in a deep state of unconsciouness, on a hospital bed.
It happened so long ago, but i seem to remember it very well. My cousin and i were playing hide and seek - not an uncommon phenomena for two hyper-active 4-year olds. It was my turn to seek, and he turned out to be darned good at hiding, because i couldn't find him. What i did find instead was the brand new table lamp on the bedside table in my grandparents' room.
The infernal device!
It was so interesting! I flipped it on, then off, then on, then off again. The light was so bright! So incredible and wonderful - i touch the button and light comes out from the lightbulb... how does that happen, i remember thinking. So with the light on, i unscrewed the light bulb, and then the lights went out.
If i had half a frigging brain, i would have left well enough alone at that point, scream for help and let the adults fix it. But i was still curious and i wondered why the light went out. So i stuck my fore finger and middle finger into the now empty socket where the bulb used to be screwed it. The power was still on.
I remember the electricity jerking me back and forth, i remember trying to pull away but not being able to as the wattage seemed to act like an irresistable magnet. Not for a moment did i think that i was going to die, it wasn't painful, just a tingling sensation and the incessant jerking. I remember actually being more afraid of the mess i had caused, and everyone being mad of me.
At some point, i lost consciousness and, mercifully, the electricity tripped and the lamp stopped electrocuting me for my transgressions. Not sure how long i had been zapped, not sure how much more i could have taken before buying the farm. But i survived.
This is what my right hand looked like afterwards
The next few years are a blur - Malaysian doctors could do nothing about patching up my burned out hand; the two fingers were gone, and the hand was mangled - nerve endings were destroyed, the muscles were fried and the skin was crispy. Major reconstructive surgery needed to be done, and Malaysian doctors didn't know how. Thank God, dad is a doctor, and he knew people.
So began my odyssey in the UK - spent 6 months in the hospital. Countless tests, lots and lots of syringes (i can't stand needles now), and nurses that looked like they could win arm wrestling competitions. Then came the surgery, one after another. Learned that doctors are liars - they say it won't hurt but it always does, they say it'll be alright, but it never feels alright. To fix my hand, they had to graft some skin from another part of my body. They took skin from my thigh, and basically pasted it onto my hand.
After months of testing and surgery, then came the physical & psychological therapy. Hours with the shrinks and physiotherapists - one telling me that its ok to be handicapped (i've never ever felt handicapped in my life) and the other teaching me how to use my left hand instead of my right (the damaged one) and re-generate the muscles in the right hand after surgery.
After about 18 months, i was allowed to go home.
There are a few good memories i remember having while i was there. One of the most poignant is the one during winter, when it snowed and snowed. There were inches of snow outside the hospital, and i remember begging the young nurses (these had yet to grow humongous arms and chest hair) to take me outside. They did, and we have a snowball fight, and built a snow man together. Not sure whether they got in trouble for taking me outside, but i'm grateful because such happy times were really very few and fair in between. If any of you ladies remember me and somehow you're reading this, thank you.