Update 13 November 2017: Thank you for such an outpouring of support for Cheryl! A quick update on her progress: Cheryl finally was able to have her abdomen closed up last Monday (a week ago). She remained in ICU till yesterday just to make sure that the surgery was successful. But her recovery since that milestone has been remarkable. By Tuesday she was smiling and all thumbs up. By Friday she was no longer intubated. Yesterday she was finally moved out of ICU into the High Dependency ward *yippee*. When I saw her at noon today, she was able to talk and the nurses had even started her on liquid foods. Plus she even got up to walk around today! She is an incredible woman and all of you have played such an important part in her recovery. When Cheryl was going through the worst two weeks of her life, the nurses in the ICU told me that she was really really worried about the financial side of this, and that her stress over money was driving her heart rate up. We have been telling her not to worry, and being able to share what 251 (and counting) of you have done for her has helped put her mind at some level of ease. The hospital bill as of last Monday was $102,000. We hope that Cheryl will be able to move to a general ward soon so the expenses become less insane. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of you for your incredible support—both financially and in kind wishes and prayers. Here's a note Cheryl wanted me to share with all of you:
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Two Sundays ago, my helper Cheryl went into the hospital for dehydration from food poisoning. Within 24 hours, she was rushed in for an emergency surgery to remove her large intestines because she had a very rare condition called toxic megacolon.
It's hard to believe that just 12 days ago, Cheryl had what we all thought was a simple case of gastric flu or food poisoning. A week after she returned from the Philippines she started having diarrhoea and a bit of vomiting. The symptoms were typical of gastric flu, so the GP gave her gastric flu meds at first, then when the diarrhoea didn't stop, he gave her food poisoning medication. But on the night of 21 October she began hallucinating—she walked out of our home at 2am saying she needed to go and meet her husband. Thinking she was severely dehydrated (hence delirious), I brought her to the A&E on Sunday morning 22 October, where she received hydration and got an X-ray.
The A&E doctor felt it was better to keep her in observation. As I had to head home to cook lunch and look after the kids, all who were having exams, I left the hospital thinking I would simply come and pick her up later in the day or the next day.
I did not hear from the hospital the whole day the next day (Monday) until 5pm when the medical doctor called me to say that from Cheryl's scan it looked like she had a very serious infection that was causing her large intestines to bloat. He then said the surgical team was going to see her soon and they would update me.
I hung up in disbelief. What kind of joke was this? What sort of gastric flu makes your intestines bloat like that?
At 6.40pm the surgical doctor called me, sounding anxious. She said Cheryl's heart rate was very high, and that her large intestines were very dilated and she was in grave danger, and that they had to operate on her right away. My mind went in a thousand directions—first thing I wanted to do was to inform her family, in case they didn't agree, or worse, in case she died on the operating table. But the doctor said I had no choice, they had to operate right away with or without my or her family's permission.
I could only pray that they could save her life. That was all that mattered.
The next 24 hours were the most nerve-wracking. By 11pm the doctors had successfully removed her large intestines, but they found a bunch of long worms in her dead intestines. Her heart rate had come down but her vital signs were no good. The doctor told me that it could swing either way. At 1am, she had to be brought into the operating theatre (OT) again because she had started bleeding in earnest.
When I saw her the next day, Cheryl looked near death. She was very heavily sedated and her face had no colour at all. The doctors could not close up her abdomen yet because a) they were still cleaning out worms b) she was still bleeding and leaking bilious fluid off and on, and every time she did they needed to bring her into the OT to fix her.
By last Friday, Cheryl was looking better. She was out of immediate danger, but now the battle she faces is that due to swelling, the doctor is unable to stitch her up. While her abdomen remains open, she needs to stay in the ICU. The doctor has been looking for various ways to close her up, but at the time of this post, no conclusion has been reached.
Only when her abdomen is closed up can further treatment take place to handle the tapeworm infestation and other issues; that is my layman’s understanding of the situation.
Cheryl is now awake and quite alert. She is unable to talk because of intubation, but she is able to write me notes on a clipboard the nurses have given her. She’s concerned about the cost, and is insisting that the Philippines government helps her (so I’ve been making calls and asking for help). She wants to go home to the Philippines—but she cannot fly under her abdomen is closed up.
Once she gets past this hurdle of the open abdomen (foreseeably another 2 weeks in the ICU), she likely needs to remain in hospital care for months. She likely has to live long-term with a stoma bag, which most likely means she will not be able to work again as a domestic helper. I’m not sure if she can do any kind of work in the physical state that she will be in…
Last Wednesday (4 days after she first went to A&E) her hospitalisation and surgical bill was S$40,000. Every day in the ICU costs S$800 and she has been in for 12 days, that’s $48,000. That does not include medication and other costs. Every time they wheel her into the OT to fix the bleeding or leak, that’s another few thousand dollars. Her insurance can cover $15,000.
The doctor hopes to find a way to close her up, then engage medical evacuation to a hospital in the Philippines that can continue her care. I’m thankful for the MSW at CGH who made enquiries for me—hopefully the cost for her repatriation can be claimed through insurance.
Another major concern is the cost of her continued care when she goes back to the Philippines. While the cost will be lower, given that she most likely needs to stay for months in hospital and has no means to do so is a big worry.
What has happened to Cheryl is a real tragedy. She came to work for us a little over a year ago. She is a hardworking, cheerful, positive young woman who has endured a very hard life. When I first interviewed her over the phone before hiring her, her one reason for coming to Singapore to work was to earn a living, because “life is hard in the Philippines”. Her honest reply touched me. She has been one of the most diligent and intuitive helpers I’ve had the privilege to employ, and we had one very good year with her before we let her go on home leave this past August.
Toxic megacolon is a very rare, life-threatening condition that is virtually unseen in Singapore. Her doctor says hers is only the second case he has ever seen. I included a photo of it (not Cheryl’s colon) to show how dilated the large intestines become when infected. When her doctor cut her open, he described her large intestines as “mush”; it was all dead and filled with tapeworms. How it happened, nobody really knows yet.
It couldn’t have happened to a less deserving person. All Cheryl wants is to give her family a more comfortable life. I am glad and deeply grateful that the doctors at CGH saved her, but I have to confess I am concerned about what lies ahead.
I hope to raise $190,000 for Cheryl—hopefully it covers her hospital costs here and in the Philippines. I have a few thousand in savings, and I am looking at surrendering my own life policy to raise $17,000 but that won’t even scratch the payment amount due… Honestly, I am at my wits’ end.
Cheryl has fought this horrible infection with everything she’s got. Please, please help her regain her health and her life and go home safely to her family. Thank you for your kindness.
PS I wish to thank three kind souls who have started the fundraising going with a seed amount of $4,000. Thank you!
Besides GIVE, we have received SGD 4,000.00 from other sources.