For more than four months, Chan Chun-ming counted the days until he could visit his hospital-bound wife again, only for fate to cruelly intervene at every turn.
“The experts said Hong Kong could return to normal if there were no Covid-19 cases for 28 days. I counted up to 23 days – then a new case reset the clock,” he said, tearings rolling down his cheeks. “I’ve never been away from my wife for that long in 50 years.”
Across the city, his anguish was shared by Poon Ip-shing, 66, longing to see his 33-year-old daughter, who has suffered from chronic illnesses since being diagnosed with a brain tumour at two years old.
“Month after month passed, and still no word of when I could see her again,” he said.
Their long waits finally came to an end on Wednesday – Chan’s 68th birthday – as they were allowed to make their first visits to Wong Chuk Hang hospital in months.
“It was the best birthday present,” Chan said.
For Poon, it was Father’s Day come early. “Every day is Father’s Day if I can see my daughter,” he said.
Hong Kong’s Hospital Authority stopped all hospital visitations on January 25 to contain the spread of the coronavirus, and dropped about half of its normal non-emergency and non-urgent services, affecting thousands of patients.
But with new infections dwindling and the Covid-19 count standing at 1,128 as of Saturday, the authority announced on June 10 that patients at 16 hospitals offering rehabilitation services would be allowed visits from one registered family member for an hour each week from June 17. None of the involved hospitals had handled coronavirus cases.
Families were advised to avoid sending different visitors to reduce the number of people entering hospital rooms and to avoid eating or drinking while there. Visitors must also undergo a risk assessment, a medical history check and wear a surgical mask, according to the guidelines.
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For more than two years, Chan made the journey to the hospital twice every day to help his wife shower, brush her teeth and change her diapers.
“I would come every day, except when there was a typhoon signal No. 8,” he said.
Chan has known his wife Chow Lai-ha, who is four years younger, for 50 years, ever since they were in the same secondary school. They have been married for 42 of those years.
The couple has a son and a daughter, but a stroke suffered four years ago has robbed Chow of her ability to utter more than a few words and left her body movement greatly reduced.
“I will ask her if she is tired, and she will reply yes or no. And sometimes she will smile and you can see the twinkle in her eye,” Chan said. “I really feel sorry for her, because now should have been the time for her to reap her rewards and enjoy life after our children have grown up.”
With the sudden ban on visitation, Chan said he lost his centre of gravity. “I remember I had many strong emotions in me one day, and I missed a step on an escalator and fell down badly, breaking my arm,” he said.
She really likes Hello Kitty and her favourite song is Danny Chan’s Be Grateful to Parents
Poon Ip-shing, discussing his hospitalised daughter
Still, he pushed to keep himself going, even sending roses to his wife via hospital staff on their 42nd wedding anniversary. “They are artificial ones so they could be sanitised,” he stressed.
When Wednesday’s big day arrived, Chan recalled being so excited that he rushed to the hospital in the sweltering summer heat, and ended up having a temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. He had to sit down for a while and have his temperature retaken before being allowed in.
Once inside, he could not wait to talk to his wife about their children and family.
He said he explained how the epidemic had stopped visitations, fearing she might feel abandoned. Holding her hand, he told her: “I know you really miss us. We will see you more from now on.”
For Poon and his wife, the reopening of visitation meant they could finally bring their daughter a new stuffed toy and play her some old Cantonese pop songs. “She really likes Hello Kitty and her favourite song is Danny Chan’s Be Grateful to Parents,” Poon explained.
His daughter, Kit-sum, needs a wheelchair to move around and an oxygen tank for breathing. She can only ingest nutrients through a nasogastric tube, though Poon’s wife, Mok Hing-yin, said their daughter was learning to swallow once again and making good progress when the pandemic hit.
“Five days after a doctor said she could swallow solid food again, visitation was stopped. And it is simply impossible without us by her side helping her to eat with great time and patience,” she said. When doctors told her Kit-sum was experiencing difficulty eating and losing weight, Mok finally agreed to let her use a tube again.
“We hope slowly but surely her conditions will improve again now that we can visit her,” Poon added. For now, he regards being able to see her as a blessing, just in time for Father’s Day.
Sitting in her wheelchair with her parents at her side, Kit-sum moved her lips and softly uttered a few words after a few pauses.
“I love you, mummy and papa. Happy Father’s Day.”
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