This article is part of our Successful Singaporean Series. You can read Bethia’s post on our Facebook page. This article is also written in collaboration with the AXA. Views expressed in the article is the independent opinion of DollarsAndSense.sg
Illnesses do not discriminate. Even the healthiest and fittest among us can be diagnosed with a medical condition at any point in our lives. Recovering from one can be slow, challenging and, often, costly.
Bethia Chua is a Singaporean who understands what it’s like recovering from a medical condition. In December 2015, she was diagnosed with Vasculitic Neuropathy, an autoimmune condition that affects the nerves and impairs her mobility.
We sat down for a conversation with Bethia to understand some of the challenges that she faced in the recovery journey.
DollarsAndSense.sg (DNS): Hi Bethia, thanks for sharing your story with us. We know that the past two years hasn’t been easy for you. Can you share with us what happened to you?
Bethia Chua (BC): In December 2015, my left palm suddenly became numb. Initially, I thought it would go away with time. However, the condition worsened and the numbness went on to affect my right palm. The numbness in my right palm was particularly bad, to the point where I could no longer hold my chopsticks or write in a straight line. That was when I knew I had to seek medical attention.
After a series of tests, doctors diagnosed me with Vasculitic Neuropathy, an uncommon autoimmune condition that affects the nerves and impairs movement and sensitivity. It also causes weakness, painful cramps and muscle twitching.
One of the treatments I tried was steroid. With it came some undesireable side effects, including fatigue, mood swings, weight gain, and insomnia. For me, the weight gain was particularly hard. Although my doctor had warned me about it, I still found it tough to cope when I suddenly ballooned.
When the condition was finally under control, I decided to start losing weight and joined my colleagues for a game of squash. Unfortunately, how weak my body had become and I had a high grade tear on my Achilles tendon. During that period, not only did I have to cope with recovering from a medical condition, I also had a painful injury to nurse! I had to hop around in crutches for the next few months. It was quite a depressing period for me.
DNS: It’s really tough recovering from a medical condition that limits your mobility and nerves let alone suffer an injury at the same time. How long did it take for you to recover?
BC: It probably took me a year and a half in total before I could consider myself as having recovered. The journey has been slow, painful and very often, frustrating.
Having said that, I would be frank in saying that my illness isn’t anywhere close to what some others may have gone through. Despite my condition, I was still able to go to work, continue on my part-time studies and do other daily tasks myself. It’s just that I was never fully well during this period.
I was fortunate to have very supportive family, friends and colleagues. I was also blessed to have an understanding boss who allowed me to go on a one-month no pay leave, which allowed me to recuperate.
The Cost Of Recovering
DNS: We know that healthcare cost in Singapore can be expensive. Are you comfortable with sharing with us how much your treatments cost you?
I have not really calculated but it should be a few thousand dollars. Of course, this amount is significantly lower than the actual cost I incurred because of my company’s employees’ medical benefits, and because I was in a subsidised ward class at a public hospital. If not for that, the cost could have been quite high.
The type of cost I incurred can be broken down into three main categories:
#1 Initial tests and investigation
#3 Follow-up medication
DNS: Aside from the costs that you incurred on direct hospitalisation, treatments and medication what are some other expenses that you had to incur?
There are quite a few indirect costs which I incurred due to my illness.
Firstly, the steroids which I was taking causes osteoporosis and hypertension. To prevent that from happening, I was prescribed other medications to counter these effects. Put together, all these medications are really not cheap.
I needed to buy mobility aid due to my injury. This costs me about $300. When I tore my tendon, I also travelled by Grab/Uber more often. All these costs add up to quite a significant amount. I also took a one-month no pay leave to recuperate so that’s loss income there.
Due to my condition and the medications that I was taking, I am immunocompromised. That basically means I am more susceptible to viruses going on around me and fall sick more easily. This also leads to more money spent though people usually don’t keep track of these costs.
DNS: What are some things you learned after getting an illness in Singapore?
One of the things I learned was that the cost of falling ill in Singapore is really not cheap. Let me explain.
I realised that these concoctions of medications that I have to take on a daily basis were not cheap. The scary thing is that if my condition could not be controlled, I will have to continue taking these medications for life. This is when it struck me that it is really not cheap to fall sick in Singapore.
Most people usually focus on upfront treatment costs, which is also expensive and quite scary, especially if you do not have adequate insurance coverage. However, not as many people realise that the follow up medication costs can also be quite hefty, once added up over time. They don’t realise it because it’s not an upfront cost, but rather incurred over time.
Having suffered a medical condition, I realised it’s important to focus on prevention too. It’s important for us to do our best to take care of our health. It’s never too early to start thinking of eating healthily and making exercise a lifestyle choice, rather than a chore.
Keeping Yourself Motivated During Recovery
DNS: After your first attempt to get healthier and fitter was derailed by an injury, did you do anything differently the second time around?
When I finally recovered (again), I decided to give it another shot to become fitter and healthier. I started with small steps towards exercising. For example, I challenged myself to complete a 1-min plank each morning. Over time, regular exercising became a habit for me. Once a habit is developed, however small, it becomes easier to move on to bigger goals. I now do a high-intensity interval training (HIIT) workout at least once a week for about 30-45 mins.
DNS: Aside from ensuring that you start exercising regularly, what else did you do?
I am also making healthier choices in my diet such as opting for kopi-o kosong instead of my usual 3-in-1 coffee, and being conscious of my food choices. Some days, I also prepare my own lunch from home.
Another aspect of staying healthy includes my mental health. After a stressful day, I usually unwind by taking a long walk with my dog. It helps clear the mind. Another exercise I do to maintain good mental health is to practice mindfulness. It’s a little like meditation but instead of focusing on the breathing, I let the senses bring to awareness what I am experiencing, be it the chirping birds, the passing bus or kids playing in the park.
DNS: What’s the biggest reward that you have enjoyed after starting on your fitness journey again?
I feel more energetic and alert. It also gives me more confident. Other fringe benefits include getting compliments from friends and colleagues who said that I have lost weight and it is easier to shop online!
I learned during this experience that for most of us, it’s possible to get fitter and healthier if we have a plan. By taking our own small steps towards it, regardless of how insignificant they may appear to others, we will gradually be able to achieve bigger goals. But remember not to be overly hard on yourself, after all, life is a marathon and not a sprint.”
Recovery Is More Than Just About Having Financial Support
Due to the complex nature of illnesses and medical conditions, many of us may never fully understand the process of how recovery takes place, unless it happens to ourselves or our loved ones.
Bethia’s experience is a timely reminder that when it comes to recovering from an illness, having access to financial support for treatments is only one aspect of the recovery journey. Equally important aspect of recovering includes having the right support from the people around us, as well as a personal decision to take small but deliberate steps to work towards a healthier life.
You can find out more easy ways and tips to improve your physical health, nutrition, mental health and sleep through the articles on https://www.axa.com.sg/axagamechanger.