Saturday, January 23

Tuesdays with Pui at the palliative care centre


Voon (right) works at the centre.

A STROKE patient, identified only as Lau, has been coming to the Palliative Care Centre in Miri for many years.

“Tuesday is the highlight of the week for me. I used to be almost without hope, sitting in a wheelchair, looking for a cure. For the last several years, every Tuesday, I enjoy coming here to see Madam Pui and the nice people of PCAM (Palliative Care Association of Miri),” she told thesundaypost.

PCAM is a non-governmental organisation which has been serving the community since 2005. Set up by a group of women, led by Dr Meike van de Leemput, a Dutch expatriate, it aims to help cancer patients who could no longer stay in Miri Hospital.

Madam Pui

Back then, there was neither a palliative nursing home nor hospice in Miri. The organisation was, thus, started as an extension of medical care so that cancer patients could live with dignity and manage their pain.

Since the beginning, it has been providing home nursing to registered cancer patients, and trained nursing staff and volunteers who, accompanied by a Miri Hospital doctor, have been visiting end stage cancer patients as far as Bekenu, Subis, and Kuala Baram.

Counselling is also provided by volunteers who were led by Jacqueline Buri in the past.

Richard JS Wong, PCAM treasurer commented, “As the PCAM is a non- governmental organisation, it needs funds to operate and it does not get a grant from the government.

“Expensive and specialist equipment is on loan to the patients who cannot afford hospital beds, ripple mattresses, wheelchairs, oxygen concentrators, and the like.”

A central committee, comprising elected volunteers, headed by president Dr Loh Yunn Hua, manages the recruitment of staff and the general management of the centre and its activities. To manage all the services, more than RM100,000 is required every year and the figure is going up.

The main fundraiser for the organisation is its annual charity run called ‘Run For Love’.

Minister of Transport Datuk Lee Kim Shin was present at the centre’s open day.


Pui is a happy volunteer who was introduced to PCAM when it was still operating at Miri Hospital in 2005 with only 12 patients on the register.

At the time, the centre occupied a small part of what was known as the annex for rural relatives of admitted patients. Today that annex is no longer available.

“My niece first brought me to PCAM and there I met Madam Jacqueline Buri and other nursing staff. Because I know a bit about massage, I did help teach the carers of the cancer patients how to massage,” said Pui.

“Massage is a gentle touch at points which can reduce pains. I apply traditional acupressure on specific points and it does not have to be a lengthy massage.

“Today, Mary Voon, Mr Chan, my own family members, Teo Bee Khun, Amanda, and Audrey all help out at the centre on Tuesdays. We have a good team.”

The counselling room for palliative patients.

She added cheerfully that anyone could be a volunteer and help make Tuesday a good day.

Early in the morning at the centre on Tuesday, the stroke patients trickle in slowly and by 9am, the living room ‘lobby’ is filled up. There are five patients who will leave after their massage while some will stay on for a nice chat with Pui and other volunteers.


Pui’s life story

This extraordinary volunteer’s life story is a reflection of the old Miri of the 50s and 60s, when life was slow and roads were mainly earth filled.

Chan and his favourite palliative patient.

Pui was born in Sungai Rait in 1953 when there was no tarred road from Tanjung Lobang to Bakam. Those who lived in Tukau and Bakam used the mud road and seldom saw any cars besides some government and army vehicles.

Her father was a pepper farmer, while the whole family subsisted on rearing of ducks, chickens, pigs, and the cultivation of leafy and root vegetables. They had some rubber and fruit trees.

She recalled, “Those were the days when farmers and their families did not see much cash and had to live on what they could produce from the land.”

In 1961, Miri was suddenly hit by a huge flood. Pui’s family members were asleep and they woke up even before the cock crowed as the water reached up to their upstairs bedroom.

They were shocked to touch water, almost up to their knees. They heard shouts from the neighbours and tried to save what they could in the heavy rain. They saw their belongings floating down Sungai Rait in the dim morning light.

Their chickens all drowned and for a few days, they had to dive into the floodwaters looking for food like sweet potatoes and surviving vegetables. Even ducks which could swim also drowned. All their pigs also died.

Their family’s pepper garden was completely destroyed and they had to start all over.

“The whole village went bankrupt,” she recalled sadly.

Pui added that all the able bodied family members had to help out. For example, they had to carry a pig for sale, using a pole, to the sand road where a small lorry would be waiting to send them to the town. It was not easy to carry a 100kg pig but they did it!

Their lives were tough. She and her siblings slept at about 9pm to get up at 4am to start their chores. Most of them had only six years of education. Her brother was the only one who studied in Chung Hua Middle School in Miri and as a boarder he needed to pay the then $20 hostel fee.

His basic necessities had to be taken care of and expenses totalled up to $100. It was hard to raise the money. And there were eight girls and two boys in the family.

She helped the family until she was 23, when her older sister introduced her to the man she was to marry.

Laughter is the best medicine.

Not given away

Pui said she was glad her parents did not give away any of her sisters like other parents. It was common to give away girls to other families. But all eight of them stayed with their parents.

After her marriage, Pui became a hairdresser until she retired. Today she lives in Senadin with her family. She is usually busy driving her grandchildren to and from school but she spends Tuesdays with her favourite NGO – PCAM.

The few who actually came to learn from her when the centre operated at Jalan Tukang have left for further studies. They were young volunteers who had a heart for helping palliative patients.

Mary Voon, her able massage student and a masseuse now, is often at the centre helping out. She is also a busy housewife.

Chan, who lost his wife to cancer, is now in his 80s and the most active and the only male masseuse. He became a PCAM volunteer after his wife passed away.

A retired civil servant, Chan previously worked in the Agriculture Department.  Originally from Kuching but now living in Miri, he has served in many different places in Sarawak and has a special interest in fisheries.


Volunteers and visitors

Many volunteers who come to the centre on Tuesdays enjoy a chat with Pui and her team, have some coffee, and generally update themselves with palliative news.

Pui and her team form a good relationship committee – a connection between palliative nurses and PCAM with the outside world.

Priscilla, one of the uniformed nurses, noted, “In case people are scared to meet cancer patients, they do not have to worry because Tuesdays are days for non-cancer patients. We visit cancer patients at their homes. Our service is free. It’s rewarding to see stroke patients getting better. They often need the attention and their carers can also see that they are happy.”

A volunteer who wishes to remain anonymous, told thesundaypost, “I come to the centre when I’m free, so there is no pressure for me to be here every Tuesday.

“What this massage team is doing is what we consider the social aspect of Palliative Care Association of Miri. They massage the elderly who come in as we have a few of them every Tuesday. Some volunteers also need some massage. Ten minutes of massage from Madam Pui can really make their day.”

Many of the volunteers will attend the funerals of cancer and stroke patients because over time they become their friends.


Free tea and coffee

Most of the committee members will be around and cheer up the group. Some bring kuih and other goodies to give moral support to the massage team.

Donations of coffee, tea, and biscuits from well-wishers are shared by volunteers and visitors.

On official visits, the committee members and some volunteers will dig deep into their pockets to provide refreshments.

The kitchen at the centre is well equipped, so a cup of coffee awaits you if you care to drop by to see what Pui and her team are doing on Tuesdays.


Run for Love 2019

A PCAM spokesperson said Run for Love 2019 will be held on Oct 6, under Vivian Sheila and her special run committee. The run will start at Miri Times Square and every ringgit raised will go to PCAM.

Dr Loh said PCAM thanked the public for continual support since 2005.

“Please feel free to come on a Tuesday or when we have an open day and we can meet you and thank you for your support. Join our charity run too and support our cause.”

And what about a reward in the form of a free 10-minute massage?

Drop by at the centre, Piasau Garden from 8.30am to 11am on Tuesdays if it is not a public holiday.