My Kindred Spirit

By Fathol Zaman Bukhari

It never occured to me that a lonesome, out-of-luck and pitiful Malay lady would one day bring individuals from two different vocations together for a common endeavour – to bring a semblance of dignity to an otherwise poor soul.

Zakiah bt Shahbuddin or “Kak Kiah” to her neighbours, was featured in Ipoh Echo Issue 52 (June 16-30, 2008). We had dubbed her the ‘Pucuk Paku Woman’ who lived alone in a rundown and half-completed brick-cum-wooden house at Kampung Batu Satu on the trunk road to Malim Nawar. The hovel, which was her home, belonged to her late uncle who took her in after she was abandoned by her more affluent siblings.

Her so-called house consisted of the barest of minimum. In the one-room abode Zakiah did her cooking, washing, eating and sleeping. The few utensils that hung above the stove had seen better days. She used empty tin cans she picked from dumpsites to store condiments and other dry stuff.

The roof leaked and the termite-eaten plank walls were in danger of falling apart. “On rainy days I’ve to cover myself with plastic sheets to remain dry,” she sighed.

Zakiah had little money to go by. She resorted to plucking pucuk paku (fern shoots) to sustain herself. The ferns grew wild along a river bank close to her house. “It’s a tedious job but what choice do I have?” she remarked. When it rained she got nothing. Zakiah never wore a shoe in her whole life. “I don’t have a need for one,” she told during my brief encounter with her one fateful day.

That was how pitiful this 63-year old lady was then. I have thought that her life would have changed for the better after a distant relative volunteered to care for her when her plight became news. But that was not to be. Her reprieve was short-lived. When her siblings questioned her rights over the late uncle’s land and house, she was out in the cold once again. Having no one to turn to and with failing eyesight she got herself admitted to a welfare home in Taiping.

Zakiah would have just been a number had I not asked my reporter Rosli, who was instrumental in introducing the lady to me, her condition. Only then did I know that she was committed to a welfare home in Taiping.

She was near blindness due to cataracts that had infected both her eyes. Rosli intimated that Zakiah pined for home but was now a destitute with no one to turn to. I was convinced that with the right people, the lady could be saved. And that was when Dr S.S. Gill came into the picture.

Dr Gill is a practising consultant ophthalmologist and eye surgeon with Hospital Fatimah, Ipoh. He has been in the profession for almost 20 years beginning his career in the government service. Gill is presently the chairman of the medical advisory committee and the clinical head of ophthalmology of Hospital Fatimah. And to top it all, the good doctor has frequently embarked on medical missions, on a voluntary basis, through non-governmental organisations in Malaysia and abroad.

If there is someone more than willing to help Kak Kiah to see again it is Dr Gill. I have full faith in this man to do the needful.

Zakiah was wheeled into the operation theatre at Hospital Fatimah on Wednesday, April 29. She underwent a complicated eye surgery that lasted over an hour. Gill could only save her right eye as the retina of her left eye was hardened with cataract and could not be salvaged.

The operation was performed pro bono. Dr Gill’s humility touched everyone who was around to see poor Kak Kiah being given a second chance in life. They were not disappointed.

In acknowledging my gratitude for his generosity, Gill texted me this simple yet endearing message, it reads:

“I cannot thank God almighty enough for all that he has given me. It brings me great joy to see the smile and cheer on Kak Kiah’s face after she regained her eyesight.”   

Dr Gill, you have said it all. In this time of uncertainty there are still people who will go out of their way to help the unfortunate, the maligned and the destitute. I can’t thank you more, Doc. You are my kindred spirit!

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