Turning a new leaf

by | March 20, 2019

David Pattiselanno was leading a very active life till an accident made him take a different road.

BY: Eleanor Yap

David playing the harmonica to the seniors.

David Pattiselanno, 81, was a bit of a daredevil when younger. There wasn’t a challenge he wasn’t up to. In 1960s, thanks to his younger brother’s persuasion, he picked up diving and dived in the coastal region of Johor, and one time at the Great Barrier Reef. In the 1970s, he got his powerboat licence and took a navigation course. He was hoping that after his retirement, he could work for corporate companies that owned yachts and join them as their skipper. And, in 1988, he picked up flying lessons and flew around training areas like Woodlands and Marsiling in various aircrafts like the Cessna and Piper. “I was young and wanted to do adventurous things. It all gave me a thrill,” David smiled.

However, all this came to a sudden halt when in 2006, while in his late 60s, he got into an accident on his motorcycle on Christmas Eve. He and his pillion rider, his Indonesian helper, was hit by a car in front of Raffles Town Club and his helper was killed. He survived but with broken bones in five different areas of his body and Tan Tock Seng Hospital (TTSH) where he went to had to do immediate surgery to insert a seven-inch metal piece, as well as screws and wires.

While on the operating table, he had a heart attack and two days later while still in the ward, he suffered yet another one. He recalled that in the latter, he couldn’t breath and his wife rushed to get a priest to deliver last rites, but David persevered and recovered.

But it was not just his injuries that needed healing. He said, “After the operation while lying in bed, I realised my world had changed and collapsed on me, and I felt useless and helpless. Just for a glass of water, I had to ask someone to get it for me and I was so active before. I was at first angry and bitter.” He was also having frequent flashbacks of the fateful day.

He added: “The familiar question kept popping up – ‘Why me?’ When the anaesthetic wore off, the throbbing came with increased intensity and at times, unbearable. The trauma kept tormenting me, flashing back to the last moments of the collision contact. I could visualise the black bonnet before the ‘impact’ crushed my left leg. It took time for me to later accept and to live with it.”


The road to recovery

It took him 77 days to be precise being at two hospitals – TTSH for surgery and then St Luke’s Hospital for rehabilitation, till he was released to go home. He would then come back for the occasional wound cleaning and physiotherapy. However, on one of his doctor visits, it was discovered he had contracted the MRSA (Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus) super bug and was sent back to the TTSH and later transferred to St Luke’s Hospital for antibiotic treatment for two weeks. Several weeks later, TTSH removed his metal piece, screws and wires during two surgeries and he was sent home to continue the healing process.

“My wife who is very religious said that everything that occurred to me, maybe God has a mission for me. I then gave her a nasty look and said that when I was younger and stronger, there was no mission and now older and with a broken leg, there is a mission? She also said that everything happens for a reason and purpose, but during that time, I just chose to ignore what she was saying,” said David.

However, when he was recuperating alone at home, he pondered about the accident and still remained bitter about it. He also thought about his wife’s words, which started to make more sense to him. When he got better, he decided to walk over to the nearby Christian community centre and do some volunteer work. “This was my first-time volunteering. Before, I was just enjoying life too much!” shared David.

The community centre put him in charge of school children and it became an eye-opener for him. “I was still hopping around [from the accident] and I couldn’t control the kids – they were running all over and hyperactive. They were quarreling and it took them a long time just to write three lines,” said David. After that experience, he threw in the towel and told the centre this was not his cup of tea.

But he found his match much later. In 2009, his wife mentioned to him that the non-profit Alzheimer’s Disease Association (ADA) was opening a new centre in Jurong Point, near where he lives. Dementia was something close to home at the time as his mother had the condition and was living on her own with a helper. Though he didn’t volunteer immediately with ADA, he joined much later. “I saw that they were all elderly people and this was more acceptable for me to interact with them than the children before.”

As he had picked up some skills from joining a harmonica orchestra, he decided to put those skills to good use and play at ADA’s centre. Initially, he discovered that the seniors were not familiar with his English songs so he went back to his teacher in the orchestra and asked him to teach him dialect songs. Today, he is still a volunteer at ADA’s centre and does so twice a week conducting a sing-along in the morning with an ex-principal who was also a music teacher and who has dementia. In the afternoons, he does music therapy with the seniors.

“Can you believe next year it will be 10 years volunteering! I thought I would only do it for two years,” said David. “I am blessed to be alive and to be able to give back and make the elderly happy.”

He also volunteers at NTUC Health SilverACE senior activity centre at Taman Jurong every fortnight for one hour, where he does music therapy and sing-along on the harmonica. He is also at St Joseph’s Home doing a sing-along with the harmonica to its dementia patients every Wednesday for an hour and a half. Also, every third Sunday, he is at the Ayer Rajah Community Club doing a sing-along with the seniors. “I feel I am happy doing it. Some of the elderly look forward to me coming.” He has also learned more about the dementia and seen through his eyes the effects it has on the seniors. He also spends his time doing comic sketches, 3-D paper art and plastic modelling.

Now looking back on the accident and the life he has today, he has no regrets that his life was forced to take a turn. Said the father of two and grandfather of one: “I call it is a blessing in disguise. Maybe I would have continued to be selfish and self-centred if this all didn’t happen.”




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