The man who lost his limbs

In recent days, you’ve seen me voice out on why we need to do more for the needy and marginalized in this rich country. And every time I ponder on this issue, this story floods back into my mind.

Nearly ten years ago, I was still a press photographer and I was assigned to cover what the journos call a “hard luck” story. It’s self-explanatory but I’ll explain it further: This is a category of stories that often feature people down on their luck, suffering extraordinary hardships or are the victims of really unfortunate circumstances. In the earlier days of The New Paper, these stories really helped to drive readership, along with scandals and freak accident stories.

The main newsmaker was this man in his 40s who had started to lose all his limbs, starting with his appendages. He was a heavy smoker in the past, and one day, he discovered he was getting gangrene (or something similar) in his toes and fingertips.

Over time the affliction spread inwards and affected more of his limbs. He stopped smoking, and had several fingers and toes amputated, but the disease wouldn’t stop.

By the time the journalist and I met this man, he was stuck in a wheel chair with both legs amputated just below the knees, and only two fingers on each hand.

He spoke to me, then he started crying: “My wife just got retrenched from her job. If it wasn’t for our young children, I would have committed suicide by now.”

I was so shaken by a grown man crying with nowhere to go, I could only take two or three photos of the man before I shut down my camera. I wish I could put the photograph on this site, but it’s copyrighted by the newspaper.

I also remember feeling upset at how little support money they were getting from the authorities despite their situation. It was in a range of a few hundred dollars a month.

Their social welfare worker was trying her best, but there was only so much she could do. I believe she told us about this story in the hope that it would bring some public support for this man’s plight.

Then the man asked softly if I could help him in any way.

I declined, because I was covering hard luck stories regularly in those days, and newsmakers were asking to borrow money from me on several occasions because they had nowhere to turn to. My reasoning was : I’m a photographer/journalist. My pay is only sufficient for my own needs. I can’t be donating money to every newsmaker. I’m just here to do the story.

I went back to office and received a scolding from my photo editor because it was standard protocol to take many different angles of a newsmaker for easier layout. “Why did you take so few photos!?!?” But I refused to go back to the man’s house to take more photos and the story was later laid out around my few image.

Today, as the memory of this man constantly resurfaces, I keep asking myself : How could I have turned down his plea for help?

4 Replies to “The man who lost his limbs”

  1. hi Ian i applaud your compassion and empathy for those who suffered. I feel the anguish that you hold up till now for the choice u made back then, ie declining to lend money. However, i think that in a way, u have done the right thing. In many disciplines, eg counseling etc, there is an ethical issue that deals w dual relationship. There are complications and consequences to consider, not just for yourself but also for the other party involved. It’s too complex to discuss the full picture here, but by creating awareness through your writings, you ARE contributing towards welfare of fellow Singaporeans. May you find the peace and continue to strive.

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