How We Met: From IRC to IRL

Many have wondered, and asked, how Wuan and I met. It is archived here. However, that is several links deep and not many have ventured that far. I have written that long before this blog existed. I am reproducing the account below:

When the night is thick in darkness, look up into the infinite void. Therein lies our destiny. Each and every twinkling star above holds our past, present and future. For they say, “It is all written in the stars.”

Resist as we might, yet we eventually have to surrender to those divine edicts that govern our journey through life. Thus, it was written in the stars that Wuan and I met in ways we both never anticipated, and developed into a relationship we never intended.

Ours is a friendship conceived in an Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channel one night in early December 1998. What began as chatting about the stock market progressed into other subjects of mutual interests. We discovered that we shared similar hobbies. We love good food, appreciate beautiful music, are fond of gardening, are crazy about durians and have a keen fascination in feng shui.

It was a strictly platonic relationship then as I already have a girlfriend. Wuan and I agreed never to let our friendship go beyond that. We became very good friends though. However, things between my girlfriend and me fell apart a few months later. She had been working overseas for a few years now and the strain of the long distance relationship finally took its toll.

It was a blow to me as we had been together for 12 years. We had known each other since our schooling days. Depressed, jaded and looking for some diversion, I made the biggest decision of my life at the spur of the moment. I decided to fly to Kuala Lumpur, unaccompanied, to meet some of my IRC buddies.

At the same time, I wanted to meet Wuan. I wanted to meet this enthralling woman who spent many evenings patiently listening to me pouring my heart out. I wanted to see for myself if this woman is as angelic as I had envisioned.

I had never travelled alone after my accident. That, perhaps, was the greatest challenge I ever faced. I was unsure if I could cope getting into the aircraft and getting around in an unfamiliar environment on a wheelchair all by myself. William, Cynthia and Eric, my IRC buddies, came to pick me up at the airport. We had lunch and they helped me check-in at the hotel. We promised to meet up later.

Wuan was caught up in her work and arrived late for our dinner date. The first moment we laid eyes on each other, there was an eerie sense of d?j? vu. It was as if we had met before. It was as if we had known each other forever. And yes, she was as angelic as I have envisioned, even more. Our dinner date evolved into long conversations into the wee hours of the morning.

We spent the rest of my stay in Kuala Lumpur together – window shopping, eating, and generally enjoying each other’s company. I did not get to meet my IRC buddies again that trip. The four days that Wuan and I had together were ephemeral. There was so much more that we had yet to share. We wished we had more time.

That was how it all began for Wuan and me – a fortuitous encounter of two unlikely individuals in the chaotic mishmash of the Internet. In cyberspace, distance is virtual, emotions bland. Yet, from it spawned a union so passionate that it seemed almost illusory. In the real world, we would spend hours travelling just to be together. Each meeting is much treasured and cherished.

We wish we can dispense with the travelling, but we have our own commitments. One day in the future perhaps. If indeed it were written in the stars, we would not want it any differently. The stars have been very benevolent to Wuan and me. For now, we shall let destiny run its course. For now, we shall continue our journey together in real life and in cyberspace.

Loving Me, Disabilties And All?

Is it difficult to love a severely paralysed man? Yes! A lot of times, I am frustrated with myself for not being able to do simple things that other people have taken granted for. Every little task needs an extra effort, sometimes a whole lot. When I finally give up tying to pick something up from the floor, after grappling with it in futility for fifteen minutes, I would sit there breathless, fuming and brood over my misfortune. It is difficult to love a severely disabled man that I am when simple tasks that even babies can do become gargantuan to my crippled hands.

Is it truly difficult to love a man with my disabilities? Ask Wuan. We have been together for five years. Not once has she complained about my lack of physical abilities. Instead, she would devise ways to make it easier for me to perform various tasks. Those that are totally beyond me, she became my hands and feet. She cared enough to observe, learn and improvise, all for my sake. She takes the impossible and makes it into “I-m-possible.” With her, I have been to more places than I possibly could. She makes my life easier. Sometimes, I have the impression that she loves me more than I myself. To her, it is as if loving a man like me is effortless. She is an exceptional person. I am sure people who know us well will wholeheartedly agree.

Survivor SCI

X-ray of my spine before and after surgery.
Image courtesy of Mr. Kazem Djavadkhani, Neurosurgeon.

There is no weather-beaten host to egg participants on. There are no scripts to follow. Life is played out as it is. The tears are real, the pain and suffering are too. Losers do not get booted out. They just do not make it out alive. Those that are left behind are left to savour their victory for a while longer. Welcome to Survivor SCI – More Than A Reality TV Show. It is here, it is real and I live it everyday.

The rules are simple. All that is needed to participate is to break a vertebra or two, or suffer from spinal stenosis. I qualified by virtue of fracturing my fifth (C5) and sixth (C6) cervical vertebra. The game begins the moment paralysis sets in. After that, the only objective is to last as long as possible. There is nobody to outplay except oneself, and no one to outwit except one’s own fickle mind. There will be no clear winner and no US$1,000,000 waiting to be taken home. Like everybody else, all participants will eventually succumb in the end anyway.

The odds have already been mapped out. The higher the level of damage to the spinal cord, the higher the probability of having to retire earlier. In the USA, the life expectancy is 42 years post injury for a person suffering damage at the fifth and sixth cervical vertebra at age 20. Malaysia’s life expectancy at birth is 71 years for the male population. My odds do not look that good as compared to the average Malaysian male lifespan.

After becoming an unwitting inductee into this game, I associated my odds with that of the first tetraplegic I met in the hospital. He survived only twelve years, just a couple of years after we got acquainted. Twelve years seemed like it was very far away then. I did not give it much thought because my condition was still uncertain. I thought I would be walking again soon.

Even before I hit the first decade, I was beginning to suffer a reflux of urine back to the kidneys, causing them to be swollen. That led me to consult Mr. Liong, the urologist at the Lam Wah Ee Hospital, in the early nineties. I have been performing the unpleasant task of catheterising myself since.

Dad passed away exactly one month after my first decade as a tetraplegic. Death was no longer something new to me by then. It had clung on to me like a wet shirt since I was determined that my expiration would soon follow. Still, the thought of leaving Mum to fend for herself alone was something I could not allow myself to do. I was all she had and the thought of her grieving for me was unimaginable, seeing how she grief-stricken she was at Dad’s funeral.

Nevertheless, as the twelve-year mark drew nearer, I wondered how I was going to die. I was not at the brink of death when that ominous day arrived. With that portentous barrier shattered, a sense of great relief settled upon me. Still feeling very much alive, I celebrated that milestone in silent reflection. I looked back at what I had accomplished the past twelve years and thought I had done well considering my disabilities.

From being totally paralysed and totally helpless to running a small photocopying business and earning my own keep was something I had never thought I could pull off. There were obstacles but Mum supported me all the way. She was unequivocally the motivating force behind that unlikely feat. She helped in every way she could. Even if she did not know how, she would devise a way. Such was the love of a mother.

After leaping over that twelve-year point with ease, I set my sights on the next target – the big two zero. I have not foreseen surviving this long but, yes, I have survived twenty years today. This achievement came with a price. I lost Mum and I lost almost half the function of my kidneys. Even with intermittent catheterisation, my kidneys’ condition has continued to deteriorate, albeit rather slowly. I am now down to 60% renal function only.

There were some great moments too along this twenty-year journey. I found the woman that I want to spend the rest of my life with and I discovered the love of Jesus Christ, in that chronological order. These are the two unfolding events that have made my life more fulfilling than it would have been. These are rewards more valuable than winning immunity challenges. They are so priceless that it is virtually impossible to describe the amount of contentment that they have given me.

These twenty years, I have gone through the extremes of human sufferings and joys. It has been a breathless roller coaster ride of ups and downs. From the deepest of depressions to the highest of exhilarations, I have gone through them. I have lived a life many would have to go through many lifetimes to experience. Sometimes, I outwit myself and sometimes I get outwitted by the ostensibly hopelessness of the situations. At times, I felt like giving it all up while other times I just wanted more of the good things that were coming my way.

“The statistics say that I have another twenty two years,” I told Wuan a few days ago.

“So little only?” she half asked, half sounded disappointed.

“We have used up five years. Let us make the best out of the remaining twenty two. Twenty two years is a long time if we count it by the day.”

In truth, those are just figures of the average. I may survive that long, even longer or much less. It all boils down to the state of my kidneys and how much longer God wants me to be around. I am grateful for these twenty years, for still being alive. I have learnt many valuable lessons. I have learnt that a mother’s love knows no bounds. I have made many genuine friends. I have seen the evil in men. I have seen the kindness that came sincerely from the heart.

Look Mum, I have made twenty years! Thank you for giving me hope when there was none left to cling on to. Thank you for giving me life twice, first when you brought me into this world and again when I thought the battle was all lost. You stood by me no matter what. My surviving twenty years is testimony of your undying love, gentle care and the immense sacrifices that you have to make to put me where I am today. Thank you Mum. Another twenty years? Only time will tell. But why not? I can see her smiling now. What she did for me was not in vain after all. Although the odds of staying on is getting thinner by the day, I am still in the running in Survivor SCI. That is what matters most.

* Letters from friends when I was in the hospital have been added to the Gallery.