Carers Walk for Wellbeing: memories on the way

I was last here a quarter of a century ago. 

After my partner's serious stroke he had worked hard to regain his mobility, using a chair when we were out and about. We felt ready for an adventure: for life to be normal again.

And thus we boarded our cruise ship in Sydney for a much anticipated journey through Asia. 

Cruising, we thought, would take the rough edges off travel. There was a doctor on board, and the only challenge was navigating the narrow corridors and rather unsuitable bathroom on a ship that was not disability friendly. 

Unfortunately, as we passed Bali, George developed a serious infection that could not be treated at sea. As soon as we landed in Singapore, he was ferried by ambulance to Mount Elizabeth Hospital. And I booked into a nearby hotel on the famous Orchard Road, alone. 

I spent most days during that two weeks on the ward with George.

Mount Elizabeth Hospital was impressive even then: clean, massive, sophisticated, and (dare I say it) a marked step up from the then shabby wards of the Whangarei and Kaitaia hospitals where we had recently spent so much time. 

It was fascinating to talk to staff about life in Singapore. How families worked long hours, so caring for loved ones was a social challenge. How often elderly family members languished in hospital because their families could not afford to leave their jobs to care for them at home. 

After George improved, we flew home. People said 'I told you so'. Everyone had thought our cruise dream would prove to be a nightmare. 

George passed away some years ago, and while we didn't again attempt an ambitious holiday, we did have occasional adventures in New Zealand and Australia. Despite frequent illnesses and growing frailty, his mobility challenges didn't stop us from living as fully as we could. I would do it all again in a heartbeat and so, I'm sure, would he.

During that earlier visit to Singapore I had little time to explore. The days passed in a blur of medical tests and organising our journey home. 

On my walks to the hospital I was able to enjoy the tropical gardens and several times walked past the famous Raffles Hotel. I was on my own, and fairly young, and didn't have the confidence to step inside to explore the old hotel's architectural features. I didn't have the energy to pop into the Writer's Bar for a Singapore Sling (the drink made famous by the hotel, which has served the alcoholic concoction for 100 years).

Coincidentally, my travels to join Kiwi carers on their Walk for Wellbeing along the Camino Portugues, which begins on 2 May, has brought me back to Singapore. 

The memories come flooding back as I walk along Orchard Road, bustling with shoppers and rickshaw drivers waiting for customers. Past the still familiar turn into the road that leads to Mt Elizabeth Hospital. Back to my hotel, which is located across the street from Raffles.

This time I am here as a tourist, my head full of memories of my younger life.

There are problems with the airline, and a long delay.

The Writer's Bar calls, with its polished wooden tables, chandeliers, and whirring ceiling fans. Its leather menus featuring fancy whiskeys, served with a flourish by highly trained wait staff.

But I am here for one thing.

I order a Singapore Sling, which arrives in a tall Raffles glass with a skewer of tropical fruits and a copper bowl of bar snacks.

I have already explored the famous corridors, climbed the stairs to the silent, empty ballroom.

And now it's time to catch my flight.

I pop the maraschino cherry from my fruit skewer into my mouth, and gather up my belongings.

My blast from the past for two has cost $76 Singapore dollars and is worth every cent.

I realise that my days in Singapore all those years ago created interesting memories, that I experienced things out of the norm for a tourist.

I remember the warmth of the hospital staff. Our exchanges about the challenges of caring if a country isn't supportive of the many people who juggle that role with paid work. The small can of tuna (a luxury in Singapore then) given to me by a low-paid nurse who worried I wasn't looking after myself. 

Gladness that George had survived, thanks to world class medical care.

Appreciation for our adventurous selves whose 'trip of a lifetime' had been bravely planned, if foiled in its execution.

"Don't worry love, it will all be there waiting for another day," George said. A day that didn't come again for him, but that I share with him nonetheless, all these years later.

Over a Singapore Sling at Raffles.

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