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Emily Chan

Personal Stories

Emily Chan

Life was good. I had my first paid job, my learners licence and was studying a dual arts/law degree at university. Then, one day, disaster suddenly struck.

I'd been working late one night, and when I returned home I'd been greeted by a phone call from my ecstatic aunty. "I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant, I'm pregnant!" she'd shrieked down the phone. My mother and I had both been overjoyed for her, because my aunty was already forty-two, suffered two miscarriages and tried IVF once without success. All she'd ever wanted in this life was to become a mother, and now it looked as if the dream would finally become true for her. However, having to work the early shift next morning, I'd merely congratulated my aunty on this incredible news then promised to ring her again tomorrow and talk about it in more detail.

When I woke up the next morning I had developed a massive headache. My mother handed me two Panadol with a glass of water and told me, "Go upstairs and sit over the loo for a while. I'll come upstairs after ten minutes, and if you're feeling better, I'll drive you to work. However, if you're still feeling dreadful, I'll call you in sick."

Ten minutes later, my mother entered the upstairs bathroom, only to find me slumped kneeling by the toilet seat, vomiting violently into the toilet bowl. Being a registered nurse, she knew that something was disastrously wrong and rushed to call an ambulance. At first, the call went unheeded, the receiver believing it to be no big deal, but my mother rang for the ambulance a second time, and finally they arrived, taking me to the closest hospital, the QE2. Back then, my mother already knew that something was disastrously wrong, because I wasn't able to descend the stairs myself; instead, the paramedics placed me in a chair and carried me down.

A scan at the hospital revealed the worst. "Your daughter has a brain tumour," the doctor reported to my shocked mother.

I was sent back home for one week to await the operation, but on that fateful morning, hiked upstairs to my bedroom with my favourite teddy bear and lay down briefly on my bed, telling my mother I had to do this one more time, just in case something went so terribly wrong during the operation.

At the hospital I underwent the first procedure, the removal of the brain tumour. Scans revealed the brain tumour to be mostly benign, meaning I wouldn't need to undergo any chemotherapy or radiotherapy. The second operation called for the insertion of a shunt, which functioned to drain all the excess brain fluids from my brain down into my abdomen. However the drain wasn't permanent, and required replacing after two weeks.  That's when things turned pear-shaped. Instead of successfully replacing the shunt, the neurosurgeon somehow grazed the tumour site with it, causing a massive bleed and thus giving me a stroke.

The doctors moved me into ICU and pumped me full of morphine, which resulted in me being covered with a rash! The neurosurgeon tried unsuccessfully twice more to replace the drain inside my brain. Finally, another neurosurgeon stepped in to do the job and I was finally set on the path to recovery, although my mother was left distraught with the doctor's prediction: "Your daughter will never walk again. At the very most, she will only transfer from the car into a wheelchair, then from her wheelchair back into the car."

Around May of 2007, I was released to the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit (BIRU) at the Princess Alexandra Hospital. Initially I would sleep all day, but soon got into the daily routine of the ward. I had physiotherapy everyday, on account that I needed to learn how to walk again. Occupational therapy I had three to four times per week, where I learnt how to use my left arm and hand in a functional way again. Believe me, I was ridiculously grateful that I was naturally right handed and didn't need to learn how to write again! Thankfully I retained my gift of the gab so only had speech pathology once or twice a week, often doing comprehension programs on the computer.

Come 2008, I was still there. Small wonder then that my nickname for that place became the 'insane asylum'!


2008 was the year I turned twenty one, an important milestone in the life of every Australian. I wanted to spend my twenty first birthday out of the hospital; no, I DEMANDED that I was let out! Thankfully, the hospital saw reason and I enjoyed my twenty-first birthday at home, surrounded by my parents and friends.


After that, I was required to live in the Unit for a further two months, but was finally released on23rd May, 2008. You can imagine my jubilation as I drove my electric wheelchair out of the front doors for the last time. My date of admission to date of release was a staggering one year, three months and twenty days. "FREEDOM!" I shouted as I left, to the laughter of the nurses behind me.

Life hasn't been easy for me in the seven years since I've been out of the 'insane asylum'. I do gruelling physio four times a week, acupuncture once, plus other activities my mother demands my participation in. There are days when I simply don't want to get up, but from somewhere I summon up the resolve to endure through another day.

Oh, and remember how my aunty fell pregnant the night before my life-ruining brain tumour? I am now the cousin of a super-smart seven year old little boy! About two years ago, when I rang him one morning, he told me, "It's raining today. Very cloudy." I answered him, "You should come over to Australia to visit me! The sun's out shining brightly today!" In all innocence, the adorable kid asks me, "Why did you steal our sun, cousin Em? Where did you put it?" Believe me, I nearly died laughing!


Live your life to the fullest, everyone, and never give up!


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