Life-Lessons from a Tragic Encounter
Life Lessons From A Tragic Encounter – Story of Takalah Tan
Takalah Tan is someone I know living with the complex challenges of Post Traumatic Brain Injury. He is one of the most inspiring people I have ever come across. From him, I found the hope and zest to spurge ahead in my will to live life the best that I can.
I got to know Takalah whilst working as a relief teacher at a neighborhood school. This was during one of the most depressed and down moment of my life. I was then earnestly looking for a full time job.
During one of the breaks, I noticed a fellow teacher going to the canteen. I decided to acquaint with him. This was when our friendship began.
Takalah Tan introduced himself to me. To in a way enthrall me, he shared with me a poetry he wrote when he was fifteen years of age. Takalah recited his poem: “Against The Wind” with such zest and vivid movements, it indeed enthralled me. I was amazed by his intelligence and eloquence. He kindly shared with me some tips on speech techniques as well as diverse teaching stratagems.
I did not know Takalah well enough then to accurately grasp the immensity of the hurdle he faces each day. It shocked me to later realize that he has had been inflicted with critical traumatic brain injury in 1994. This incidence erased Takalah’s memory bank and inflicted on him other multiple deficits. Surprisingly, I later found out from students that he is their most popular teacher. Some even jokingly call him a little mad.
However he was conversely not popular amongst his fellow colleagues. Perhaps he seems a bit eccentric to many as Takalah uses unorthodox teaching methods. To bridge the teacher student gap and thus improve their information reception and also their knowledge retention, Takalah incorporate short breaks to demonstrate action songs to his students. These initiatives have helped the school harvested the much coveted obedient classes.
Perhaps Takalah’s adopted stratagem is a result of his brain injury. His ways have been gauged as unorthodox by many. His stratagem is however a refreshing breathe of fresh air for the many drained by the normal repetitive routine. Though Takalah’s teaching methods seem very unusual in our culture, he has successfully revitalized many of our students in despair and has inculcated in them all some of the fundamental values in life. Before Takalah Tan departed from the school, he handled the relief teaching for a class.
He spent the relief sessions sharing the art of poetry-writing with the secondary one students. Before Takalah left the school for further studies, he distributed to all his students a poetry book with forty-one poetries or self-help articles from himself and the fifty-four selected pieces that the students have written for him.
Some time later, Takalah Tan shared with me his traumatic brain injury infliction and it’s multitude of accompanying adversities …
Takalah was a fit athlete. He read a great deal and has noticed that many of the successful people in the world attained their distinguished status through endurance and continuous hard work.
Takalah Tan participating in a 100 Kilometer Triathlon
Takalah Tan was born an asthmatic. When young, he often experiences breathing difficulty. Looking on the bright side, this weakness has kept Takalah lean.
He chose not to just live with it. In his quest to becoming fit, Takalah reads profusely and actively involve self in physical exercises. Whilst in College, he joined its swim team and cross country race team.
He personally participated in endurance sports events such as the marathon as well as triathlon.
Expedition leader to the summit of Mount Kinabalu, East Malaysia.
Being a nature lover with lots of endurance capability, Takalah actively participates in a diverse range of outdoor activities. He scuba dives, do rock climbing and jungle trekking.
Takalah’s immense love for thrill sees him participate in parachuting as well as bungee jumping.
He is a camping and hiking enthusiast. He enjoys challenging sports. He likes to be ‘on the edge’. These short moments of thrill may satiate him temporally but sure thrilling and exciting but they sure brings much worries to his close ones who are concerned for his safety.
An Officer & A Gentleman
Takalah Tan was recruited to serve his National Service in the Commando Battalion. He worked hard and excelled in the Commando Camp’s Basic Military Training. He was thereafter selected for the Section Leader Course.
Excellent performance saw Takalah Tan short-listed to undergo Officer Cadet Training at the Officer Cadet School in Singapore Arms Forces Training Institute.
After completing his National Service duration of two and a half years, Takalah proceeded to do Mechanical Engineering Degree at National University of Singapore. It is indisputable at that time for one to state that pursuit for thrill is a integral part of Takalah’s life. The quest for thrill seems not to evade Takalah till 24th May 1994. Takalah encountered a calamity and was plunged into the deepest pit of tragedy.
Takalah Tan clinched a job in a coveted company; where out of seven thousand applicants, only Takalah and another were chosen. As part of the employment terms, he was to be issued a car for mobility purposes. Sadly, just a week before Takalah was to start his career in this coveted Multi-National-Company, he met with a tragic motorbike accident.
He never thought riding motorbike is that dangerous but the uncalled-for happened. Takalah Tan now knows the truth but it is too late.
Just sent to hospital by an ambulance. In fear of spinal injury, Takalah Tan’s neck was supported by the above orange frame.
Just sent to hospital by a Civil Defence Ambulance. In fear that neck movements may aggravate possible prevailing spinal injury, Takalah Tan’s neck was fixated by the attachment of an orange circumferential frame on it.
The accident broke his right leg, dislocated his left shoulder, blinded his left eye, tore away his left-nose, broke his skull (liquid around his brain leaked dry) and had blood clots in his brain which resulted in brain injury.
His tragedy prompted his dad to postpone his heart-bypass operation. Just two weeks before Takalah discharged from NUH, his dad was struck by a fatal cardiac seizure. Upon regaining his consciousness, conscience prick the brain injured Takalah to feel accountable for his dad’s death.
Having been the primary cause for such a great sense of hopeless despair in his family, Takalah had little to fend himself with when the family members harshly scolded him for not following their instructions prescribed during the process of his recovery. The strict treatment and negative feedbacks aplenty from loved ones and peers indeed saddened and disturbed Takalah.
To make matters worse, Takalah was thrown into solitude. Due to his brain injury, Takalah could not remember his associative relationship with the many who visits him to care for him. The infliction of permanent amnesia on Takalah has greatly widened the rift between Takalah and peers.
Takalah Tan’s memory recall and retention handicap has resulted in his loss of close relationships with many friends. His good chemistry with close-ones has been badly corrupted by Post Traumatic Brain Injury handicaps.
Takalah required multiple reconstruction surgeries: “Talk about ‘The Ugly Look!’ What about me? Where do I stand?” Takalah Tan queries…
The accident smashed Takalah Tan’s face. His face becomes sunken. As the ‘fatty’ cushion behind each eye has been greatly depleted by the cranial - maxilla facial fracture, his two eyeballs have descended into their respective sockets. This has given Takalah the ‘sunken-eye’ look. His teeth set-up has been badly damaged and misaligned.
- He required a neural-pressure-relieve attachment on his skull
- He underwent major dental-realignment
- His shortened right-shin underwent elongation of 1.5 inches
- His crania-facial deformity was corrected in 7 surgeries
- Part of his left-ear was transplanted onto his torn-off left-nostril
- The misalignment of his eyeballs were to a certain extent corrected, via the detachment and reorientation of his eye sockets
- His left blocked-Eustachian tube have to be relieved and more!
Should conflicts do arise, Takalah will often avoid escalating the prevailing disagreement by not responding in a defensive manner. To help allow the turbulence to subside, he often strategically adopts sensible detachment measures. This delay tactic gives the conflict initiator ample time to reconcile within self the matter of concern.
During an occasion when all three of his family members bombarded him with heated words of impatient anguish, Takalah took a look at each of his family member, opened the front gate, and proceeded for a late night stroll. All this happened without him uttering a single word. Takalah strolled around his serene neighbourhood to both calm his own mind and dissipate his inner resentment.
This moment of break-in-contact gave ample time for his family members to do personally do a ‘third-party’ reappraisal of personal enactment. This has helped them reconcile in self the harm of their earlier thoughtless acts. From that night on, Takalah’s family have become more able to appreciate his unique psycho-social disposition and thus accommodate better for his unique disposition.
This above measure has helped provide for Takalah Tan and his family members a much-needed breathing space. It enabled Takalah and his family to look back on the unhappy moments more objectively. This strategy has helped many groups with entities of different standpoint to successfully resolve and reconcile pertinent conflicting issues.
Due to his brain injury and loss of memory, his mindset had become shallow. Takalah mingled better with young children. He was then a child in mind but an adult in body. Takalah’s Post Traumatic Brain Injury body-mind disposition greatly resembles a mismatch in the eyes of the general community.
Due to their level of maturity, Takalah finds himself unable to interact appropriately interact with his friends. This had in many instances made Takalah the odd one out. Takalah frequently receive demoralizing comments that he was always speaking of the same old topic (brain injury) and that it irks them to boredom.
Ostracism imposition on Takalah Tan was rampant. Lack of appropriate regard from relative and peers imposed upon him a challenging yet lonely post-head injury recovery trail. Such negative feedbacks stirred up in Takalah the notion, that his continued presence will be a demerit to the status quo of his family.
Wrought within Takalah then was the painful glimpse that he can only impose a permanent burden, rather than be a contributing member of his family. The negative prevailing environment that enshrouds Takalah and his post-trauma deficits has undoubtedly triggered in innocent him, thoughts of taking his own life.
Fortunately, Takalah Tan had a strong survival will to overcome his brain injury. He disciplined himself to do the following:
i. Perform stretching exercises
ii. Do counter muscle exercises
iii. Take walks (600m – 2km)
iv. Ascend and descend staircase (12 storeys – 2 x 12 storeys)
v. Walked 1km to swimming pool to do hydrodynamic resistance exercises
vi. Once better, though with right leg still shorter than left by 11/2”, he jogged. Takalah started his first post-accident run by tiring out at 600m. Consistent training thereafter helped him in a few month’s time complete 2.4km in 12min. Considering the multitude of constraints Takalah faces, this is indeed admirable.
One day a small poster caught his eye. Displayed was a picture of a lighted beacon in troubled waters. Takalah envisioned himself to resemble the ‘beacon’, one bestowed with the duty to clarify the vision of the community and to light up the supposedly bleak trail threaded by the those living with brain injury.
This vision has gotten him involved in many instances where he related “The Trilogy of Takalah Tan” in brain injury workshops, public forums, school assemblies and ad-hoc events.
After helping his relatives set up a standard administration stratagem for providing courier despatch services, Takalah Tan decided to fulfil his bestowed role to enlighten many. On noticing an advertisment for recruitment of teachers with working experiences, he applied for the Post-Graduate Diploma in Education. Despite the stringent criteria and his brain injury status, he gained acceptance for the course.
Takalah Tan, Before, Then and Now.
After having walked through the treacherous road of recovery, Takalah Tan learnt that Brain Injury Survivors live an “Out Of This World” form of life.
Family members, friends, or colleagues cannot adequately understand and sympathize with their dilemma, predicament and imposed deficiencies. Without strong determination and the will to fight on, Brain Injury people can make themselves feel that they live a lonely and meaningless life with a bleak future forthcoming.
Takalah Tan is indeed an inspirational person. He volunteers as a speaker at Brain Injury public forums. He is the elected President of Brain Injury Society of Singapore. He has left his previous vocation as a school teacher to further his studies in brain injury related disciplines at the Health science faculty of La Trobe University, Melbourne.
Takalah Tan with his mom
Despite being challenged by the infliction of permanent amnesia, Takalah Tan is now doing a Master of Public Health with respect to Brain Injury. Life is not exactly a rose for him.
His family is stretched financially just to support his school fees. But he is happy and believes in his calling. He has also found helpful friends in Australia.
Takalah is currently setting up a website to help the brain injured people at www.braininjurymatters.com