"I don't think a home can give him the same full attention and quality of care." 
Mr Pathak (in striped shirt above, with wife Nandini and stepbrother Kalika) -- PHOTO: JOSEPH NAIR FOR THE STRAITS TIMES

MR RAVINDER Pathak, 49, has made lots of room in his heart and home for his 75-year-old stepbrother, Kalika, who is educationally subnormal.

For more than 20 years, he has cared for his older sibling, who also has a heart that functions at only 22 per cent. He relies on a walking frame, but often loses his balance. His vision is poor, and he speaks only a few Hindi and Malay words.

The bachelor has a loving home with Mr Pathak and his sister-in-law Nandini, 46, who has been cleaning up after him since she married.

Their daughter Priya, 23, and son Vighnesh, 20, also closely supervise their uncle, for he sometimes eats so fast that he chokes. When he was more mobile, he would wander from their four-room Tessensohn Road flat and gash himself falling down.

Mr Pathak, the youngest of five boys born to a watchman father who remarried after his first wife died during the Japanese Occupation, has arranged family life around his eldest brother. He takes the permanent afternoon shift as a senior staff nurse at the Singapore General Hospital, working from 12.45pm to 9.30pm or later. His wife works from 7am to 3pm as a 7-Eleven cashier.

He will not send his brother to a nursing home.

'He has grown very close to us. We understand his sign language, habits and mood swings. I don't think a home can give him the same full attention and quality of care,' he reasons. 'He will be very lonely.'

Mr Pathak's daughter Priya, a first-year Singapore Management University student, discerns a tender heart in her uncle too.

'When my brother and I were kids, he gave us sweets,' she said. 'Now, when he finds a balloon or ball outside, he still gives it to us.'

While the bonds are sweet, Mr Pathak plays the bad cop when required. For about a month in 2005, his brother refused to get out of bed.

'I had no choice but to carry him from a lying to sitting position. He was very angry, screaming and shouting.'

In his job, Mr Pathak has seen immobile patients develop bed sores and pneumonia. So he supervises his brother's exercises, using a bar outside their flat and a ball.

'I had to be forceful, I am sorry to say,' remarks the reserved man.

While caring takes a physical, mental and financial toll - he dips into his Medisave account for his brother's treatments - he searches for the silver lining.

His older brothers visit, and one of them cuts the elderly man's hair and puts moisturiser on his legs.

Mr Pathak can also count on his experience. As a nurse, he has the skills and confidence for caregiving.

'As long as my family can care for him, we will,' he says resolutely.

Mr Pathak was nominated by National Heart Centre Singapore social work assistant Johnny Chua, 41, for the Inspirational Caregiver award.

Pillars of Support

A caregiver's life is silently heroic, and SingHealth has decided for the first time to honour them.

On Tuesday, SingHealth will give Inspirational Caregiver awards to 17 of them - some of them parents, children or siblings, and others, maids.

Professor Tan Ser Kiat, group chief executive of SingHealth, says: 'It is important to recognise caregivers for their dedication to improve the health of their loved ones. Their selflessness has inspired hospital staff and the wider community.'

The caregivers - and 20 model patients - were nominated by hospital staff from SingHealth's three hospitals, five institutions and nine polytechnics. Each will receive $250 in shopping vouchers at an award ceremony at the Health Promotion Board.

Last year, SingHealth honoured three model patients in its inaugural awards.

Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Permission required for reproduction.