He was a high flyer who closed multi-million dollar deals for a multi-national company.
Then a simple meal changed his life, perhaps forever, by robbing him of his hearing.
On Nov 15, Mr Sim Tharn Chun, 53, and his family had a meal at the Tiong Bahru Market and Food Centre, where he ate raw-fish porridge.
He ended up among one of about 360 people who were affected by the Group B Streptococcus (GBS) bacteria last year. The bacteria is found in raw fish.
Mr Sim drifted in and out of consciousness in hospital for almost two weeks.
When he finally recovered, he realised his world had become silent. He had lost his hearing completely in the right ear and 90 per cent of hearing in his left.
Although he had cochlear implants in both ears, they have not improved his hearing.
Sitting in the living room of his five-room flat in Woodlands, he recently opened up to The New Paper about his nightmare.
Replying to TNP’s written questions, he spoke in a slightly raised voice because of his inability to hear himself.
“I was closing deals worth millions of dollars,” said Mr Sim, who was Singapore and Philippines country manager for the scanning and mobility division of industry giant Honeywell.
Nowadays, he spends his time wondering when, and if, he can return to work and provide for his family again.
After eating the raw fish, he had an upset stomach and body aches for the next four days.
On Nov 19, he took half a day off from work. That evening, his wife Cathryn Sim, 43, realised he had an extremely high fever and called for an ambulance.
At Khoo Teck Puat Hospital, Mr Sim was immediately taken to the intensive care unit, where he was heavily sedated. For 12 days, he was in and out of consciousness until he woke up on Dec 1.
Mrs Sim, a financial consultant, said: “I was praying very hard for my husband’s recovery. I was also stressed because I had to make key decisions about his medical care.”
For Mr Sim, who is quick to credit his wife for being there for him and for doting on him, the experience was bewildering.
“When I woke up, I was delirious. I didn’t know what had happened to me,” he said. “I thought I had a bad nightmare.”
Then he found out about his hearing loss, a side effect of what was diagnosed as GBS leading to meningitis.
Suddenly marooned in a world with no sound, Mr Sim resorted to scribbling on writing pads and typing on his phone to communicate.
“I thought it would just be a matter of time before everything would be okay,” he said.
He was discharged on New Year’s Eve, after 43 days in hospital.
Though doctors wanted him to continue his rehabilitation at Yishun Community Hospital for another month, he decided to do it at home.
But any hope of a quick recovery was short-lived. Tests in January confirmed the hearing loss would be long-term.
As someone who relied heavily on communication in his work, Mr Sim described the experience as “frustrating and stressful”.
On Jan 20, he had surgery to insert the cochlear implant.
Although he can hear sounds now, he is unable to tell them apart.
“I don’t know whether the sounds are spoken words or the banging of a door. Everything sounds like a broken speaker to me,” he said.
He was told the implant would take longer to reach full effectiveness because of the severity of the meningitis.
Six months after leaving the hospital, his inability to hear properly had affected his once active lifestyle.
The golf bag in the corner of the living room has not been touched and he continues to rely on his wife to be his ears.
Still, Mr Sim is happy that he is out and about, walking on his own, which he credits to his wife.
“When I came out of hospital, she took the time to go walking with me in the evenings to help me regain my strength,” he said with a smile.
But he is worried about his future.
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