Accident Death: Being In The Wrong Place At the Wrong Time

by | Oct 4, 2019

I read with sadness about a recent news talking about an accident death. Mr How Yuen Fah, a 72 years old elderly taxi driver crashing his cab into pedestrians at a traffic crossing and fatally killing one 66 years old woman. At the time of incident, Mr How did not know he had a tumour in his liver, which caused him to lose consciousness and the tumour in his liver unexpectedly ruptured.

You can read more about this accident here. There were huge sympathy for the taxi driver as Mr How was traumatised over his situation – having to kill someone unintentionally, losing his job and being diagnosed with cancer. In his own words, he said:

‘I prefer death over living with the memories’

Being in the wrong place at the wrong time sucks. Big time. One would realise that the collective of factors coming together resulting in this specific phenomenon intuitively lead us to concede to some degree of fatalism at play. The alternative would be chaotic randomness, almost like senseless roll of a dice – what are the chances of an accident death?

For example, in order for this accident to occur, these main elements must happen:

  1. Mr How must remain unaware of his cancer. Despite possible minor physical signs and symptoms prior, that must somehow not lead him to medical examination and detecting the cancerous tumour earlier.
  2. Mr How must pick up the three passengers at Bishan at that specific time, who will be travelling to a destination, in which he will pass by Queensway before the junction of Jalan Bukit Merah.
  3. Mr How must be driving at the speed that he was driving, stopping at all the traffic light he would have stopped along the way.
  4. The decreased must have plans to be out of her house that day. She must have plans to travel to Bukit Merah/Queenstown area.
  5. The deceased would travel regardless of places just in time to be using that traffic light at that moment when the crash happened.

In fact, that isn’t enough. There are infinite micro factors we can further break down and those must still be true. For example, the positon of where the deceased was standing while waiting for the traffic light, her speed of walking when travelling across the road, etc.

If there is any changes that could delay enough time to avoid that particular traffic light crossing at that point of time, the deceased would have escape death. Or paradoxically, someone else might be killed instead. It could be something as innocuous as the deceased deciding to go for a quick toilet break or stopping to listen to a random insurance person on the street for 5 minutes.

Without postulating to religious reasoning, for a seemingly senseless death, there are three dimensions we could examine to help us make sense of this outcome.


The One That Caused The Phenomenon

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It is important to understand that seemingly harmless private choices can lead to public consequences. For example, if a stay alone elderly man prefers to live in his flat alone, then he risk dying alone without anyone knowing. A unexpected fatal fall in the toilet – only to be discovered two weeks later due to rapid decaying of his body-  would surely impact his neighbours, his uninvolved family and the community.

Some people might wonder if regular medical check-up could detect the abnormality earlier and prevent this tragedy from happening. However, that would often fall back on private choices. It is rather uncommon for one to extrapolate a macro consideration when deciding on one’s personal autonomy. You do not decide if you want to have a child just because Singapore’s birth rate is low. You decide because you want to have children. Period.

People often translate ‘ought to’ on hindsight. But truthfully, when we are in the position to make those decisions, there is no real impetus for anyone to do anything simply because these domain of decisions fall squarely on private choices.


The One That Was Impacted

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No matter what we do, we know for certain that all path will eventually lead to Thanos. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time sucks because it is that one path people actively tries to avoid. Something perceive to be preventable. At least in theory. For the surviving loved ones, there are no easy way for them to make sense of a sudden death tragedy. Sometimes, the pains deepen because the one that passed away is a good person to begin with. We often find it hard to digest the idea of bad things happening to good people. This runs serious dissonance to the way how we intuitively understand life and the world that we operate in.

However, death is not exactly the most fearful. For many, the ambivalence between life and death is an extremely stressful period. Deciding on whether to pull plug or not is an example of such experience. A recent example of this is a 65 years old Mdm Ong Bee Eng had a collusion with an e-scooter rider. The collusion got her seriously injured and she was on life support. It was reported that the doctors had advised them to pull the plug, but the family is unable to make that decision. Hence, they decided on best supportive care and will let her go ‘naturally’.

Eventually, she succumbed to her injuries and passed away.

Without prior conversation through Advance Care Planning (ACP) , there is no clear way your family will know what is important for you and how to make those proxy decision on behalf. Making ACP when you are healthy helps to reduce the pain of ambivalent decision making for your family when you are unable to make them yourself.

Regardless of plans, there will surely be financial (i.e. cost of paying medical bills), emotional (i.e. the stress and pain of seeing our loved ones in state of comatose) and practical (i.e. the caregiving, the need to be absent from work and studies) cost. Getting an ACP done helps to manage those burden in the way that is reflective of your values and needs.


The Unseen Influence of Post-Structural Belief System

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Every story is a partial reflection on the structure that we live and work within. For example, many people debated about the issue of the 72 years old man still needing to work and worry about his income. Is the desire to work comes as a first order before the need for income? Or vice versa?

Maybe he needs the income for whatever reasons. Or perhaps he has enough to get by, just that he doesn’t know how to sort out his finances for retirement.

Or a problem less discussed: that man spent their whole life working and not knowing what to do beyond work.
Former minister of Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin once drew flak on his comments about some elderly people collecting cardboard as a form of exercise. Daniel Goh explains this well – the idea that people could attached many values to the same thing because these are not mutually exclusive.

Unconsciously, the talon of Singapore’s values and belief system is deeply entrenched in all our lives. The idea that ‘nobody owes us a living’ and that being ‘economically productive’ is possibly the highest good in our society. This sort of culture locks us into the idea that being independent and still able to work is dignified living. Hence the unspoken is that anything otherwise seemed to suggest something ‘lesser’.

This belief system in Singapore is quite insidious, much more than what we would readily admit. The revelation is often only when we gotten ourselves into situation where being economically productive is no longer possible due to medical illness.

When coupled with death avoidance and the incessant desire of wanting to remain economically productive for dignity sake, the crash is bound to happen since there is a natural limit to human lifespan. So for Mr How, it is not just merely a practical challenge of employment and finances, but this situation also provides a glimpse of how post-structural value system has profound effect in the lives of Singaporeans through the way we think and view what is dignified living.


P.S: There are a few high profile tragedies involving accidental death recently. It must be painful for the families involved. I hope people can find the peace and closure they need to live with the new norm.


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