How Nothing Became Something: A Pain in His Left Leg Turned Out to Be a Tumour in His Spinal Cord

It was a nerve-wrecking ordeal. If I could do it over, I would have gone straight to a private specialist despite it being more costly instead of waiting almost three months to consult the public one. I might have saved my nerves and not had to struggle with this weakness in my left leg.

Often, fate tends to take an unexpected turn, especially for those who believe they have everything good going for them. Andy Choi*, a 39-year-old married and father to two children, aged 4 and 8, who views himself as someone accustomed to high stress levels, found himself experiencing what he calls a “nerve-wrecking mess” because of a medical emergency.

It all began about a year ago when Andy noticed something out of the ordinary. Every time he coughed or sneezed, a sharp pain shot through his body. Like any typical Singaporean, he dismissed it, simply “nothing to worry about.” He even blamed the weather.

As the months went by, although the pain became more persistent, Andy felt it was manageable. He even convinced himself that, with time, it would fade away. Then, a severe bout of the flu hit. This time, it was not just the pain that came with the coughing and sneezing that bothered him. He started experiencing a sore sensation in his left leg that would last for days each time. It affected his work and even disrupted his sleep. His solution? Over-the-counter painkillers. 

“It was really difficult to get through the day, and sometimes I would feel that my left leg was lacking in strength. At times, it got worse at night,” lamented Andy as he recounted his harrowing experience.

Andy only started getting worried a month later. After an unsuccessful visit to his family GP, he was referred to both neurology and orthopaedic specialists at a public hospital. However, Andy was faced with a long waiting time.

“I was given an appointment date but it was for three months later. Was I supposed to just endure the pain in my leg for three months?” Andy recalled.

To make matters worse, Andy was in the middle of a crucial project and the pain was quickly affecting his daily life.

“I had to do something. Immediately. Quick. Fast,” recounted Andy who had, by then, started feeling frustrated. He resorted to Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) such as acupuncture, guasha and even electro nerve therapy.

But not only did it worsen his condition, the pain in his left leg intensified two days later. His wife drove him to a public hospital’s Accident & Emergency (A&E) at 2AM in the morning. “I thought going to the A&E was a quick thing, especially at night but I was wrong.” Andy waited about three hours before a doctor attended to him, only to inform him that it was “nothing serious, and not to worry.” He left A&E with nerve medication and painkillers for the pain.

“The medicines did almost nothing, to be honest. They made me feel really sluggish at work,” the self-confessed workaholic said. Andy felt that he was starting to lag behind in his work. It did not help that he started spending less time with his children as he was feeling really tired by the time he got home.

Desperate to regain his health and his lifestyle, Andy called the hospital to request to push his specialist appointment forward. 

Then, something happened. He started losing mobility in his left leg. This was when he started feeling really scared. Worry crashed over him and his wife. 

I should have done it earlier. I don’t know why I didn’t. I should have also known from the beginning what my insurance covers. But I didn’t. I wasted so much time.

“I could not wait anymore. This is my leg. This is my life. This isn’t a joke,” exclaimed Andy.

Andy contacted his insurance agent to check if his policies covered a private specialist consultation. 

Fortunately, Andy had a policy that would cover him for private hospital consultations. His insurance agent assisted him in enquiring at a preferred private hospital, and Andy was allocated an appointment almost immediately. After preliminary round assessments and examinations, the doctors discovered a weakness in his left toes, and scheduled an immediate Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan for him.

It was only through the MRI scans that revealed a mass within and on his spinal cord. The mass was putting pressure on the nerves that were connected to his left leg, causing the throbbing stabbing pain.

“It was scary, beyond words. It is still scary. We are still trying to come to terms with it. Nobody wants to be sick, what more a mass on my spinal cord? I’m a Dad, a husband, a son, a mentor,” bemoaned Andy, evidently affected by the results of the scan.

After seeing an orthopaedic specialist and an oncologist at the same private hospital for his medical condition, Andy grappled with several questions: 

  • Will his condition hold up, and what are the potential consequences?
  • Should he undergo immediate surgery with a specialist in a private hospital, even if it costs more, or wait for two weeks in a public hospital?
  • How will this affect his Integrated Shield Plan (IP) renewal premium, since this is the second claim in the last three years?
Photo is for illustration purposes only

Andy discussed with his wife and sought advice from his insurance agent. Andy also compared the cost and the impact of his renewal premium on his claims-based Integrated Shield Plan (IP).

He decided to have his tumour removed by a specialist in a public hospital as a private patient while recovering in a Class A ward.

Recounting his painful and frustrating experience, Andy shared that it was a nerve-wrecking ordeal. If I could do it over, I would have gone straight to a private specialist despite it being more costly instead of waiting almost three months to consult the public one. I might have saved my nerves, and not had to struggle with this weakness in my left leg.

Andy’s story serves as a stark reminder that life can throw you a curveball when you least expect it, and navigating Singapore’s healthcare system can be more puzzling than figuring out ERP charges. So, treasure every moment, make your health a top priority, and that your first step would be to find out more about your health insurance coverage.

When was the last time you checked your coverage? Learn more about Integrated Shield Plans here.

Some names and descriptions have been changed to protect privacy. The information contained herein is not presented with the intention of diagnosing or prescribing, but is offered only as information for use in maintaining and promoting health in cooperation with a physician.

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