One weekend, a good friend SMSed me to meet him for dinner that Tuesday. He, his wife and I go back a long way and we became close friends after going through some rough patches in life together and also National Service and university.
I readily agreed to the meeting but for a drink as I had to attend a jersey presentation ceremony for my son’s rugby team in his school. On Tuesday, there were some late breaking stories and I had to head back to work after the ceremony in my son’s school.
I SMSed him to say that even drinks that night were out. He said it was okay but he had wanted to meet to celebrate his first anniversary. Exactly a year ago, he had suffered a massive heart attack while playing football with our university guys.
It is not a day I will forget easily. Raymond had felt a severe chest pain mid-way through our kickaround at the Bukit Timah campus. The macho man decided he would sit out the rest of the evening while we continued.
Noticing that he still didn’t look his usual self after a while, I insisted on taking him to the nearby Gleneagles Hospital right away. He protested but eventually gave in. En route, I made him pop some aspirin.
That rush to the hospital saved his life. The X-rays showed major blockages in his arteries. Since that day, I have been elevated from a “pain-in-the-rear” friend to his ‘guardian angel’. A drink that night would have been meaningful. But I missed it.
It was not the first miss that week.
A few days later, on Valentine’s Day, my plans for a quiet night out with my wife had to be cancelled when news of the massive ticketing fiasco for the sale of Singapore’s first F1 tickets broke. Tickets were supposed to go on sale at 9am on Thursday but when fans tried to log in, the system crashed. Even those who tried booking by phone or buying the tickets over the counter, ran into problems. By the time I got home that night it was past midnight and my Valentine was fast asleep.
Even though I have a general policy of giving priority to people, however hard I had tried those two days, I would not have been able to get back early enough to spend time with my friend or my wife on those days.
Another incident that bothered me even more happened a few years ago. A young man called me in the office to say that his wife of six months was walking out on him.
He, one of those sensitive males, told me he was on the verge of suicide and asked if I could talk.
With just a few minutes to the 1.30am deadline to push the paper to print, I asked him for 10 minutes till all the pages were cleared. I was the only one on duty who could do it.
He hung up and called me again two minutes later saying he needed to talk.
He pestered me but I told him I needed another 10 minutes. He hung up again. When I tried calling him at 1.30am after the paper had gone to print, there was no response.
I tried to remain calm and didn’t even dare call him the next day. I found out through a third party that he was alive and well in the office the next day.
When I related this suicide incident to a group I was having a chat with, I was surprised to hear that two out of the five were very clinical about what they would do – work first, no doubts, no issue, they said.
Just six weeks into the new year and already two incidents have cropped up where I have had to set aside appointments with family and friends. I am sure there will be many other times when I will end up cancelling appointments, meetings with friends, etc because of work.
No matter how hard one tries, at times it is just impossible to set aside work and at times like these, I just hope that those close to me will understand. Sometimes it is not just friends and how they feel that you have to deal with. I am still troubled by the choice I made when this person who needed help said he was feeling suicidal because of his problems. I decided to go ahead with my work. I took a big gamble that day.
About The Author: Mathew Pereira is currently the Sports Editor of The Straits Times. Between 2004 and 2008, he wrote several columns which talked about his personal experience of fatherhood. This piece was one of many in his collection of fatherhood stories. Mathew is a member of the Fathers Action Network (FAN).
First published on 16-01-2012.