In this post Ronald Koh shares his challenge with serious health issues and the path to recovery through his passion for origami. It is an inspiring example of inner strength and perseverance.
Origami and me
Origami has been a large part of my life for as long as I can remember. It was a love affair for me, and one that I wanted to fill my twilight years with. Then an acute stroke immobilised the dominant side of my body, and consigned me to a wheelchair and dependent on others. As I lay in hospital in the bleak early hours, I felt this was the end. The end of life as I had lived it. And the end of origami for me.
Or so I thought.
Like many people in Singapore, I was introduced to the traditional forms of origami at a very young age. My fascination with origami was ignited in the late 1960s through Robert Harbin’s TV series on origami. Then I chanced to get my hands on Robert Harbin’s ‘Secrets of Origami’. I folded everything in it from cover to cover. Then I got in touch with the British Origami Society (BOS) and the Origami Center of America (the precursor of OrigamiUSA), and bought more books. There was no turning back from then on.
From folding the designs of others, I gradually began designing models of my own.
Origami is both art and science, with principles that could apply to everyday life. In my working life, I used examples from origami in motivational talks, to illustrate approaches to problem solving, thinking out of the box, creative thinking, etc.
Some of my family and friends brought packets of origami paper for me in hospital. I thought this gesture was insensitive at first. What did they expect me to do, with my dominant hand out of commission? Then in quieter moments and to obviate boredom, I took out a sheet of the paper to doodle with. I managed to fold a simple butterfly using only my non-dominant hand. I realised that, whether by intent or by chance, the gift of origami paper was a message to me to stop feeling sorry for myself. That all is not lost. I have to get myself in the right frame of mind, and work towards recovery. Beginning with these little packets of origami paper.
From then on, I was folding almost every moment of free time I had in hospital. And I had lots, in between medical tests, procedures, meals, and physiotherapy sessions. Soon I was folding lots of Yoshizawa and Lafosse butterflies, Petty’s beating hearts and Soon Young Lee’s talking lips, flapping birds, etc. The origami was quickly noticed, and the nurses, doctors, physiotherapists, fellow patients and their visitors were the willing recipients.
I was encouraged to carry on folding, as there is scientific evidence that mass production and repetitive movement does stimulate the growth of synapses and new neurons. I was asked to place my immobilised hand on the table as I fold, to subliminally remind the brain that that hand has a role to play in the activity. As time went on, I began using the hand an arm as a convenient paperweight.
The drive to be able to do origami again and recover my physical abilities as best I can filled me with such a positive frame of mind that I went through each physiotherapy session and a daily exercise routine on my own with gusto. And of course, my daily dose of origami.
I was on my feet and out of the wheelchair after several months, and independent of the walking stick after a little more than a year. The arm and hand requires a lot more time and effort, but it is coming around. Today – three years down the road – I can move my fingers independently, and hold and grip palm-sized objects. I can use the middle finger to crease the paper. By positioning the fingers correctly with my other hand, I can hold and insert each modular unit during the assembly of modular models. The fine muscles of the fingers and arm still requires occupational therapy for better coordination and strengthening, to be adequately functional.
I see the light at the end of a long, dark tunnel, and I am convinced that I will find my way out.
Visit Ronald Koh’s website to learn more about his creative origami work.
Photos courtesy of Ronald Koh.
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