KUCHING: “Kak, do you want to see what my online friends said after I posted a picture of myself online?” a message from Elizabeth Elida Edward popped up on my phone screen.
The sprightly lass, who suffered 86% burns on her body as a result of a fire at her house 13 years ago, has never shared a photo of herself after the mishap.
“What did they say?” I asked, remembering that just a few months ago Elizabeth said none of her online friends, whom she regularly speaks to on WhatsApp, knows how she looks.
For the first time, she has uploaded her photo as her WhatsApp profile picture.
“One of my friends said this to me, ‘Mostly people these days prioritise beauty so much that even if they have a pimple, they would complain. I respect you.
“You seemed unashamed to expose your face. It’s like you are grateful for the blessings you were given by God, not like other people, who edit their photos so much before posting’,” wrote Elizabeth.
I was proud of her and asked what spurred her to do it.
“I’ve gained more confidence after my stories came out and people read them,” she said.
I first met Elizabeth at the children’s ward of the burn centre at the Hallym University Hangang Sacred Heart Hospital in Seoul on July 31.
She was lying in her bed as nurses flitted around it, adjusting her IV drip or taking notes, asking her questions in English and Korean.
They were preparing Elizabeth for her second surgery.
Before the nurses wheeled her into the operation theatre, I saw Elizabeth’s mother squeeze her daughter’s hand, gently stroke her hair and leaned down to whisper in her ear.
Later, Murni, 42, told me that Elizabeth was nervous, as she had gone under the knife so many times.
It was a few days later when Elizabeth was recovering from the surgery – her second and final operation during her month-long stay at the hospital – when I saw her again. She was typing something on her smartphone using her right hand. Her left hand, which was operated on, was in a bandage.
I, a rookie journalist in my first year as a news reporter and my first out-of-base assignment, was nervous. I did not know how she would react to me.
“I’m writing a short story. It’s a mystery laced with a bit of romance. I love to write,” she said when asked, and I smiled, no longer nervous. I knew that we would get along just fine.
Over the next few days, I learnt that her favourite bands were Little Mix and Fifth Harmony, and that she loves cats, handicrafts, and chatting with her online friends.
Her ambition is to be a lawyer or a novelist, and her favourite subject is Mathematics.
Her courage was unsinkable and her eyes lit up when she laughed. Her positivity was contagious.
Her mother would complain about her messy room back home, and Elizabeth would feign annoyance, giggling cheekily.
Elizabeth, half Bidayuh, half Kadazandusun, was cheerful, kind, plucky and funny with an aptitude for cheekiness.
But her post-burn injuries and deformities will require lifelong medical attention and possibly more surgeries.
On my last day in Seoul, I gave Elizabeth a hug and asked her to be strong and to look after her mother.
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