Saturday, 13 July 2019

Beano's Birth Story





Beano D. Ding-South
aka "BABY DINGDINGSOUTH"
29/6/2019 2.45AM
40+3 Weeks
Planned water birth that turned into an Emergency c-section
A Positive C-section Story


In the run up to the birthing of the DING-SOUTH Baby, I read a lot of birth stories, especially the positive ones, because all too often we only see examples in the media which portray birth as a very white-knuckle hair-pulling scream-y ordeal, so reading lots of different accounts of birth helped.

Here is our own birth story! Although this wasn't exactly the water birth that I planned, I was very happy with how everything went and most importantly I felt that we were informed at all times of our options and our wishes were respected every step of the way and George was able to take control of the situation and help me make decisions at the critical moment.

Choosing a hospital and gynae in Singapore


I was originally referred to KKH via the polyclinic - this is kinda like the default public (subsidised) healthcare that Singaporeans will receive if you don't make any specific choices on what kind of healthcare you want. KKH does what they call "team-led care" so you get seen by whichever totally random gynae happens to be on call that day. There are pros and cons to this - you get to see a lot of different gynaes and ask different doctors for second opinions on things, but you also don't have a fixed doctor, and if you have preexisting conditions you'll find yourself explaining them over and over again, and some staff may not be as understanding about certain circumstances (eg: I encountered staff who were dismissive and not very accommodating about my emetophobia and inability to swallow tablets).

KKH is known for being the best for neonatal care in the country but they also seem to treat the birth process entirely as a "medical event" and in general the hospital seems very risk averse (eg: apparently will only allow women to labour in one of two approved positions on the bed, no water birth, no birthing balls, etc). Also, when I showed one of the team gynaes my birth plan, they looked at me and said rather earnestly "In all my years here (presumably at KKH subsidised), no one has ever presented me with a birth plan..." So welp, I knew I was in the wrong place being someone with many opinions on what I wanted to do when it came to the BIRTH OF THE DINGDINGSOUTH.

My overriding concern as an emetophobe (translated: fear of vomiting) was to avoid any procedures that might cause nausea or vomiting. Fortunately I did not get morning sickness (neither did my mother when she had me) but I soon realised that other phases of pregnancy and labour involved some more nausea-inducing moments (eg: nausea and vomiting as a side effect of a lot of the pain relief methods and meds during labour, etc), so I was determined to look into alternatives...

That's how I ended up taking a Hypnobirthing course with Yen, since mindfulness had really worked with me when I previously did a course of CBT and exposure therapy with a psychotherapist for my emetophobia. With the help of the hypnobirthing course that we attended, I felt informed about the stages of labour and confident enough to make informed choices about the birth experience that I wanted to have. We decided that if the pregnancy was going smoothly with no medical complications, I wanted to avoid any unnecessary pain meds and go for a natural birth that would avoid pain medication that might cause nausea (which would add unnecessary anxiety to the birthing process).

So at 30 weeks, I told KKH that I was thinking of switching to a hospital that would do a water birth. "In which case," the random overworked KKH team gynae of the day immediately said to me (almost a bit too eagerly), "most probably you'll never look back or return here. When I hear women say they want to switch hospitals for reasons like water birth, they usually will stick to it! So we'll discharge you and give you all your medical records today!"

I switched to NUH - one of the two hospitals in Singapore that would do water births - currently the only options are National University Hospital (NUH) and Thomson Medical Centre (TMC). There are only 4 gynaes who do water birth at NUH, and I went with Dr Anupriya Agarwal, who I felt was very respectful and read through my birth plan thoroughly and discussed every point with me. The only thing that we changed on my original plan was that she told me up front that the hospital's policy was 41+3 days max before they ask you do to an induction, and I was okay with this. I was also required to get a specialised midwife (EMMa Care) who would help me with the water birth.

I decided that I wanted to labour in a hydrotherapy pool, I got me some yoga balls to bounce on, I started doing a prenatal yoga class and tried all the spinningbabies moves, I tried to walk for at least an hour every day, I did the perineum massage and breast massage recommended by my NUH gynae, drank copious cups of red raspberry leaf tea for toning the uterus, eating dates - all the evidence-based methods that was recommended. At 39 weeks the baby was measured at the 50th percentile and everything was on track for a natural water birth. "A good size for water birth!" said my gynae then...

The Birth Story




23 June marked the start of the Show with some brown discharge but no contractions. Naturally I was alarmed because this was the first time during my entire pregnancy that I had seen any sort of 'bleeding'. Over the next few days, I had an increase in the lightening crotch scenarios that made me stop dead in my tracks whilst I was walking around. Cue the furious googling of "WHAT ARE SYMPTOMS OF LABOUR?"

26 June which was the original estimated due date came and went and nothing happened.

27 June Evening we went for a long walk around the Bayfront and Gardens by the Bay - there was a light show and its funny to think of us ambulating about randomly - since it seems like a lifetime ago - when we got home I had a lot of pinkish discharge (part of the Show) and later that night I lost the mucus plug which looked like a lot of dark red gooey snot. I also began having these cramps that were akin to a menstrual cramp but pretty irregularly timed.



In the mirror: my maximum fatness before poppage, on a walk around the Bayfront

28 June 2AM in the wee hours I was pretty sure these were what you'd call surges now as they were lasting about 60 seconds and 4 minutes apart. I also felt that sitting on the birthing ball really sped things up whereas lying in bed slowed things down.

28 June 3AM after an hour of 4-1-1 surges (4 minutes apart, 1 minute long, 1 hour), we went to the hospital and proceeded to drop ourselves off at the wrong spot so we walked (or rather, I waddled) quite a distance to EMERGENCY. Looking back on this, the surges couldn't have been that terrible if I could waddle so far on my own. There I was seen by a nurse and monitored for an hour with a contraction and fetal heartbeat monitor strapped to my belly. The doc on call examined me and told us I was only 2 cm dilated, so we were given the option of going home or being admitted. Since we did not live so close to the hospital, we opted to be admitted and I was given a room upstairs first in the ward.

28 June 8AM - after a fitful sleep (being woken every few minutes by the surges) I was pleased to find out that since I was not in the delivery suite and in a room upstairs, I was allowed to eat as much as I wanted, and food service magically appeared in my room. Housekeeping also changed the sheets which was handy because I was starting to bleed everywhere into the sheets I was sitting on!



LOOK AT MY PLEASED FACE

28 June 10.30am - dilated to 4cm
28 June 12.00pm - was fed lunch
28 June 2.45pm - dilated to 5cm, so they put a contraction and fetal monitor on me again to track for another hour. I was politely asked by my gynae if I wanted a membrane sweep but I declined it and they did not ask me again about it.
28 June 3pm - was fed tea - a green bean soup
28 June 4pm - dilated to 6cm and complaining of a lot of pressure down below, I asked to be able to use the hydrotherapy pool so they moved me back down to the delivery suite below. First I was tracked on a contraction and fetal monitor for another hour to ensure the baby's heartbeat was good, and then I was allowed to use the pool at about 6pm.



The Hydrotherapy Pool in Room 12

The pool! It was a bathtub of water that was exactly body temperature (a small thermometer floating about) and I had two midwives who came in to help scoop water and pour it over me. I also had to wear the contraction and fetal monitor in the pool, but as the device does make a lot of noise (the heartbeat sound being particularly alarming, especially when it dipped or rose for no reason), we asked them to turn the sound off so it wouldn't be so distracting. I really really loved this pool - on land the surges were so strong that I was involuntarily contorting my body off the bed a la exorcist style, but in the pool I was calm, I was peaceful, I was able to do the up breathing and relax quite calmly.

I came out of the pool to be checked that I was progressing fine (and also so I wouldn't get overly pruney and wrinkly from sitting too long in the bath), but back on land the doc assessed that I hadn't really progressed so much since then. This was always a possiblity, as being in the pool might slow progress, but it also relaxed me a lot compared to when I was on land.

Since it wasn't progressing very fast, I was asked if I would accept Intravenous oxytocin, which I was indeed happy to do if it would just help move things along. Not long after that, I found that the surges had doubled in intensity. This wasn't so good as I found myself really flailing about each time the surges hit. I was reaching what my gynae had jokingly described as the phase of labour where the surges get so strong that you become completely unreasonable and want to rapidly bitchslap your husband on the face. The breathing exercises were very hard to keep to.

28 June 8PM I was checked again and it turned out that I still hadn't progressed much so they offered to break the water. At this point I was keen to get things moving as I hadn't really slept in well over 24 hours now and was getting very tired so I agreed to breaking the waters. When they did, we discovered the water was tinged with meconium (baby's first poop), which changed our plans a lot. It meant that I wouldn't be allowed to continue to labour in the pool in case of aspiration of meconium, so my pain relief options were more limited. George took the lead in asking what were our options at this point. They offered gas and we asked them what was the side effects of this, and it included my worst fear, so George insisted that they also put an anti-emetic into my IV first to make sure that any progress we had up to this point wasn't all offset by anxiety or terror.



The Nitrous Oxide

I have the feeling the gas was more of a placebo because it is meant to only take the edge off things (-30% apparently) and I don't really feel if that it had much of an effect. Or maybe it was because by this point I was becoming so tired that I was spontaneously falling asleep between each surge and thus not inhaling the gas prior to the surges, so this was all quickly becoming very excruciating. I must confess that some more flailing and contortions happened despite best attempts to focus on breathing and keeping the appearance of inner calm. Throughout this the nurses would tell us the good news that at least the baby was doing very well and the heartbeat was still very strong.

George began to ask them about our options again and the doc on call recommended an emergency c-section because of failure to progress (this also was the final outcome written on my medical report) and because of their concerns with the meconium stained liquor. We discussed this and decided that a c-section might be the best call at this point, and that it would be better to do it before the baby was very happy and not in any distress, and also because the operating team was available to do it. George also prompted me to start trying to remove my somewhat complicated cartilage and tragus piercings between surges in case we had to go to surgery. The midwife nurses also asked me to prove that I could stop flailing about so the anaesthesist could do their job - this I did the best I could, but George later said it was like all the energy was compressed into my face then. Thanks to Nurse Swan Di for maintaining the calm in the room despite all my flailing about and my increasing volume of shoutiness.

Again my worst fear in all this was of the possibility of nausea and vomiting and we had a conversation with the anaesthetist who said they could do a spinal anaesthesia instead of general. We agreed to proceed with the emergency c-section. Things got moving extremely fast from that point - they verified that the last time I ate was at tea time (many hours ago), someone came in and quickly cleaned me down and shaved me, many a form was given to me to read and sign, and then many a form was also checked again by nurses "CAN I CONFIRM THAT THIS IS YOUR SIGNATURE?" pointing to my horribly illegible squiggles made in the throes of a surge.

29 June 2AM?? Right before I was being transferred to the operating room trolley I was given a small tiny cup of something intensely sour which they told me I had to drink to neutralise stomach acids and ensure that I would not throw up. Ironically, because it was so sour, I had great difficulty drinking it as it triggered a massive gag reflex (comes with the territory of my emetophobia unfortunately). There came a point where several staff were around the bed encouraging me to chug this pitifully tiny cup of goo to help me avoid any nausea or vomiting later on. Failure to chug ensued (Not getting crunk on this Friday Night), and I could only sip at it very excruciatingly slowly with about a half dozen hospital staff watching on, ordering me to just drink it quick in one gulp. After what seemed like an eternity of awful sipping of this horrible sour thing (probably the only truly unpleasant anxiety-inducing part of this entire birth experience really) I was finally ready to go to the operating room. Someone had taken off my glasses so it was quite blurry but the room was very white and bright. I was worried that I would not be able to control myself from not WILDLY FLAILING when the anaesthetist came to do their job, but fortunately there was another nurse to help hold me in place whilst they applied a local anaesthetic before they did the spinal anaesthetic. Within 5 minutes I could no longer feel the surges which was actually a big big relief.

The surgery itself was very fast, it doesn't hurt because of the anaesthesia, and all you feel is a lot of tugging and pulling, and one's arms might shake uncontrollably. Suddenly a cry was heard and not long after THE BABY was presented in my face! The gynae also told me that it turned out that this baby was a very big baby indeed, which may have explained why I had difficulties progressing in labour. Perhaps my awesome diet of the extra days past her due date had packed on the pounds - this was a baby in the 99th percentile for height (54cm) and over a kilo heavier than the average baby born in this hospital (she was 3.9kg, i was told the average baby born at NUH was 2.7kg)



THE BIRTH OF BEANOOOOO

George later followed them up to the nursery to have her weighed and to have some skin-to-skin time with baby - whilst they stitched me up and took me to the recovery room with some fancy leg massagers. Once baby got the medical all-clear, she was brought down to me for some skin-to-skin and for me to attempt to feed her. The midwife who had aided me all night came over and explained to me how to hold her in bed.



Thanks to the Emmacare midwives and Nurse Swan Di who were there at the critical stage of my labour and maintaining calm during this full-on process! Although I didn't get to finish my labour in the birthing pool, I appreciated having the chance to try to labour in it and I felt in control of the entire process the whole time even though we had to do an emergency c-sect in the end.

Post C-Section Recovery


I felt awesome after the surgery and very much awake and happy whilst the anaesthetic had not worn off. Although I know I was meant to sleep, I was very excited and I felt like I could stay up all night and listen to baby's weird snuffly sounds. As George slumbered on the weird sofa next to me, I watched the sun come up on Saturday and marvelled at my new baby! What a strange big baby! The foot that had been kicking me! The toes I could feel squished up against my belly! The strange being which had been hiccuping inside, now hiccuping outside! And all the tiny creaky sounds!

AND THEN.... all of the anaesthetic wore off!!! It is still major surgery which does takes a long time to recover from. Plus I had a terrible racking cough due to a pre-exisiting cold (I shake my fist at you, old person who kept coughing so virulently in my direction when I went for my endocrinology checkup at SGH!). Each time I coughed this gave me a lot of shooting pain near the incision site, and I also have de quervain's disease which meant my wrist tendons were inflamed and I could not seem to use my thumb or wrist to do a lot of things that were pretty much fundamental to baby handling or getting out of a hospital bed. AHHH! The pain!

Abdominal support after a c-section: the doctor will recommend that you do at least 5-10 min of walking as soon as you possibly can. It may seem difficult to imagine at the very start but it does get better day by day. NUH also gets patients to buy an abdominal binder - this is meant to help support your abdomen which has internal stitches that take longer to heal than the external stitches. I did not find the given binder comfortable, so I later switched to another binder I bought online which was made of bamboo fabric which would not irritate my skin as much.

Coughing after a c-section: Right now the pain of the cough is fast fading but I know that in the moment it was truly seriously ailing me. I remember asking my gynae several times for reassurance that it was okay to cough. Because it hurt so much, I didn't want to cough, so the phlegm would build up into a HUGE COUGH, which was just horrible. To cope with the pain I found that sitting bent over with a pillow or hand supporting the incision site helped with muffling the sharp rude pains of coughing. Now at 2 weeks post surgery, I can safely say that the pain of coughing will subside truly and yes even a deep hacking cough will not bust your seams if you hold it all together.

Weeing after a c-section: During the operation they hook you up to a catheter and after they take it out the nurses will ask to see that you do a wee in a small cardboard bedpan - to ensure that everything still works down there. I wasn't sure if it was a matter of a shy bladder or something else, but this proved incredibly difficult for me. LITERALLY IMPOSSIBLE! The floodgates would not open! The river would not flow! The nurse recommended I turn on the sink tap and let it run so I could hear the water sounds, but this did not work. I had drunk many flasks of water and the nurse observed that my bladder was full yet I could not go! With the nurse periodically knocking on the toilet door to check that I was alright, I began furiously googling in the toilet for tips and ideas of what to do; it felt like I spent hours in there. After several very difficult wees (and worrying that the wires might have been crossed forever) I eventually found something that worked for me! - spraying some warm water over the lady parts with the hospital bidet inexplicably allowed the waters to flow although I didn't feel like I had much control over it. Anyway, I was relieved to observe that by the time I was discharged I had regained full control of my, ahem, weeing faculties.

Nursery Station on ward: The nurses and the Lactation consultant on the ward were super helpful, as well as the Nursery. Once the baby is born, it is in your room with you, you've got this little caddy on wheels with your baby and hand sanitiser and diapers and NUH swaddle cloths, and its kinda your call to figure out what to do with baby, or to ask the nurses for help with the various things you gotta do, such as BREASTFEEDING? DIAPER CHANGING? SWADDLING? EMERGENCY FORMULA FEEDING? The nurses however can also help take your baby away for a quick bath if you need a rest or sleep. TAKE THE OFFER WHEN GIVEN AND LET THEM BATH YOUR BABY UNTIL THE NEXT FEEDING TIME SO YOU CAN SLEEP.



Beano's mobile hospital crib

Afterthoughts


Why did labour fail to progress along the way? I suspect that the baby's position was a contributing factor in the labour's failure to progress accordingly. Beano was stuck in a Right Occipital Anterior position from about 30 weeks to SHOWTIME, and this isn't regarded as an ideal position - it is noted on Spinningbabies website that baby might rotate to the posterior and if so labour might have cluster contractions with slow downs and stalls (if chin is not tucked). I feel that even with the exercises a lot is left to chance - where the mother and her doula can only try to create room for the baby to rotate but the baby must actively rotate on its own.

Do some research on the possible outcomes: f I could do this all over again, I would also have spent more time looking up what were the likely outcomes, such as what a c-section would really entail. There were many things I didn't know about how a c-section worked, because I assumed that I would try my best to avoid a surgical procedure, but obviously an emergency c-section was still a possibility not to be ruled out.

Thank god for Maternity Leave!!!: Friends, colleagues and other work collaborators, I was clearly too gung-ho when I said that I was hoping to get back up and running as usual right after the birth. I haven't even figured out how to use the stroller or the baby sling yet!!! THIS IS GOING TO TAKE US SOMETIME TO FIGURE OUT!! HOW DOES I BABY LOGISTICS???

[Meanswhile the next door neighbour throws her two babies over her shoulders whilst she puts the laundry out to hang in the corridor plus she is also simultaneously able to keep a watchful eye on her walking toddlers and also have a leisurely conversation with other ladieees at the same time; next time you see a stay-at-home-mom with multiple kids don't take this kind of next level childcaring for granted, it requires SKILLZ and its VERY HARD WORK!]





COMING UP NEXT: HOW DOES WE DIAPER BABY? R WE QUALIFIED TO HAVE BABBY??? HOW DID PEOPLE KNOW WHAT TO DO WITH BABY BEFORE THE INTERNET??? HOW LONG IS IT BEFORE THE BABY LEARNS HOW TO VOICE CONTROL OUR GOOGLE HOME??? AND OTHER IMPORTANT THINGS WHICH NO ONE TOLD US...

Monday, 17 June 2019

RENOVATION FOR THE D'OUTH HOUSE: Part 3 - Hacking Works, Aircon Installation, Flooring, Electricals, Lighting, Carpentry, Hinges, Doors, Windows, and Blinds


11. Hacking Works


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All of the kitchen walls and floor were to be hacked because the existing tile work was in a poor condition and also exceedingly filthy... This would be the only hacking works to be done for our flat. To save on costs, we only hacked the kitchen tiles, and instead did an overlay of the tile work in the living area.


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Our contractor helped us apply for the renovation permit (which takes 2 weeks) and this was straightforward as we were not hacking down any existing walls. If you are hacking any of the walls though, you'll need to submit the plans for approval in advance and this can take longer for the approval of the permit. There are quite a few rules concerning what is hackable and what is not, but if you have looked around the block you will see that a lot of people do quite creative hacking in their HDB flats despite the many constraints.

Finally when the notice comes you have to stick it at the lift landing or at the door of the flat to inform neighbours of the works - and the contractor/sub-contractors should also keep to the working hours and days on the permit. Since our block is undergoing HIP at the moment, there are always a few dozen of these notices stuck around the lift because everyone is taking advantage of the chaos of the HIP work period to time their noisy or destructive renovations.

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Note the old rubbish chute in the corner...

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Replacement of rubbish chute (HIP) only after hacking and retiling

Another thing is that we asked the HIP office to delay the installation of our new refuse chute till after the hacking and tiling works, otherwise the new chute would be damaged during the hacking process.

As for the actual hacking itself, I am always surprised to see that the hacking is often done within a day. Similarly, the HIP works hacking also just takes a mere morning. You would imagine this to take a long time but actually hacking doesn't cost a lot and is pretty quick.



12. Aircon Installation


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The finished product - the aircon in its room!

The all important aircon! Although it is the main splurge in our monthly electrical bill, without the aircon we might shrivel up and die in a sweaty puddle on the floor. Or in my case, productivity might drop by several points as a result of overheating. For our 3-room flat, we decided to get 3 blowers or a System 3 aircon - one for living area, and two for the bedrooms. We did not use our contractor's aircon contact, instead preferring to do it on our own, so we engaged the aircon installers separately on our own and arranged for the dates to slot into the rest of the works.

The unit for the blower is BTU or British Thermal Unit (it actually stands for the the amount of heat required to raise the temperature of one pound of water by one degree Fahrenheit), and according to Gaincity's website, how you calculate what you need in BTU is as follows:

Gaincity Aircon Buying Guide: "Find the square footage of the room you are trying to cool and multiply by 35. This will give you the ballpark BTUs you should look for. Shady room? Decrease that number by 10%. Sunny room? Increase that number by 10%. Add 4,000 BTUs if you are putting the A/C in the kitchen. If more than two people will be in the room regularly, add 600 BTUs per person."

Living Area + Stores: Approx 4 x 6.3 = 25.2 sq m (approx 271 sq ft) - needs at least 9485 BTU
Blue Room: 4.35 x 2.9 = 12.615 (approx 136 sq ft) - needs at least 4760++ (sunny side)
Green Room: 4.35 x 3.2 = 13.92 (approx 150 sq ft) - needs at least 5250++ (sunny side)

The System 3 units we decided on correspondingly were (Mitsubishi Starmex Electric):
1 x Outdoor Unit MXY-3G28VA2 (for all 3 blowers)
1 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN13VE (12000 BTU) - for the living area
2 X Indoor Blower Unit MSXY-FN10VE (9000 BTU) - for the blue and green room

Aircons are usually installed over 2 visits to your house:
1st Visit: To dismantle wiring and existing piping and dispose of old system 2 aircon
(In-between which the house painter comes in and does the first coat of painting)
2nd Visit: To install new drainage piping, trunking, compressor, and new system 3 aircon
(After which the house painter comes in again and paints over all the new trunking)

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We also had to make some modifications to the new door frame design so as to accommodate the way in which the aircon drainage pipe would be run through the rooms. Here we were measuring the frame to see how much extra needed to be left so the big trunking could run across the top of the door frame - we eventually had to ask for the doorframe to be lowered by about 2.5" here.

Our main contractor initially suggested we tell our aircon installers to do 3 visits - but this doesn't seem to be the normal practice. The only reason you might break it up into 3 visits is because there are very dusty works going on in the house after the 2nd visit (eg: hacking). However, this can be fixed by having them put a big plastic wrap over the blowers after the 2nd/final installation to prevent dust from entering the blower and to restrict its use before the house has been properly cleaned up.

Our experience buying and installing our first home aircon: The dingparents were adamant that we should stick to a tried and tested aircon installer such as Gaincity which they had used multiple times. With the benefit of hindsight, perhaps this would have been a safer bet. BUT HOW WERE WE TO KNOW UNTIL WE TRIED IT FOR OURSELVES? The main thing we understood at that point was that when picking an installer, we had to ensure that the installer was using the correct types of premium materials for the installation - pvc drainage pipes, the proper wire cables, the right kind of class 1 insulation, and copper pipes. We just assumed the rest would follow....

George found another installer online who promised the same quality materials and could do it within our rather tight timeline (to fit in with the rest of the works). We saw a number of reviews online that were quite favourable for the company JEX AIRCON so we engaged them to install our aircon. I also got the dingfather to come down help us check that it was done properly. But... I don't know if I can recommend JEX AIRCON again (and I'm not including the link) because there were so many red flags:

Fear for workmen safety and worksite safety: On the 1st visit they did not use a safety harness when climbing out to check the existing blower and I don't think the homeowners should be have to be actively worried that the blower might fall off the ledge during retrieval. When we hired someone to do the job we assumed they would follow all health and safety regulations and not let their workmen take unnecessary risks! Only one of the workers really spoke English (the rest of the team was composed of Indian workmen who did not understand English so direct communication with the workmen physically doing the work was difficult for us)

Not sure if installers were actually trained or BCA licensed: So on the 2nd Visit, we asked the workmen who came to our house if they were BCA licensed but we were given a blank look and the very worrying response: "What is BCA?" - This made us think that none of the men who were working on it were actually BCA licensed or trained, so I texted the company again who confirmed they were BCA-certified. What can one do that at that point?

Took an unusually long time for standard installation: They took from 9am-10pm to install 3 blowers, which seemed bizarrely/ridiculously long. I mean, I really didn't expect people to work at my house from 9am till 10pm. The poor Dingfather had to stay there with them from morning to night because I was at work (and even after I got off work!!) - and actually the poor workmen were just working nonstop. It was hard to be angry at the men on site because they seemed to be really struggling and doing their best but they were just confused and unskilled and ill-equipped to do the job. From what I understood and from the dingparents' past experiences (of which they had many), normal professional installers could install 3 blowers in a morning, but Jex Aircon's men really did not seem to know what they were doing at all, as if they were doing it for the first time and figuring it out on the spot, which was bizarre for a professional company and also made us quite nervous.



Again, as Lemongrab might say: "UNACCEPTABLE!!!!!!"

Finally, after a long arduous installation process on their end, they had finished up everything but were unable to connect it to our power to prove to us it worked, which seemed ridiculous. It was only with the intervention of Dingfather (who originally trained as an electrical engineer) that he instructed them on how to wire it to the mains DB box to test that it was functional. Lucky for them, it was working.

Things you'll want from your aircon installation:
- Professional
- Securely installed
- BCA-certified

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Screenshot 2019-06-12 at 12.48.27 PM annotate

Unfortunately... I didn't feel that we got any of those three from our installer, Jex Aircon. Also, er.... I wonder, is it normal for there to be no visible BOLTS connecting the aircon to the brackets??? I mean I don't think a big wind will blow off our blowers, but seriously....... I guess only time will tell if we have any issues with our aircon units as a result of this haphazard installation. In the meantime all I can say if that if you wanna go with Jex Aircon, then... MAYBE.... DON'T?????




13. Flooring (Terrazzo)


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BEFORE: Image by Property Agent on original listing

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AFTER: Right after the terrazzo polishing

George did a lot of research on terrazzo polishing and sealants. Our friends living in Little India had told us a cautionary tale about the importance of SEALING YOUR TERRAZZO especially the new types of terrazzo, which was causing them no end of grief after they discovered how porous and greedily absorbent their terrazzo was, sucking up all the wine and coffee spilt on it, that they were always at attention with their baking soda and cleaning agents and cloths to absorb any stains that they noticed.

But then.... we got talked out of using sealant because of the cost. The sealant was going to cost more and we have the old sort of terrazzo that is super hardy. Dingparents also told us that if we really needed in the future it would be cheaper to simply repolish the whole lot!

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One thing we didn't really personally monitor and which was subsequently not done was the polishing of the skirting board which is also terrazzo. As a result, none of the skirting was polished whereas all of the actual floor was polished brightly. The difference is stark in many spots.

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You would imagine that it would be obvious that polishing terrazzo should obviously include the skirting board area. But no, this is one area that the workmen might cut corners on if you aren't present to insist on it. And we didn't have time to rectify it because the work schedule simply had to move on!!!

Lesson learnt: Either get a better project manager to monitor the terrazzo polishing and check that they do the skirting board too -OR- Come down and monitor the terrazzo polishing yourself and insist that they do the skirting board for you as well



14. Electrical Distribution


We left this part to the Dingfather who drew this out. This distribution ensures that the load is distributed evenly and we won't have an unsafe dodgy electrical situation such as in our previous rental where most of the house light switches, tv, oven, stove, kettle, and a billion other powerpoints and appliances were all on the same circuit, resulting in the tv and lights going out temporarily in one room when someone else turned on a light in another room.

Electrical Distribution Plan



15. Lighting Design and Fixtures (fans, heaters, oven switch, etc)


I didn't know how to do the lighting BUT SOMEONE HAD TO DO IT so I drew up a plan mainly using a rail and spotlight system because, well, I am more familiar with how spotlights work in galleries, and I figured we could point them around as we wanted later, or even wrap them with gels later on to change the colour... and then... welp, I ACCIDENTALLY OVER-LIT THE HOUSE.

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This is the diagram I produced with my planned lighting which I used to brief in the electrician. We planned for a lot of two way switches and a hella lot of 13A double plugs because we like them. I must have done something wrong because at the end of this endeavour we had a electrical bill of OVER 4000SGD WHAT AND HOW DID THAT HAPPEN???

To be honest my expectation for the electrical bill was about 2000SGD and when we asked the HIP electrician to give us a ball park figure he said about $2500 for the entire house. THE ENTIRE HOUSE. So how did our electrical bill go so out of control?

My post-mortem review would say:
- Designer (myself) was blithely unaware that modern LEDS are EXTREMELY BRIGHT so calculating wattage may not be useful
- Designer (myself) was unclear about proper way of calculating lighting required for house
- Bought too many tracks for lights and then proceeded to INSTALL THEM ALL
- Bought too many LED lights for track lighting system
- Too many 13A power points
- Too many two way light switches

On the BRIGHT SIDE - WE HAVE AN EXTREMELY BRIGHT HOUSE NOW!!! The neighbours probably think of us as the people WHO HAVE THAT INSANELY BRIGHT YELLOW HOUSE (our bright lighting complements our bright yellow living room with BRIGHT YELLOW CEILING TO BOOT! HA TAKE THAT!)

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We got our lights from Aspire Lighting in Geylang. They had the simple lights we liked and they were super friendly.

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We also saw this fun little light and I think its my favourite light in the entire house. We put it by the doorway, it is the FIRST TIME I HAVE EVER HAD A FANCY LIGHT.

TOP TIP: Are you using spotlights? Don't go crazy and buy more than the recommended amount "just in case". You will not use that many. In fact you might remove some for sanity's sake. Also, don't ask for multiple two-way switches for everything. You think you're making life easier for yourself but actually EACH BUTTON IS ONE MORE BUTTON YOU HAVE TO MEMORISE THE USE OF. Light switch affordances are harder to design well than you would think... even as an interaction designer I am still facepalming a few of my lighting and button decisions in this house...



16. Carpentry / Blum Hinges


Carpentry Design

I expected our contractor to design our carpentry with a bit more detail. This... we did not get. We got a less than impressive drawing with no dimensions on it. I was disappointed with this and even thought of using the diagram as an example of PERSPECTIVE FAIL to show to my Drawing students who are being taught the basics of technical drawing and perspective drawing at the moment.

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THE 3D DRAWING OF OUR KITCHEN THAT WE GAVE TO OUR CONTRACTOR

This is the drawing that we gave to our contractor to show him what we wanted. But as we are not carpenters, we cannot come up with all the interior thicknesses and dimensions on our own, nor could we design how to incorporate things such as the gas and water pipes behind - so we thought this Sketchup model would be a useful starting point for the contractor/carpenter to work with.

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THE DRAWINGS OF THE KITCHEN THAT OUR CONTRACTOR CAME BACK WITH

These were the slightly underwhelming drawings I got back from the contractor. Later, despite asking for more drawings the best I got was this drawing plus some dimensions added to it after we had a long discussion on the dimensions and placements. By which time I was very worried we would miss the timeline for completion before our critical moving date.

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THE NORMAL STANDARD OF KITCHEN DRAWINGS THAT I EXPECTED FROM A CONTRACTOR

This is the minimum standard that I had been expecting for a kitchen carpentry design - this is an example that the Dingparents showed me after our reno was nearly completed - the diagram made by their contractor for their own flat. I had seen this before and frankly although I don't need a full render, I expected at least a digitally drawn, accurate diagram with dimensions.

Clearance for appliances

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Attention to detail was lacking in many spots of the kitchen but one critical error was that it appeared that there wasn't a clearance designed for the top of our fridge. We had bought our fridge way in advance and it was quite a tall unit. I didn't think that I had to explicitly say that a clearance had to be added in for our fridge but there just wasn't any clearance and it was only with the help of a muscular cleaner in the house that the fridge was successfully wedged into its hole with probably just about 1mm to spare on the top (gulp). AAHHHHHHHHH!!!!

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Also, on an aside, who goes and designs such an elaborate torture for cables like this???.... Here is our tortured fridge cable and behold in this picture you can also see the lack of clearance between fridge and top. We have a lot of excess clearance on sides and back to compensate (where I think the actual cooling elements are) so I like to think our fridge is not any worse off from this unfortunate fitting.

Edge Band

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For those who don't know what is the edge band and its in your quote, this is the edge band made of ABS. It is a 1mm strip of plastic ABS used to create a trimming for the carpentry finish. Look I'm trying to find some learning points so I can console myself that this was still a great learning process for us all despite all the disaster.

Cabinet Laminate

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I already mentioned the sad story of the WRONG LAMINATE in my previous entry, but the TLDR; summary of it here is that our contractor somehow mixed up the colour of the laminate we wanted despite it being named and typed out in all the docs and messages correctly - I thought it had a blue film over it thus making it green so I didn't raise a warning flag until it was basically too late and so at the end we discussed it and he waived the extra charge that would have been charged for the premium laminate material. ITS OKAY WE CAN LIVE WITH A PISTACHIO GREEN KITCHEN. It is starting to grow on us.

Cabinet Inner PVC Foil

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The inside of your cabinets are lined with a pvc coating, you get to choose from a few inoffensive inner colours like these. We chose grey.

Worktop

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We chose an inoffensive sort of white quartz material for the worktop (see picture below). I like how the light scatters on top of it. You also get to choose different profiles (if you are feeling "extra"), but we stuck with just the normal flat one. Remember that the worktop has to be cut and fabricated off site, so if you need any holes cut THEY MUST BE DONE IN ADVANCE, otherwise, get ready for that sinking feeling of impending worksite disaster....

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By sinking feeling I am also making reference to THE SINK INCIDENT - wherein our silgranite sink (which was EXPLICITLY DESIGNED TO BE AN OVERMOUNT sink was installed wrongly as an UNDERMOUNT sink to the worktop. Nope we weren't happy about this but figured that it would damage our sink to have them uninstall it and remount as OVERMOUNT after they bungled it. Infuriatingly, the installation booklet as well as its widgets were still STUCK TO THE SINK UNOPENED when we found it had been wrongly installed.

In the end the contractor said he could give a warranty for the sink installation as UNDERMOUNT so we left it as that, although to be honest we always intended this sink to be overmount. If we had known it would be undermount then we might have chosen another sink without such a distinct material (now the material is hidden inside the sink), but I really do like this silgranite sink material. Its like our floor - kinda grainy and rough to the touch yet oddly smooth. It is not slippy when wet and it also dries quick.

Top Tip: MAKE SURE EVERYONE AND THEIR GRANDMA KNOWS THAT YOUR SINK IS MEANT TO BE OVERMOUNT OR UNDERMOUNT. OR GO DOWN YOURSELF TO REMIND EVERYONE ON SITE. DON'T ASSUME THAT BECAUSE YOU SHOWED THEM A DRAWING/PIC AND SAID IT ONCE AND GAVE THEM THE INSTALLATION MANUAL THAT THE INSTALLER WILL DO IT TO SPECIFICATIONS! BECAUSE THE CONTRACTOR/SUBCONTRACTOR/WORKMEN WON'T READ ANY OF THE PAPERS OR MANUALS YOU STUCK TO THE ITEMS!!!

Hinges

If I did this all over again, I would explicitly ask the contractor "PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS INCLUDED BY DEFAULT IN OUR AGREEMENT, WE'LL PROBABLY HAVE THAT" instead of having them say "oh go choose anything you want from the blum website online". Firstly, it was very stressful and confusing having to acquaint ourselves with the different types of blum hinges. Why can't I just ask for "the blum hinges that close slowly on their own" and leave the rest up to my contractor to do it? Why do I have to spend time going down to the blum showroom and study all the blum hinges myself? In addition to that, to be given an additional bill for choosing weird add-ons... How am i supposed to be the hinge specialist now? Man I don't want to have to get into hinges again....

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So we went down to understand ALL OF THE PARTS OF A BLUM HINGE WHICH IS PROBABLY MORE THAN I SHOULD EVER NEED TO KNOW ABOUT MY HINGE OPTIONS.

Things I learnt were that for most of the normal casement doors you just need:
107 degree Hinge - CLIP top BLUMOTION - 75B1550 Silver - $4.25/pc
Mounting Plate with 0mm spacing - 175H3100 - Straight with height adjustment - $0.82/pc

This is not one of those $2 hinges you get at the corner store, this is the slow-closing action hinge with a separate mounting plate that allows you to make height adjustments to your door to align everything up. Most hinges don't let you do that as they are fixed plates (if you misalign them they are misaligned and its hard to fine-tune things). Yes that's why your hinge is so expensive. ARGHHHHHH.

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As for the food larder we chose TBX i5 drawers (above). These are of fixed sizes and go inside your large cupboard to give it structure. Some people say you don't need a drawer, but we kinda liked it. We also asked them why people choose between 30 and 65kg load capacities and decided we did not need the 65 kg load capacity. That would be like having a DEBBIE sitting inside the drawer which is not happening anyway.

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We also tried out a lot of dish drainer mechanisms... but this was included.

TOP TIP: Ask your contractor "PLEASE TELL ME WHAT IS INCLUDED BY DEFAULT IN OUR AGREEMENT, WE'LL HAVE JUST THAT, AND YOU CAN PICK ALL THE HINGES AS LONG AS THEY ARE SOFT-CLOSING KTHXBYE"




17. Door and Door Frame Installation


Doors was another thing that we decided to do on our own. The dingmother recommended we try the shops along Eunos Avenue 4 and 5, which included Siong Doors, Yontat Doors, and PD Doors. The first two do a lot of those veneer doors which are extremely reasonably priced (Within the $200 range each). The only issue I see with these notably hollow doors (not solid) is that they sometimes slip open with the wind because they are very light. PD Doors does a unique sort of Japanese folding door that we might consider but haven't found it so critical to install just yet.

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Yontat Doors

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Example of Yontat's door selections and door knobs. I chose one that was more ergonomic (although less aesthetically pleasing). A kind of handle you could just slam down with a finger to open.

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PD Doors

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These framed doors can slide open and also fold up.


18. Window Installation


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We chose a casement instead of sliding windows because we wanted it to be really soundproof. George also initially wanted double glazing but we were talked out of it because of cost. It is not truly soundproof in there either, but a lot of the sound is indeed insulated.

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For the only sliding windows in the house, we had them in the living area. For sliding windows and grills they can be 2 track or 3 track. Note that the 3 track is obviously more costly so if you were quoted a 3 track price check that you haven't received a 2 track instead (which happened to us)



19. Blinds Installation


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We got Korean combi blinds and it was 940 for all 3 windows including installation thanks to Blinds Guru who were super fast in doing the measurement on the day we went to their showroom and installation was really dust-free thanks to their awesome drilling-hoover-attachment.




Alright I've got De Quervain's tenosynovitis in both hands and have to wear hand guards now so I AM ENDING THIS POST ABRUPTLY TO GO AND REST NOW. More of the juice in Part 4.....