Hong Kong Faces

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 September, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 September, 2009, 12:00am

Twelve years ago, Phyllis Lau Siu-cheung was lying in a hospital bed with her life in the balance. She had undergone an operation after suffering a stroke, and now doctors were asking her mother to make a life-or-death decision: whether to perform another operation that would leave her partially paralysed - but without which she would die.

She had the operation, and since then the active woman who always put her work first - ahead even of a good night's sleep - has had to learn to adapt to life without the use of her left arm and leg.

She returned to her early love, drama, and in 2006 won acclaim for directing a performance of a play in which she had once acted, as a student at the Hong Kong Academy for Performing Arts.

The same year she was judged one of the 10 bravest rehabilitated patients in Hong Kong and, now 48, is writing a book about her experiences while working on a project to take drama and music classes into schools,

The day she had her stroke in 1997, Lau had spent a seven-day stint working on a television programme, getting almost no sleep.

On the eighth day, she rushed to the office for a meeting - during which she felt ill and drove home. As she got out of the car, she felt a weakness in her left hand and leg and went to hospital. There she was diagnosed with a haemorrhagic stroke, caused by a ruptured blood vessel in her brain.

She had the first operation immediately but her condition did not improve, and her family were called in. Doctors told them that if she did not have the second operation she would die that night.

'My mother was very sad and it was difficult for her to make this decision,' Lau said.

After the surgery, she was in a coma for three months before going home to begin her long recovery, with the help of her family, particularly her mother.

'My mother always stayed beside me and took care of me,' she said.

So it was a particularly cruel blow when, in 2001, her mother, then 75, collapsed from a heart attack and died as Lau watched, unable to help because of her paralysis.

Still sad at the loss, she says she contemplated killing herself by leaping from a window. But having been so close to death, she realised her life was too valuable.

In particular, Lau remembered a promise she had made to her mother that she would treasure her life; she kept the promise.

So it was a poignant choice when, after nine years of recovery, she directed 'Night Mother, the Pulitzer Prize-winning psychological drama by Marsha Norman about a daughter telling her mother that she planned to commit suicide.

Lau, who was active in drama and singing at secondary school, studied business management at Shue Yan College - now a university - before going to the academy to study directing.

After graduation she worked for a film company and television stations, and as a producer for a radio station, while working from midnight to dawn.

She put heavy demands on herself in her work and did not know how to relax.

Now, in what she sees as her second life, she has learned that there are more important things than just work - especially communication within the family, a message she wants to bring home to teenagers.

She regrets she did not take good care of her health when she was younger.

'Life belongs not only to you, but also belongs to your family and others in society. Treasure your life,' she said - the message that she wants to spread through her book.

Now her dream is to promote drama to young people, through a project for which she and a partner are seeking a sponsor.

'I want to bring drama and musicals into secondary schools and let students develop their interests in the stage,' she said.