What Washing My Dad’s Feet Taught Me

Ella Wong
Human Parts
Published in
5 min readNov 29, 2023

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A photo of me washing my dad’s feet.

On the 5th of August, my father was involved in a car crash. He had stopped at a red light on his motorcycle, and the distracted minibus driver behind him hadn’t realised on time. The accident left him with severe spinal cord injuries, a fractured 11th vertebrae, and the complete erasure of his ability to move his lower body. As the paramedics wheeled him into the hospital on the gurney, every jolt from the jagged surface of the ground was translated into an agonised scream.

There is a certain jarring, unsettling discomfort that comes with consoling your own parent in pain. It feels like such an unnatural subversion – our perceptions of our parents are typically built upon the foundational, one-way dynamic of the protector and the protected; the carer and the cared for. That is the standard shared assumption. Throughout childhood and early adolescence, there was (more often than not) no reason or external factor to challenge this understanding, so we rarely fully grow out of it. Witnessing my father in true excruciating pain came as a harrowing revelation for me: it was a reminder that he too was a fragile, skin-encased, mixed bag of meat and bones, that he is in fact not the invulnerable higher life form I had subconsciously deified him as and subsequently accepted as the unchallengeable truth. My siblings and I are and will forever be the only people to ever view him as Dad. To the unsympathetic, impartial universe and to everyone else just chugging along by, he is just another ordinary man; just as brittle and weak as anybody, just as indescribably helpless and small in the face of mortality.

He spent the first two days drifting in between painful consciousness and slightly less painful unconsciousness in the intensive care unit, hooked up to an IV cocktail drip of painkillers and blood thinners. One morning – a week after transitioning from the ICU to the orthopaedic unit – he complained to the doctors about a splitting headache. A CT scan showed that the anticoagulant drugs had led to an intracranial haemorrhage, and emergency brain surgery was necessary to save his life. The surgery was successful, but it meant another trip back to the ICU.

By this point, my dad was a barely recognizable man. His half-shaved head revealed a fleshy scar snaking down from his mid-frontal to the back of his right ear…

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Ella Wong
Human Parts

Ella is an artist-essayist based in Hong Kong. Her interests include art history, entomology, and cosplaying. Oh and she likes cats.