Mona Koh is still a busy mamasan despite being paralysed waist-down
For 16 years, nightclub hostess Mona Koh has lived with a bullet lodged between her spine and liver.
In 1994, a gunman pumped two bullets into her while she was waiting for a lift in Katong People’s Complex, now known as Katong Mall. The gunman was never arrested.
The first bullet hit her face and the second, her spine, crippling her permanently.
Previous reports said that doctors told her the bullet had so devastated her spine that she had only a 5 per cent chance of survival if it were to be removed.
She has been wheelchair-bound since, and in pain.
“Nobody can see that I’m hurting. I’ve been tolerating the pain all these years,” said Madam Koh, 62, in Mandarin.
Back then, she ruled the local nightclub scene as one of the top mamasans, with what was said to be the biggest stable of girls under her charge.
She went back to her mamasan duties three years after the shooting and is still in the business.
When The Sunday Times visited her last week at the upmarket nightclub Deluxe Lido Palace along Outram Road, she was dressed to the nines in a delicately embroidered black blouse. Her manicured fingers were adorned with large rings.
She made her rounds in a wheelchair pushed by a maid, stopping to have a drink with her businessman clients.
Except for a few more wrinkles, she did not look much older than when she was last photographed almost 10 years ago. She did not want to be photographed for this story.
One of her regulars, an Australian who wanted to be known only as John, said: “She’s one of the grand old dames, and so hospitable. She can sit and chat with you for hours about anything.”
He added that in the four years he has known her, she never once told him how she ended up paralysed.
Which is just the way Madam Koh, who is single, prefers to keep it. The glitzy front her customers see masks a pain she said she struggles to cope with every day.
“I’m sad, very sad. The only time I don’t feel pain is when I am working,” she said.
“At least when I see my customers and talk to them, time passes by so much faster. I also have bills to pay.”
She spends night after night at the club, coming in at around 9.30pm and leaving at 3am. She has two assistants to help her manage her girls.
She commutes from her condominium home in Tanjong Katong by car or taxi.
Painkillers are a daily affair. Madam Koh, who has two adopted children aged 26 and 18, added that she takes more than 10 pills every day to help ease the “burning pain and numbness”.
Doctors The Sunday Times contacted said it is possible to feel pain even though there is no nervous function in the paralysed area, as pain is psychological.
Dr Ken Ung, a psychiatrist and senior consultant at Adam Road Medical Centre, said: “The brain has a template of the body, which is why it is possible for pain to occur neurologically and why some amputees feel a phantom limb even after they have lost a real limb.”
Dr Malcolm Mahadevan, head and senior consultant of the emergency medicine department at the National University Hospital, said that although it is unlikely that the pain is localised, it could be a chronic, psychological result of depression or post traumatic stress disorder.
After so many years, the hope of ever walking again has dimmed for Madam Koh.
“Doctors say I have no chance of recovery. But even though I know this, I still wish I can stand up,” she said, her voice breaking.
Where once she appealed publicly on TV programme Crimewatch for help to nab the man who gunned her down, she now shuns the spotlight.
“I don’t want people to talk about me any more,” she said.
“If only I knew who the attacker was. Why did he do this to me? How can I forgive him?”