Customers Can Be Mean, But Jimmy The Dishwasher Works 12 Hours A Day Despite His Condition

For years, he has endured mean comments from insensitive people.

Cover image via TNP/Choo Chwee Hua

Jimmy Wee works as a dishwasher at a restaurant in Singapore. Suffering from Neurofibromatosis, he doesn't like to be seen by diners so he hides in the washing area at the back of the restaurant.

Neurofibromatosis (NF) is a genetic condition. For years, it was wrongly associated with the condition of the 'Elephant Man', as it is frequently stereotyped, misunderstood and often unheard of.

For many years, it was thought Joseph Merrick, widely known as the 'Elephant Man', had suffered from Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1).

However, in 1986, geneticists Tibbles and Cohen demonstrated that Joseph was actually afflicted with Proteus syndrome, a much rarer condition.

Joseph Merrick, who was exhibited as a human curiosity named the Elephant Man.

Image via Wikipedia

Coming back to Neurofibromatosis, it is one of the world's most common genetic conditions, but only a few people understand what it really is. One in 3000 individuals is affected by it and it is equal among men and women. It's not infectious.

For people who suffer from it, complications include tumours, skin lumps, curvature of the spine, bone deformities, and learning disabilities. Café au lait spots on the skin (often mistaken for birthmarks) are an early sign.

The condition has caused the growth of thousands of benign tumours on Jimmy's body and face, and for years, he has endured being called the "Chicken Pox Man" by passers-by and children

Due to his disfigurement, jobs do not come easy for Jimmy as not many are willing to hire him. And when they do hire him, they have to face their customers who want Jimmy fired, despite the fact that he is always hiding. An issue that his current boss faced recently.

Earlier this year, a "good fortune and a kind boss", says Jimmy, gave him the chance to work as a dishwasher at her Chinese restaurant in Singapore. But three months into his job in March, a customer complained about Jimmy to his boss, citing health concerns, despite the fact that NF is not infectious.

Jimmy's employer, who declines to be named because she does not want to be seen as trying to benefit from his ill fate, says: "She told us that she was disturbed when she ran into Jimmy at the back of the restaurant. She wanted me to fire him. I was taken aback by how unkind people can be. I would rather lose her as a customer."

"My stand is that Jimmy is a good, hard worker. When I hired him, he even asked if I was sure that I would hire someone like that," she added.

And she is right. Jimmy is exceptionally hardworking.

According to the New Paper's Ng Jun Sen who spoke with Jimmy, he toils from 11 in the morning to 11 pm every day. He even works on weekends, as that is the restaurant's peak period.

During the entire duration, Jimmy hides in the washing area at the back of the restaurant to avoid the gaze of diners. He did the same in his previous jobs as a car wash attendant and a dishwasher in Suntec City.

Explaining his reason behind hiding, Jimmy says:

"I do not want to embarrass my boss. When I heard that a customer complained about me, I felt so guilty for causing my boss problem. I was thankful she sided with me."

And it was not the first time he had encountered intolerant people since he found out about his condition when he was only seven. However, each time a confrontation happens, kind Singaporeans would jump to his defence just like what his current employer did.

He recalls being told to leave by a couple, while he was having a meal at a hawker centre some years ago. Mr Wee says: "They said that people with my type of body should just stay at home and not come out. They wanted me gone. A stranger came forward and scolded them, saying that he was a doctor. Then someone else also came forward, saying that he was a lawyer and would sue them."

While Jimmy tries to avoid such confrontations - he would rather walk than take the train, even if the journey is long - he chooses not to live a solitary life like those whose condition are worse than his

Mr Wee, who has four brothers and two sisters who do not have neurofibromatosis, says: "I was depressed at first when I realised this was happening to me. I would hide at home and play truant. I let other people say what they like about me."

Jimmy's condition has no cure. However, research is improving.

According to a UK Professor Rosalie Ferner, neuroimaging means tumours and effects of therapy can be measured, and a UK based Neuro Foundation, run by Marc Crank who himself has had various tumours, employs special advisors who work with families, health professionals and schools.

"Awareness is being raised and it's hugely different from how it was. Could it be better? Of course, it could," Professor Rosalie says.

"But in a cash-strapped health service, it's one of many competing things. There are certain regions where they have very little input and those regions need a lot more help. If I had a wish list, it's about allowing people to monitor their own health and getting the best possible help when they need it."

Despite how some people treat him badly, Jimmy refuses to accept any donations from kind people. The former grassroots leader says:

Good on you, Jimmy for earning a living despite circumstances and for being such a humble soul!

Image via Giphy

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