Drinks stall owner's thumb stuck in sugar cane extractor, but he says: It was relatively painless
A sharp pain shot through his right thumb as he inserted sugar cane stalks into the juice extractor.
Not again, he thought to himself.
This was the third time that Mr Neo Hock Swee, 55, had his thumb stuck in the machine.
The drinks stall owner instinctively turned off the main switch on the wall before his thumb was crushed.
But he still could not free his thumb from the machine when the accident happened last Saturday around 6pm at the food centre on the fourth storey of Beauty World Centre in Bukit Timah.
The Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF) personnel took about an hour to free Mr Neo's hand from the sugar cane extractor.
The hawker suffered a flesh wound on his thumb, which required several stitches - the worst of his three accidents.
"About three months ago, my thumb was caught in the machine and I lost my nail when I pulled it out. Another time, I hurt the bone in my thumb when it was stuck again," said Mr Neo, who did not call the SCDF the previous two times as he had managed to pull out the thumb on his own.
Customers who were eating near his stall rushed to his aid after hearing his shouts for help.
Madam Mary, who is in her 50s and frequents the food centre, told The New Paper that she was eating with her friend when she heard the commotion.
"I was shocked when I heard that someone's hand was stuck in the sugar cane extractor. By the time I reached the stall, there were a lot of people crowding outside.
"I saw Mr Neo maintaining his composure while asking people to call the emergency services. It was amazing how he was calm the whole time and could even smile," she said.
SCDF confirmed that it received a call at 6.03pm and sent a fire engine, a Red Rhino, an ambulance and two more support vehicles to the scene.
They said they used an Allen key to open the machine, and Mr Neo was taken to National University Hospital for treatment.
Mr Neo called his ordeal "a small matter and relatively painless", even though he had to wait a long time before he was freed.
He told TNP: "I felt pain only for a short while because my thumb went numb after that. My threshold for pain is quite high, so this wasn't too much for me to bear.
"There are always risks involved when handling the sugar cane extractor, so I just have to be extra careful next time."
Mr Michael Koh, who also runs a drinks stall at the food centre, said the extractor which Mr Neo uses poses a greater risk to the operator.
"There are no safety mechanisms in the old machine because it is fully exposed. Just a small lapse in concentration could lead to a bad injury, so you have to avoid even talking to customers while extracting the juice.
"I use a newer model which has a box where you insert the sugar cane stalks through, and it prevents your hand from entering the extractor," said Mr Koh.
An older extractor model similar to Mr Neo's costs about US$290 (S$365) on online shopping website Alibaba, while a more sophisticated model costs between US$1,250 and US$2,600.
Despite his doctor's advice to start work in two weeks, Mr Neo has resumed business.
"I can't wait that long... I hope to sell sugar cane juice again in four days," he said.
There are always risks involved when handling the sugar cane extractor, so I just have to be extra careful next time.
- Mr Neo Hock Swee
Teen back to school, dad back to work
Nearly two months after witnessing his 14-year-old daughter's right hand go through his sugar cane extractor, Mr Tan Guan An is finally back on the job.
The accident almost cost his daughter Yvonne Tan three fingers on her dominant hand, before doctors were able to transplant one of her toes onto her hand.
She is recovering well and is back in school, but still needs to get regular check-ups, said her father.
The father of three reopened his drinks stall at Toa Payoh Lorong 8 Food Centre yesterday.
Last month, he said he would do so only when he is assured his daughter's condition is stable.
When The New Paper visited his stall yesterday, he was happily greeting customers and serving them drinks.
A new sugar cane extractor sits at the front of the stall, in place of the older one involved in the tragic accident.
Mr Tan, 50, said he has put the trauma of the accident behind him, but still has slight reservations about using the extractor.
"It's an accident. Nobody can be blamed for it, no one wants this to happen," he said in Mandarin.
When Mr Tan read that another accident involving a sugar cane extractor happened last Saturday, he was shocked.
He said: "If people were more careful around these machines, accidents won't occur."