It doesn’t hurt to show a little kindness in times of grief

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 07 Jan 2009

Sime Darby Bhd has announced that it will not pursue its plan to acquire an equity stake in IJN. Indeed, many strongly opine that affordable medical care should be made available to all Malaysians.

While I totally agree with this, what I find more important, and in need of greater emphasis, is how we can factor in the cost of real compassion when it comes to the relationship between doctor and patient or between the hospital and the client.

It is not uncommon, even when a patient is facing the trauma of a serious illness like heart disease or cancer, that the money factor is paramount.

Do you have insurance coverage? Are you able to afford this place as your stay could be for a long time? Would you want to go to a public hospital instead?

These are questions that are sometimes asked at such difficult moments. I know first-hand because my 59-year-old father passed away from lung cancer on Oct 28 last year. He did not smoke, and lived a healthy and active lifestyle.

It was quite recently reported that Malaysia is pressingly short of oncologists. According to Health Minister Datuk Liow Tiong Lai, for our population of 26 million, there should be at least 200 oncologists but we have only 39.

Cancer is today the number two killer in Malaysia, after heart disease.

It is sad to say that despite the technological advancements the world has achieved, a cure for cancer is still a mirage.

It is certainly not cheap to produce an oncologist. But it is important that those who choose this discipline have the best bedside manners.

I can never understand how some oncologists can take so much pride in being direct, for instance; very matter-of-factly telling a patient to his face, how little time he has left on earth.

Yes, doctors are not supposed to lie, but there’s a way of breaking the news gently, offering support and being compassionate.

What is the use of having more oncologists in Malaysia when, to put it quite bluntly, they are just there to give bad news, and in a most condescending manner too.

In Malaysia, the moment you have advanced cancer of the lungs, colon or liver, the oncologist will look at you pitifully, and tell you that your time on earth is coming to an end.

In such a scenario, there are two options available: a doctor may ask the family to take the patient home and give him palliative care while another may want to insist on giving further treatment, be it chemotherapy, radiotherapy or surgery.

I am not in a position to question their professional judgment but I think there may be instances when judgment can be clouded by monetary concerns.

So not only do families undergo an emotional trauma, they end up with a big bill as well.

There is also a general reluctance among oncologists to consider alternative treatment because of their textbook approach and reliance on the latest diagnostic tools that their hospitals have heavily invested in.

After so many years of research, yet with so little progress in treating cancer, surely it means that oncologists themselves don’t fully understand cancer.

Sometimes, when the family members ask too many questions, an insensitive doctor would suggest that one could always go elsewhere for the treatment.

So sure, being candid is important, but the oncologist should be sensitive to the patient and his family’s feelings.

He shouldn’t just treat it like business as usual, when he’s about to tell the patient he only has six months to a year to live.

As many healthy people are diagnosed with cancer nowadays, there is a need for doctors to be a whole lot more benevolent, to incite renewed hope, and embolden the fighting spirit in cancer patients.

In moments such as these, our faith helps tremendously. Prayer can be very healing. You never know, miracles do happen.

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