I have been a physician for 40 years, and have had many fun-filled moments with my patients. I share below some anecdotes of these encounters that contributed to emotional highs and at the same time taught me valuable life lessons.
One patient taught me never to underestimate anyone. This was an unassuming, unsophisticated gentleman aged about 75 who turned up in my clinic one day.
He refused to return to the physician who had referred him to me; he was indignant because he had observed that the physician who had looked after him in the past, was very busy and had examined him with his stethoscope, while the ear tips of the instrument were still around the doctor’s neck.
The patient wanted to know “do you think your friend has ears in his neck ?” It was obvious that my busy colleague had only made a show of appearing to examine but had been caught out!
Another patient – CG, a Chinese gentleman – always made me laugh with his antics and stories.
Forty years ago, CG’s father sent him to India to get a degree in commerce. Over there, CG developed a love for Indian food. He also learnt to wear a Dothi (sarong worn by Indian men) – one of its benefits was that it could be loosened as you ate your food, to create more space for your stomach, so you could eat more.
I noted that CG’s cholesterol was very high and resistant to all the drugs that I gave him. I then found out that the elevated cholesterol was due to CG overindulging in lipid-rich food in several Indian restaurants.
Once I got him to stop, his cholesterol levels were easily controlled. But he was soon tempted to indulge in his favourite food again – and when he did, his cholesterol levels would shoot up again.
I requested the help of his wife – a thin Chinese woman, who was very strict with CG’s diet. His cholesterol levels dropped. CG was afraid of his wife. But he was upset with me. He told me at one of his clinic visits, “You guys are very bad. That skinny Chinawoman (his wife) now accompanies me wherever I go. I am not allowed to even look in the direction of an Indian restaurant – my life is a living hell!”
Then there was Mr Tan, who reminded me of our filial duties. He was 75, and I was treating him for heart failure. We became friends. When he retired, he passed his business to his son.
One day, I found him to be very depressed so I spent time talking to him.
There had been a misunderstanding with his son.
“I have given him my business, bought him a BMW 7 Series and now he has no time for me,” he lamented.
I spoke to Mr Tan’s son over the phone – he had been busy and had not visited his father for two days.
After my explanation, he came immediately and spent a long time with the old man. It was very gratifying to see father and son reconciled.
Two years later, Mr Tan was found dead in bed. One month after that, the son turned up. After thanking me for my services, he requested for a new prescription for his father.
I said, “ Your father is dead. Why do you need a prescription?“
He explained that the first month anniversary prayers were due, and the family wanted to burn the prescription during the prayers, so that the father could receive it in heaven, continue with my medication and remain well!
Back to life
Another patient, 35-year-old Kim has a condition called the Long QT syndrome which caused his heart to intermittently beat irregularly and stop. During one of his business trips to Indonesia, his irregular heartbeat recurred, and he collapsed.
The doctors tried cardiopulmonary resuscitation for an hour and thought they had failed. Kim’s body was covered with a sheet and was sent to the mortuary.
Later that night, as the attendant was mopping the mortuary floor, Kim recovered consciousness! He sat up on the trolley with the white sheet still covering him. The attendant screamed in horror, dropped his mop and ran out of the mortuary! We were unable to explain Kim’s recovery.
It is likely that the resuscitation was successful but Kim had very low blood pressure at the beginning, which had gone undetected. One or more of the monitoring leads probably had also fallen off during the resuscitation, so no cardiac rhythm had been detected by the monitors.
After he came back to Malaysia, Kim was fitted with an automatic defibrillator and remains well.
Sons and daughters
Fifty-four-year-old Mr W was admitted to our coronary care unit with chest pains. That evening, his family visited him. In trooped four girls, followed by one boy. The boy introduced his four sisters and declared that he was the youngest child, and that his sisters owed their lives to him. I wondered what feat he had achieved.
He explained that his parents kept trying to produce a son – their first four attempts ended in “failure” as they produced female babies but they finally achieved “success” on their fifth attempt. This explained why he felt that his sisters owed their lives to him!
Another patient taught me perseverance. At 3am one morning, a 40-year-old man collapsed in our emergency room after complaining of chest pains.
As I walked in, I noticed two frightened little girls waiting outside the ER. I was told these were the daughters of the patient.
The medical team performed CPR on the patient for an hour but his heart would still not start. We would normally stop resuscitation measures at this time but, in this instance, the two little girls waiting outside inspired me to keep trying.
Finally, after 75 minutes, we got the patient’s heart started again. This patient is alive and well two years after his near-fatal heart attack.
Stressed and depressed when my patients are ill, and ecstatic when they heal, my working life has been a roller-coaster of emotions but it has been a life rich with experiences and, for this, I am grateful to my patients.