Addressing the issue of dying

The emcee introducing the four guest speakers (from left) Fong, Dr Ooi, Tee and May before the talk began.

THE topic of death and dying is often considered taboo among many Asian communities, but people are encouraged to broach the subject in an open manner in modern times.

Xiao En Group hosted a talk called “Dying Well: Stories behind Emergency Medicine and Palliative Care Medicine” to shed light on why it was necessary to talk and plan life’s final journey.

Four different perspectives were offered including a medical viewpoint from by TaiChung Tzu Chi Hospital’s Critical Care Medicine Department director Dr Ooi Hean; Palliative Care senior social worker and Xiao En Group Counselling and Support adviser Fong Yee Leong; 988 radio announcer May Zi who shared thoughts while caring for a dying family member as well as patient Tee Kim Lean, a Stage 4 breast cancer patient.

Fong, who was also moderator of the talk, said the concept of “dying well” was not new.

In dealing with patients, he found that people, especially loved ones of terminal patients, tended to avoid facing the last requests patients may have.

“This shouldn’t be the way; sometimes resolving all these issues is the best parting gift for yourself and loved ones,” he said.

He said there were three key areas to consider when it concerned “dying well” which included deathbed care, preparations for a funeral and last wishes.

Fong also pointed out an issue with emergency medicine and resuscitation.

“Instead of prolonging life, why not consider the depth of its value?”

“When there’s not much more that you can do, you can think of maintaining the dignity of one’s life,” he said, adding that families tended to overturn patients’ decision when they come close to losing them, or when patients loses consciousness.

Dr Ooi said one profound case he had was that of a 25-year-old cancer patient who always greeted him with a smile.

“I had always wondered where this positivity came from, and she told me that she woke up every morning to the morning sun – a hope of new day smiling to her – she was simply reciprocating,” he said.

“I learn from my patients everyday, not just in terms of handling their medical condition, but also their feelings and their family’s emotion.”

Ooi, who also has a strong background in emergency medicine, said he had to stop resuscitating a colleague once, and it was one of the most painful yet necessary things he had to do to respect the patient’s wishes which was conveyed before he lost consciousness.

“As doctors, we battle every day whether to let go, but giving up is just not an option,” he added.

Ooi has penned many of his experiences into books, the latest being Letting them go well, because of love that recorded his stories, explanations and advice on the delicate matter.

For May, she said the biggest part of caring for a terminal patient was the change that came with it.

“We simply aren’t that adaptable to change when it comes these matters, but we have to learn to accept the new normal,” she said.

In her process of accompanying her father in his last days, she said she learned to face life squarely and how to keep on living well.

“I recorded my father’s voice throughout his ordeal, talking to him, having him share stories; this was, to me, an important part of properly dealing with the situation,” said May.

Tee said she was fearful when she learned of her condition.

“When I accepted it, then I could see clearly what purpose I had left.

“In a way, I’m grateful to have this disease, because I learnt more about people and life than I ever did when I was well,” she shared.

Tee said she also thought of what she could plan and what else she could do for herself.

“As I did that, I learned new things about myself. Before I was diagnosed, I was a registered organ donor, but now that may not be possible, so I found out how else I could contribute to science and medicine.

“It feels great to be able to plan my last journey. I don’t feel like I’m counting down, but opening a new learning chapter,” she shared.

The basic foundation of this “dying well” concept, as explained by the four speakers, was love.

“It’s really about loving yourself and loving others,” Tee concluded.

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