Tuesday, April 7, 2009

the man in the next cubical

I was in the ward the other day, some time ago. After clerking Encik XXX, who had rheumatic heart fever, I was getting ready to leave the ward when I saw an elderly man walking passed. He occupied the empty bed in the next cubical. New admission. I loved new admissions! Well, at least I did as a med student, (on days when I do not have to cover beds, of course) I wonder whether I might still do as a House Officer though, but that’s beside the point.

Anyway, back to the patient at the next bed. He had a grossly distended abdomen.

“Good evening” I greeted him.
“Good evening” he replied with a smile.
The usual handshake and brief introduction took place. Let’s call him Mr YYY.

“I know, I looked like a pregnant lady, right?” he joked. When patients start throwing remarks like that, I tried to be all serious and professional. Holding his wife’s hand, he continued, “After she gave me 2 smart sons and 2 lovely daughters, it is about time I return a favour” he tempted a laugher from me, waited for it. I managed half a giggle. I thought that was a very sweet thing to say to his wife.

From that shiny skin, we could have easily made a safe guess – gross ascites. The differentials start popping out, like pop-corns in the oven. He slowly unfolds his story. He had End Stage Renal Failure. In simple terms, his kidneys could no longer function normally and sustain his body needs. Or in more simple terms, he needed dialysis (or a renal transplant) to prolong life. I offered to explain the nature of his illness to him, but it seemed that he already had a very good insight of it, a very educated person, I supposed.

It is not very often that we see such loving old couples around the hospital. There’s always the husband who complains non-stop, dominating, or otherwise very promiscuous. And the wife who nags, could not be bother, wearing a sulky face all day, otherwise very hot-tempered, peri-menopausal stage, we labeled them. So, it is really nice, seeing old happy couples every once in a while. Further clerking revealed otherwise though.

It seemed that all their four children were very highly educated, overseas education- he said. Lawyer, engineer, successful careers… He must have spent so much on their education. I’m just glad to see him so proud of them.

“Which children are you staying with?” I innocently made an assumption.

“It is just the two of us” He replied, looking back at his wife.

I put down my pen and clerking sheets. The somewhat formal clerking evolved into a casual chit-chat. He started sharing his stories about his life, his opinions. Mrs YYY would continue with their sweet loving stories. They were very friendly people.

I later found out that all his children had migrated to Australia. They meet each other only once a year. Hardly.

“Do you miss them?” I accidentally blurted out. I was not sure whether as a med student, I was actually allowed that question. But I guess, I asked more as a friend.

“Sometimes” he answered “I tried not to miss them too much”. His eyes revealing the sadness in him “Luckily I have this beautiful lady to take care of an old hag like me” he held his tears back and took his wife’s hand again, and she was blushing like a little child. "You are indeed one lucky man" =)

He was a pleasant person, his eyes lighting up when he gets excited, dimmed when otherwise. If you may be wondering, his wife was not one of those drop-dead-gorgeous auntie which one might wonder in awe, - how does she keep it? No. She was somewhat ordinary, perhaps almost too plain. She might even passed as a cosmetic model for a product saying [use this if you do not want to end up like her in 10 years time], no offence. Thick wrinkles formed at the end of her eyes, skin not spared from the harshness of time, body stretched from all those child births. But in the eyes of her husband, she is perhaps the most beautiful women on Earth. And if you attempt to look close enough though, you can see that she must have been a jewel during her younger days.

“Why not follow them to Australia?” I asked another dumb question, almost like a reflex.

“I couldn’t” he gazed downwards.
I paused a while and allowed him to break the silence.
“Well you see, I have End Stage Renal Failure” he answered, which explains everything.
Right – Dialysis 3 times a week = $$$

The painful reality is not very hard to translate.
How can this be affordable in a private hospital overseas?
“I just wished I would not go early. I would not want Mrs YYY to be alone”

My teachers used to say, you learn the most from your patients. I believed that this is very true indeed. We learnt not only about illness, diseases, diagnosis-investigations-managements, we learnt not only what is expected of the medical school syllabus, to pass exams; but we learnt something perhaps of even greater importance; some things that we would never find in our textbooks. We learnt about Life.

Sometimes, in search of a better life, for the sake of our children, our grandchildren, are we forgetting people who matter used to matter to us?

Health is perhaps THE MOST EXPENSIVE commodity in the world!

Behind those smiles, lies a sad story.


  1. how come i remember de version different from ur story de?

  2. i was thinking. would u still be using this blog ? as in COAMS...?

    Everyone has their trail of stories...

  3. Doesnt really know what to comment, i guess everyone have their stories... And yes, LIFE.

  4. anonymous, yml, is that you? i remember clerking them alone while you were busy with PE on the next bed... tak sangka u still remember,hehe.. not bad.. well, i have to change some of the demographic data.. to protect the patient's privacy and safety (according to another reader of my blog, simply know as anonymous)... ^^

    wi, yeah... still considering... i'm terrible with decisions.. i'm a libran, remember?
    yup. every patient has his story.

    i was so touched to see them too. and sad too.

    Dann, the other indecisive libran,
    yeah i guess, everyone has their stories... you have any to share?

  5. Hey shinyin , may you be another "patch adams" in the making....A doctor with a big "heart & soul"..:-) thumbs up

  6. hey this is a really touching story. i had a geriatrics posting sometime ago and sometimes its really sad when u talk to them and hear how they are living alone and their children do not visit..sigh.

    we really learn from our patients.

    ps: the word verification for this comment was "antimen"!! lol.

  7. emo nyer... but if i'm standing beside u tat time.. i would probably show u this face -----> -_-' for asking the question of 'who r u staying with' and 'do u miss them?'..

  8. hm....i guess that's happening in life. everyone wish for a better life for their offspring, but we shall never forget where is our root. tears rolling bt we cant change the situation....sad :(

  9. MRC, oh, i loved Patch Adams very much.. he's my role model... i liked the way he treats patients ^^
    zzzyun, yeah, it's kinda sad... i think the saddest wards are the geriatrics, oncology and pediatrics...
    p/s: antimen.. haha... i guess blogspot must be a female, a sexist..
    cg, indeed, teachers are very wise people... but sometimes, we don't realise that until we experience it ourselves... that's the stubborness in us...
    bingwui, haha!! i know... i wasn't even clerking anymore... when i meet friendly patients, i end up chatting with them pulak.. hehe.. need to learn to detach..
    rijal, hmm... maybe i should submit this entry... hehe... kidding...
    boonLee, i can imagine you liao... *wink* enjoy ur redang trip ya!
    sine nomine, yup! sometimes, decisions are hard to make... priority even harder.. how can we decide which is more important? does that make the next in list any less important? susahlah..

  10. i like to leave last comments!! The final say!! haha..

    Sounds like you're so serious while at work, a little impersonal touch when the patient has such a positive response would be great.. anyways, believe in yourself, shin yin, u'd be doing all good!! :)

  11. looks like it happened nowadays especially Chinese family where they send their children to oversea studies.

  12. dear khek,
    the final say, haha.. me, so serious at work? really??
    p/s: thanks for the motivation =)

    dear Q,
    yup... many Chinese parents send their children overseas to study... and many continued working there, after graduation, in search for a better life, better salary, better opportunities... starting their new life there.... sometimes, we should always remember of those two old ones at home...they may seemed happy, but guess,nothing beats spending time with their kids every once in a while... visit them often, spend time.. thank God now we have the internet, webcam and all... and like you said, air asia too! =)


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Author's Note

Dear friends and readers, Thank you for dropping by and leaving comments/ shoutouts. More importantly, thank you for being there... please accept my apology that, lately, i may be busy with work and not have time to reply youir messages/comments, but rest assured, each and everyone is read, and highly appreciated :) have a nice day! ^^

of love

Today, i heard a story which was not a story of falling...
of living in the dark end of winter turmoil..
instead, it was a love story..
of a couple who did not live happily ever after...
but they live, loving each other..