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Saturday, 21 July 2018 00:00

Love Is the Best Medicine

Written by  Tan Kim Hion,Bintulu / Translated by Ong Mooi Lin

The doctors visited Christina, who suffered from final stage breast cancer, in her room. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]

Suffering from illness is a tremendous torture to one’s life. Many medical professionals, who have treated various diseases, believe that dispensing medicine to stop pain and providing surgical operation to cure illnesses are the best treatments they could give patients. However, their perception has changed after participating in a medical mission to rural areas. They experienced that love is the best medicine as it comforts the patients’ hearts.


On July 21, 2018, at the break of dawn, the Uma Pawa Long House in Kampung Long Urun, in the Belaga District, turned exceptionally merry, with the living space decorated and converted into a venue for free clinic.

A banner of TIMA free clinic was hanging at the centre of the long corridor. After morning exercises and prayers, the medical professionals and volunteers prepared themselves for their designated tasks.

Noticing a lack of response from the villagers after two hours of service, the volunteers gently reminded every villager who came for medical services: “When you get home, kindly inform other residents in your long house to come forward for body check-ups. This event is only available for today and tomorrow.” They hoped that the villagers could help promote the event to benefit more people.

Volunteers later learnt that the15 long houses were some distance away from each other, and without transportation, it was difficult for the residents to reach the free clinic venue. Hence, members of Kelab Cabaran Pacuan 4 Roda Bintulu (4x4), who supported the event, voluntarily went to the long house to invite the residents to the free clinic and provide them with free shuttle services. Some Tzu Chi volunteers also joined them in this effort.

Extending love and blessings

Prior to their departure, Tzu Chi also received a request from a resident of the Uma Dang Lajang Long House, hoping that the TIMA doctors could visit a Penan woman, Christina Lajang, who had cancer.

Thus, a team of medical professionals – Dr Danny Chiam Tak Siang, Dr Khoo Siew Im, Chinese Physician Lai Shang and some nurses, went to the long house together with some volunteers. For the villagers, it was the first house call. Everyone watched with a heavy heart outside Christina’s room while the doctors examined her in her dim, small room.

Forty-two-year-old Christina rested her head on her goddaughter’s body while her husband explained her conditions to the doctors. She was diagnosed with breast cancer at the Sarawak General Hospital in Kuching, and was referred to Bintulu Hospital for chemotherapy treatment. However, due to the long distance and financial difficulty, Christina was unable to complete the scheduled treatment, and her condition deteriorated.

“She complained of body aches and has not been able to take in any food for two weeks. Even when we fed her milk, she vomited,” informed Christina’s husband, helplessly and sadly.

After meticulously examining Christina’s wound and medical records, the doctors learnt that the cancer cells have spread and affected her lungs, liver, and bones, and there was no signs of recovery. At her last stage of cancer, Christina constantly experienced extreme pain and shortness for breath.

Dr Khoo gently held Christina’s hand to express her sincere care and concern, while Physician Lai applied medicated oil to her stomach to ease her pain. He also taught Christina’s family members how to perform acupressure massage to promote her blood circulation and ease her discomfort and pain.

“For this patient, we can only extend our love and care. For terminally ill patients, palliative care is more important than anything else.” Seeing that Christina’s breathing was normal, Dr Khoo deeply realized that what the patient needed most at that moment was none other than the blessings and support from people around her.

Learn to love yourself

When Dr Chiam discovered that Christina’s sisters were also residing in the same long house, he inquired whether they had their medical check-ups regularly. Upon learning that they did not, Dr Chiam invited all the residents in the long house and instilled in them the importance of disease prevention.

Using Christina’s condition as an example, Dr Chiam told everyone that cure was actually possible with early detection of the illness and proper treatment. Following that, Dr Chiam explained the different medical services available at the free clinic, and encouraged all to seize the opportunity to go for body check-ups and consultation.

He also stressed that the medical services were absolutely free, and shuttle service was also provided free of charge. Hearing that, Christina’s elder sister, Madlyn Lajang, and other villagers expressed their intention to get their body check-up at the free clinic.

Although the doctors could not provide much help to Christina during the house call, Dr Chiam was thankful that at least it raised the villagers’ health awareness.

After receiving breast examination at the free clinic, Madlyn was relieved that everything was normal. She shared that as a sister, she did not know what she could do to help Christina, whose breasts were festering, and she was worried that it was contagious. The worries added to her emotional burden.

She said, “The doctor taught me how to examine my breasts and armpit area for any growth. That made me understand that I should seek medical help as soon as a lump is detected to avoid similar condition like my sister.”

Madlyn said that the doctors’ explanations had eradicated her worries. She will examine her breasts using the method learnt on monthly basis. She also hoped to share what she has learnt with other women who missed the free clinic, hoping that they will not suffer like her sister.

She was also thankful to the dentist who extracted her decayed teeth. It was a worthwhile trip with her doubts and worries eliminated.

Combing hair for the elderly woman

“We finally found the granny suffering from leprosy. She lives in the Umah Labang Urat Long House.”

On July 22, Dr Kan Chan Siang, coordinator of the medical mission, led a group of doctors and physiotherapists to the Umah Labang Urat Long House. The medical team met the elderly Penan woman, Che Yong Ngabet, who suffers from leprosy, in March, when they went to the village to check the venue for the free clinic. At that time, the elderly woman was already walking with difficulty, and the medical team had decided then that they would visit her to provide treatment when they were there for the free clinic.

“But the granny’s house has no address and all we could remember was that she lives here in this village. We came yesterday in the day but could not find her. Fortunately, we found her coincidentally in the evening while we were inviting the villagers to go to the free clinic,” said Dr Kan, as he walked into the elderly’s home together with other team members.

The granny, who was around 80 years old, walked out from her room with her grandson’s support. Dr Yap Yan Lek noticed that she tip-toed on her right foot, which could not touch the ground completely, and that she could only limp forward with support from others. She quickly asked a long house resident to bring a chair for the granny to sit down.

The granny’s thin face was not smiling. Dr Yap slowly broke the ice by chit-chatting with her in a light mood. She found out that the granny was diagnosed with leprosy in 2010. Although she was treated, she has suffered from the side effects of the medication, and experienced pain and numbness in her limbs. When examining the granny, it was further discovered that some of her fingers were deformed, and her joints were stiff and contracted.

Her grandson informed Dr Yap that despite the problem with her right leg, she was still able to take care of herself, including cooking, combing her hair, eating, and walking slowly unaided when she was on her own. She is still an independent person in the eyes of her grandson.

Dr Yap carefully checked the granny’s blood pressure, glucose level, pulse and others, and was glad to find that everything was fine. The only problem was that she could not press her right heel on the ground due to damage to the nerves in her foot. The physiotherapist then taught the granny a few simple methods to help her stretch and bend her legs.

The granny complained that she had a backache, but Dr Yap did not find any abnormality. Thus, she invited Chinese Physician Kwa Chai Hoon to massage for her. Dr Yap was impressed with the granny’s positive attitude towards treating her illness; she neither complained about it nor thought of giving up.

Thinking that with her contracted fingers, the granny would not have the strength to comb her waist-length and tangled hair, Dr Yap asked her grandson for a comb and helped the granny to comb her hair.

“Granny, you look so pretty!” Dr Yap remarked after combing her comb, and requested the volunteers to take a picture of the granny. When shown her photograph, the granny’s face broke into a smile. She even asked for a copy of the photograph. The volunteers happily promised to get the 4x4 members to deliver a hardcopy to her.

Everyone smiled upon seeing the granny’s smile that was as pure as a child’s. After leaving granny’s house, Dr Yap and the physiotherapist had a discussion and decided to make a foot drop splint for the granny upon returning to the free clinic site. This will help the granny to hold her foot in the normal position, and hopefully after some time, she could walk with her foot flat on the ground.

“Granny’s leg joints would stiffen further if her foot cannot touch the ground for a prolonged period. That will cause great pain to her. We hope that the foot drop splint would help her.” Dr Yap looked forward to the day when the optimistic and mentally strong granny could walk normally with her feet flat on the ground.

Hoping for daily visit from the doctors

Just as Dr Yap and the rest were about to leave the granny’s house, someone shouted for their attention while running towards them. “Doctor, please come quickly, a patient in the house needs help…” Upon hearing that the patient was immobile, everyone rushed to the house.

As they entered the house, Dr Yap saw a middle-aged man, Asa Jelian, lying on the floor. His left cheek was swollen, and he was having a fever. Dr Yap could tell from her experience that the patient had a fever due to gum inflammation. She was proven right after examining the patient with decayed teeth.

“I have been having toothache for four days. I could neither go to work nor eat....,” Asa said lethargically. Dr Yap told him that if he could stand up and walk, there was a 4WD vehicle to take him to the free clinic for treatment. Hearing that, Asa quickly sat up and said he would follow them to the free clinic after changing his clothes.

Soon, four 4WD vehicles were occupied with villagers who wanted to join Asa to the free clinic for treatment. When they arrived at the free clinic site, Asa was led by volunteers to the dental clinic for emergency treatment, accompanied by his family members.

Watching the dentist clearing pus in his gum, Asa was shocked. He did not expect so much pus in his gum, and there were even traces of blood. After treatment, Asa’s swelling face subsided, and the pain that had lasted for a few days was eased. Touching his lips, he said gratefully, “I am just a palm oil estate worker and I could not afford to pay RM200-plus of transportation costs to the town for dental service. Hence, I could only stay at home and hope that the pain would pass. I do not know what would happen if I did not come to the free clinic. Probably I could only live with the pain...”

Asa smiled shyly and said softly, “How great if the doctors could be here daily to give us free medical treatments!”

Volunteers did not expect that from Asa, and they were amused. Dr Yap was happy for Asa after learning that his tooth decay problem had been fixed and his swollen face had subsided after treatment. It was fortunate that Asa’s tooth decay problem was detected and treated in time, otherwise, the bacteria in the gum could spread to the brain and threaten his life.

The 2-day free clinic ended with all the medical professionals and volunteers feeling joyful. Everyone was grateful that they could utilize their professional skills and knowledge to help the villagers suffering from illnesses, and to extend their care and love to the villagers.

(Note: On July 22, volunteers learnt from the 4x4 members that Christina had passed away. All the medical professionals who had met Christina prayed for her to be liberated from suffering.)

 

 

From right, Dr Danny Chiam Tak Siang, Dr Khoo Siew Im, Chinese Physician Lai Shang and some nurses formed a medical team to provide house call services at Uma Dang Lajang Long House. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]   Dr Danny Chiam Tak Siang (left) educated the long house residents that prevention is better than cure. He also encouraged them to go for body check-up at the free clinic. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]

From right, Dr Danny Chiam Tak Siang, Dr Khoo Siew Im, Chinese Physician Lai Shang and some nurses formed a medical team to provide house call services at Uma Dang Lajang Long House. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]
 
Dr Danny Chiam Tak Siang (left) educated the long house residents that prevention is better than cure. He also encouraged them to go for body check-up at the free clinic. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]
 
A physiotherapist (left) taught an elderly woman, Che Yong Ngabet, how to do some simple leg exercises, which would help to stretch and bend her legs. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]   Dr Yap Yan Lek (1st right), a physiotherapist and other medical personnel made a foot drop splint for granny Che Yong Ngabet, to help hold her foot in normal position. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]

A physiotherapist (left) taught an elderly woman, Che Yong Ngabet, how to do some simple leg exercises, which would help to stretch and bend her legs. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]
 
 
Dr Yap Yan Lek (1st right), a physiotherapist and other medical personnel made a foot drop splint for granny Che Yong Ngabet, to help hold her foot in normal position. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]
 
Madlyn (right), whose sister suffered from breast cancer, was relieved to find that her breasts were normal after examination at the free clinic. The doctors also taught her how to perform a breast self-examination. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]   Dr Yap Yan Lek advised Asa Jelian, who was suffering from gum inflammation, to receive treatment at the free clinic. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]

Madlyn (right), whose sister suffered from breast cancer, was relieved to find that her breasts were normal after examination at the free clinic. The doctors also taught her how to perform a breast self-examination. [Photograph by Tan Pui Lee]
 
 
Dr Yap Yan Lek advised Asa Jelian, who was suffering from gum inflammation, to receive treatment at the free clinic. [Photograph by Fu Oi Jong]