Of Medicine

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


In medicine, as in life, there are ordinary relationships as well as extraordinary ones. Extraordinary ones teach us about ourselves, and connect us deeply to other people, providing ample space for us to grow and to mature. They make a difference as they remind us of each other's humanity. It seems to me that the relationship between Salai , me and the fellow refugees was extraordinary.

Salai was the leader of the student activists back in Myanmar. He was the one who believes that he, as the young generation of Myanmar could make a change by participating in direct actions to make changes in the government and the social conditions of his country. Unfortunately, his activities were tracked down by the Myanmar military, forcing him to make a drastic decision- to leave his country and to abandon his family.

Student activists were hunted by the government officials. They were captured, tortured. Salai, a law student managed to crossed the boarder, and eventually ended up in Kuala Lumpur, a city that is different from his hometown, living in despair, hopes and dreams were vanished. Deep down in his heart, he know he could not fulfil his dream of becoming a lawyer. What he can do now is to survive.

I had lunch with him the other day. We went to a not-so-fancy restaurant near the clinic to dine in. We were chatting about the political predicaments in Myanmar most of the time. Through his eyes, I can see the hardships that he is facing. A salary of 500 per month is just sufficient to keep him alive. The fear of being captured by RELA officers haunts him. The refugees deal with human traffickers at the boarder very often. Senior citizens were killed, girls were either raped or forced into prostitution, men were beaten up brutally. They begged for their undervalued life. They begged for survival.

The chances of getting an UN card is extremely difficult. The standards and the application process that one has to go through in order to be registered as a legal refugee is stringent and rigorous. Once they are registered, they are entitled for a 50% discount for health care in Malaysia.



In Malaysia, If you are well established and rich, girls will come to you.
In the refugee community, If you have a UNHCR card ( United Nation Refugee Agency), girls will come to you.

Irony isn't it?
"Calvin, you are very lucky to be able to stay with your family" he uttered.
"Yes I know, I count my blessings everyday." I winked at him.

When these kind of words hit me. I was too lost for words. In life, you need people to wake you up and make you realise of the facts and truths of life. Words from Salai were truly an eye opening. It made me realise that a little bit of humility and appreciation is appropriate in life. My goal in life is to become a world renown surgeon and his, is apparantly to survive. The incongruity is obvious.

Not everybody can go to university like Salai back in Myanmar. Not everybody has the chance and opportunity to be literated. Even for people in Myanmar, they know that education is the only way they could lead a better life in the future. Due to the lack of education among the people, deadly diseases like AIDS/HIV is common among the refugees. It is very hard to pin point the prevalence of AIDS /HIV among the community, but It seems that It is on the rise.

I am always struck by how much is medical condition is also a social condition. For those on anti-retro viral treatment, daily rituals include punctuating each day with pill taking and of course appointments with the doctor monthly.

For those who are not aware that they are infected with the virus, they contribute to the spread of the epidemic in such a way that they are not aware of. This is where the health care providers come into picture. Contact tracings are done extensively, counsellings are done, to salvage as much as they could. Yet, we could not ignore the fact that people are dying everywhere, especially in the rural areas where accessibility to health care remains a problem. People like the refugees are isolated from information that might have could save them. Even when they have to information, are they able to convert those valuable information into treatment or prevention?

I don't know.

I spoke to a man who had a wonderful homogeneous relationship for 10 years. He was diagnosed to have HIV. And yet, he doesn't seems to be worried. Denial? I suppose so.

One advantage of being in medicine is that you realise It is indeed a crazy crazy world out there. You see more than others. Medicine is not a course, It is a calling. And deciding to become a doctor means devoting your life in helping the sick and underprivileged ones. As a doctor, you are determining the fate of your patient. I do believe, because I've seen it in my own life, when love and compassion is shared with a patient, the patient can see a world bigger than the disease itself. And thus they can summon the will to live in the world that they see.
Salai wrote a poem that seems to reflect the inner turmoil he and most persons in his situation feel on an almost daily basis. Enjoy my friends, this is not something that you read everyday, appreciate it and put yourself in their shoes.
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Salai ZT Lian is an ethnic Chin from Burma who seeks justice and freedom for his people. The Chin are 90% Christian and they suffer persecution in the hands of the Burma army.

There will be enemies:
Those who force my loved ones to go the wrong way,
Those who treat my loved ones carelessly,
Those who cause my loved ones to cry with anger
Those who insult my loved ones' dignity, and
Those who destroy my loved ones' dreams.
There will be friends:
Those who take care of my loved ones kindly,
Those who help my loved ones in sad and unhappy times,
Those who make my loved ones smile after crying
Those who uplift my loved ones' dignity, andThose who encourage my loved ones to dream sweetly.
There will be my loved ones:
Those who live selflessly,
Those who sacrifice life for right and justice,
Those who sympathize with the poor and disabled,
Those ready to help the troubled, and
Those who create an environment for people to dream sweetly.

3 comments:

flyingdance said...

As we were growing up, we thought the world is just like how we have always perceived it as. Until one day when we wake up and stumble upon other people whose lives can be so different from ours. Life just treats every person differently.

Yong Chuan said...

True. I'll have to agree on that. Sometimes we need an eye opener ( not in the context of alcoholism) to make us realise that we are indeed so bleesed. Anyway, the journey is long and what we could do is to bite our teeth and brave each obstacles and problems that come into our way.

Baby Joo said...

lost my words.. can only say, this post is inspiring! thx for sharing..=)