We’ve always got this comment, “Aren’t you depressed, working here in Palliative Care Unit?”

“I don’t know how you could stand working here, it’s so depressing.”

Someone came into the lift when the three of us were laughing about in there. She said, “oh, you must be the paediatric team! How cheerful!” with a smile. Then we said, “No, we’re the palliative team.” She frowned and said, “owh.”

Hmm….expected. People’s perception on palliative care. And no, we’re not depressed. In fact, quite far from being depressed. At least not because of our job. Why is that so? I think people always think that being a doctor meaning that you could save lives. So that there’ll be less mortality in this world. Less death. Less ill fates.

But really? Is that our job? I thought death is something that’s certain? It’s meant for every being. Why are we too scared of it? And I thought saving lives is only something that God could do? Do doctors save lives then? Makes you wonder, don’t you? Many people are seaching for causes of cancer. Why? How? What are the precipitating factors? Risk factors? How do we avoid getting cancer? Are we really closer to finding the answers? Fact is, no, not really. Yes, smoking could cause nose cancer and terrible throat cancer. Yes, hepatitis B will lead to cirrhosis and later liver cancer. But guess what? The young, the old, the breastfeeding, those taking birth control pills, smokers, non smokers, virgins or w****s, family history, no family history….all may get breast cancer. Colon cancer. Eat with plastic tupperwares, ceramic bowl or even gold plates? All could get cancer.

Anyway…

One thing about palliative care. The patients are all going to the end of their lives. Yes, if you think about the dependance, the sickness, the loss of function, the multiple medications they have to take, you will be depressed. But think about this – they have gone through their lives. Different ways each. Some more fulfilled than others. Yes, they are leaving, they are dependant on everyone around them. Each have their stories. Good or not, up to you, but they all have something to share.

Like this pakcik. I stood with his wife one fine Sunday afternoon, learning what a good leader he was when he was younger. The teachings, advices, he has given to his wife and children. And in return, this beautiful 60+ year-old lady loyally looked after him, when he can’t talk, can’t move, can’t eat. Day in and day out. I stood there as she reminisce of her younger days, when her children were in school, when her husband was an active, hardworking man. He died in peace.

Or this old lady. She’s been married three times. Her third husband loved her to bits, never leaving her side unless really necessary.

Or this uncle. Three wives. The eldest as old and weak as he was. His third wife, young and pretty (about 50 years younger!), took care of him day and night. Bathed him, cleaned him, fed him whatever food he could swallow. His second wife, a bit older, would come at night to help out the third look after him.

Or this other uncle. A bit too demanding for us. His wife too. Spread rumours to other patients and tell lies to our boss. But as a couple, wife comes to and fro everyday. Woke up at 5 everyday, cook for him, feed him his meals and meds. Pushed his wheelchair. Cut his hair. Alone, everyday. He’d cry if she didn’t appear by 10am.

Or this pak cik. Travelled the world when he was well. A businessman in a foreign country. But fell ill from a cancer, left paraplegic. Dear wife is committed. Did everything for him. Day in, day out. Devoted. They’d at times fight. He’s so frustrated that he’s lost all of his independance. She’s just exhausted. They’d fight, she’d run out of the room. He’d cry to us saying that she’s a bad wife. He’d cry that she’s going to leave him because he’s a bad man. I looked at her in awe, she’s an amazing lady.

Or all those soft spoken mak ciks and pak ciks. With children all around them, taking turns to look after the parent they love so much. Unwavering, each day would pass with a smile. Lying quietly, accepting the fate given from God. Waiting for the day. That day.

Or that uncle who had a loyal wife. With him through all those terrible chemo. But when he got well he went for a cruise. With his mistress. After a few years came back only able to move his neck. His neck. Wife would only come during lunch time.

Or that 92 year-old soft-spoken uncle who whispered to us that we’re his ‘white angels’.

Or that uncle who says thanks everytime we attend to him. About anything at all.

Or that pak cik who’s not too well, and his wife was in ICU, fighting for her life too. He cried during rounds. Such love.

And many others.

Displays of love and care. Of how much one could do for another. Or how much one could hate the other.
I learnt that life is too short for grudges. In the end, it all doesn’t matter anymore. The childhood squabbles. The propery up there in Cameron Highlands. The sibling rivalry. The other woman, or the other man. It’s too minor, too insignificant, as compared to the moments at the end of life. As one looks back on his life, on his parent’s life, he might think, did all that matter?

Why did it all appear so important before? That house in Rawang? That car in the garage? That other woman? Not death is imminent and all you want is love.

Depressing? No.
Fulfilling? Yes.
Enlightening? Yes.

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