From My Heart


February 2010

Preparing For Death

“You die the way you live.”

Coming from someone who’s worked closely with, and for, the dying for many years, you’d better believe it.

A lot of times we act as if we’re never going to fall sick. We act as if we’ll stay healthy and young and independent for as long as we wish. We act as if we’re never going to need anyone to help us out, the way our patients do. And many a time we act like death is never coming to us, at least not too soon.

It’s closer than we thought it is, and it may not be as easy as it seems. Shut your eyes and you’re gone, hopefully to heaven.

Working closely with the dying has helped us understand, and at times celebrate, the life that is going to be left behind. Things seemed easy for some, and difficult for others. Quick for some, draggy for others. Peaceful for some, and eventful for others.

It would appear to us as if these are beyond our control.

Some of us believe that we can’t run away from whatever is fated for us. Some others believe in luck. Some believe entirely on hard work and own choices. Well, whatever makes us happy and at peace with life. For me it’s a combination of all three, well not so much on luck maybe. For me all is fated but we still need to work, we still make choices, we still need to think hard and work hard and pray hard too. All in all, we are responsible for our own fate, but we still have to accept that there are so many uncertainties in life.

Choices, eh?

Our line of work made us learn some important life lessons that not many would expect to gain from what most people call a job.

While talking to our patients, their families, a lot of life stories would come out Рthey would  either help us in managing the patient, planning for their care at home, or the stories would come out because we were the only listening ears they could find.

These are the stories that would help us to be more humble, helpful, generous, thoughtful, and kind. These are the stories that would remind us that we are all human, that we need each other, that one day, one fine day, we might just fall sick and dependent on others. That one day we will need someone to arrange our burial. No matter how strong we are now, at that point of time, we are in someone else’s hands, and we don’t know who that will be.

These are the stories that would tell us not to take things for granted.

Make peace with your loved ones.

Never leave your families behind.

If you’ve been nice to others, life (and death) will be nice to you. Even when your family do not appreciate you, there will be others who would.

Make peace with your family – mum, dad, husband/wife and children, siblings.

Fill everyday with meaning, so that there’ll be no regrets.

Make your brains, hands, legs, senses, and you heart to good use. You’ll never know when you’ll lose them.

Be nice even when people are not nice to you.

Make peace with your family and loved ones.

Smile and make things easy for everyone around you.

Life is not all about money, but you need to save some for your burial arrangements.

Make a will when you are well.

Take care of your loved ones when they are well, not only when they’re sick and unconscious. You can always find another job, but you have only one mum and dad.

Treat others the way you want yourself to be treated.


Make peace with your family and friends.

Make peace with the world too. Life is too short for grudges.

* * *

Things are easier said than done. I know, but it’s our choice.

Oh, and have a good week, everyone.

* * *

P/S; The phrase “you die the way you live” was spoken, frequently, by Dr Richard Lim, aka my boss.

My Grandmother’s Determination

Story by proxy (Wak Mohlis).

My grandparents used to live in Meru (about 7.5 miles from Klang) when their family was smaller. In 1968 they moved to Bukit Kapar (10 miles from Klang). My grandmother still had her rubber farm in Meru. So when they moved to Bukit Kapar she needed to go down to the farm to tap rubber, plus my aunt Cik Uzi was still in school in SK Sg Binjai, Meru.

One day she asked my uncles to clear up a path which would surround the house. She wanted to learn to ride a bicycle.

Not many women those days were able to ride a bicycle. But she was determined to learn. She needed to help out feeding 10 growing children, also sending Cik Uzi (her first daughter after 5 sons) to school.

Hence my uncles made that path for her.

There she was, each evening after maghrib, under the bright moonlight, trying to cycle with the help of her sons. Round and round she went, not without falling, of course. Several banana trees were hit and, shall I say, savaged, sacrificed, in her learning process of riding a bicycle.

In less than 10 days, she succeeded.

She started to cycle from Bkt Kapar to Meru – to work, and to send/fetch Cik Uzi to/from school.

That’s my grandmother, with her courage and determination.

The Red Jacket

This is a story about an 85 year-old man, who came into my life for a short while, but left a lasting impression to me.

He came to us with his smile, and his cancer. He’s be in the ward because of some chest pain, and after it is relieved, he’d stay for a little longer, just to have a quiet rest away from home.

When we do our rounds, he’d sit on his bed, and offer us all a seat. Not just for boss, no.
One day he actually went around his bed, took a chair and told my friend to have a seat, because I was sitting in another. He’s such a gentleman.

In the morning he’d walk to the counter, with his smiles and his tremors, and ask for hot water, and his medications.
He’d walk to the bathroom, take a stroll outside the ward, do a bit of stretching, and then come back to his bed, waiting for us to do our rounds.
If he’s too sick he’ll just stay in bed and sleep.

On weekends he’d ask, “Is Ah Lim around?” Lim is my boss’ last name. I’d smile back at him and say, “He’s not around today, uncle, he’ll be here on Monday.”
That’s when I’d take a seat next to him, and listen to him telling his stories. And he had a lot to tell.

He’d talk about how, in another hospital, they did a scan for him, and told him he might have lung cancer.
Then they told him he’ll need a biopsy. They said it will only hurt a bit.

So uncle went for the biopsy.
He told me how painful it was.

One fine day, he went for the clinic appointment, hoping to get the biopsy results. He wanted to know what it was.
Sadly for him, he was told that the biopsy sample was lost.
He was very sad. He went through all the pain for nothing.

He could have sued the hospital, but he did not.

He’d talk about how he was asked by his then future father-in-law, to move from mainland China to Malaya, to marry his girl, and start a new life here.
He talked about starting a business, he makes clothes. T-shirts like the white one he was wearing. Cool and comfortable.

He’d talk about his eight children, and his many grandchildren.
He’d talk about his wife, who’s even more sick than he is. Who’d cry if he stayed too long in the hospital. Once she starts crying, he’ll ask to go home. So we let him.

He’d show me his cigarettes. How he lied to the nurses about not smoking. How he can’t live without a cigarette, after over 70 years of smoking. On how he smokes three puffs at a time, finishing three sticks a day, saving one whole box for the week.

He’d show it to boss too, who’d laugh and said, “I don’t want to know, uncle. You can smoke if you want but you don’t have to show it to me.”

All with his smiles and laughs, and his tremors, which would be gone when he rests, but comes again when he walks.

His eyes were so small, they would be almost shut when he laughs.

Such soft-spoken, nice-mannered gentleman.

One night he had terrible pain. The nurses kept calling me. I came at 5am, gave him some morphine.
After an hour he had no more pain, and fell asleep.

He was so happy the next day. He sat and chat with his family, they were all there that afternoon. Because boss told them something about his pain. He told his daughter, in front of me, “I’m going to give them a nice top. They have been so kind to me. Please tell your brother to bring something for these two doctors.”

I did not know what to say.
Uncle, whatever I did, was not from me. I just wanted to see that smile from you again. And now you’re smiling. I said, in my heart.

Early next morning, he went to the nurses counter. Stood there, with his tremors, smiling.
“Uncle, why don’t you get some sleep?” they asked nicely.
“I just wanted to watch you work,” he said. And he stood there, watching, still, with his smile.

A few hours later, the pain came back. This time even worse. Higher doses of morphine. He was bleeding inside.
His blood pressure dropped. His consciousness faded away. He groaned, then he sighed. Until the fentanyl took the pain away.

In the afternoon his daughter called me to his side. “My brother has something for you.”
Two packets. Two red jackets. “That’s so nice of you,” I said.
At that moment, uncle tried to open his eyes. “He heard you,” said his son.

I went to him. “Thank you, uncle, this is very nice.”
Quitely he said, “Ho laa…”
All I wanted to do was to sob next to him. But all I did was hold his hand.

* * *

He passed away that night.
I’ll miss his smiles and laughter.

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