From My Heart


December 2010


When my mom was pregnant with me, she did not go for her job interview in Dewan Bahasa. She wanted to care for her newborn baby full time.


As the first baby, it was not an easy delivery. But it was a normal one, and I was one healthy, good-weighted baby.


I spent my first two-and-a-half years alone with my mom, and dad. She was with me all the time. Day and night. Just pouring her love on me.


She gave me two wonderful brothers, and one amazing little sister.


She patiently taught me how to read, count, draw. Helped me with my homeworks, argued with me when I was old enough to argue about mathematics. Bought me books upon books upon books, knowing that I love to read.


She taught me how to pray, to be nice with friends.


She did not need to teach me much, because she’s a great example on her own.

She’s so soft spoken she never shouts at people. She’d come close enough to you, and talk.

She’s never said any bad words.

She’s not a fan of any foul language.


She always said good things about us. Even when we were naughty, she’d say, “You lucky kids.”


She nursed us well when we were sick.


We had freedom. She’s not a person who’d say “no” to us too much. That’s how we get to appreciate the freedom she gave us.


I never remember her as a very stern mother. She’s just right, and I hope we did not cause much troubles for her.


She cooked my favourite dishes my first SPM day.


She cooked my favourite chicken rice for me once I regained my appetite after a bad bout of fever.


She treated my dad’s parents very well, and loved them like her own parents. And they loved her back.


She’s a ray of sunshine in the morning, she’d show a happy face and cheerful mood first thing in the morning.


She’d always put a smile on her face, even when things don’t go her way.


She’s determined to keep herself happy, no matter what has happened to her, and to us. And that made us happy too.


My mom is very strong, and very brave. My sister and I are not as strong, or as brave as she is. Maybe we will, as time goes by.


I could write a whole book about my mom.


Mama, I love you.


29 years ago, we were fighting a journey together. For my life.


Thank you, mama, for my birthday.



That Weird Asian

Funnily I had a conversation in the lift just now. With a stranger. Now. Maria doesn’t talk to strangers. She smiles at them.


Anyway. Here goes.


“There’s so many of these n**** foreigners staying here, right?” he said.

“I wouldn’t say that if I were you,” I said.

“Some of them disturbed our people,” he tried to argue.

“Well, I have been a foreigner before, and I don’t like people talking about me like you talking about them.”

He made a cynical smile.

I couldn’t care less.




I know racists exist all over the world. Just about anywhere.


Our people always complain about a group of people from another country, or the other group of people from another country.

They get blamed for robbery, murder, drugs, kidnap, and…well….marrying our local girls; when we all know that actually it’s our local people doing them (including marrying our local girls).


Funny though.

When these people go overseas to study or send their children overseas to study, they think they/their children are cool.

They do not realize that other people see us like that.

That weird Asian. Funny language.

Foreigners. Suspicious. Robbers. Murderers. Pretending to come to study but actually doing something else.


Does it feel nice if people think of us that way?


What made us feel superior compared to other people?


We are all the same in the Eyes of God.


Pretty Girl Meets Cute Guy

Pretty girl meets cute guy.


Pretty girl asked him about his job.

He told her about his job.


She asked him about his hobbies.

He talked at length about his wonderful hobbies.

She listened with wide eyes.


She asked about his extra-curricular activities.

He happily listed all his activities, and what he does, who he helps.

She began to dig deeper. He was happy to answer her.


She asked about his parents.

He talked about them with passion.


Pretty girl began to wonder.

Is this cute guy trying to impress her?

Or it’s just that he is actually impressive, that he did not need to do anything to impress her, but only to passionately talk about his life?


Love Actually

I really am talking about Love Actually, the movie.


I guess I’m not the only person who watches this movie every December, or every Christmas. The movie was opened in December 2003. Liza, Nirda and I went to watch it on the first or second day of its release. It was right after our Winter Term exams.


The movie was crowded. It was free seating, so we ended up sitting separately. I sat alone in an aisle seat.


As soon as I saw the Heathrow Airport, I started crying. “This movie is going to be good!” I thought. That was the scene when the main character, the newly-appointed British Prime Minister, was talking about how love, is actually, all around. How, at the airport, there’s so much love going around. How, during the 9/11 disaster, all call made from the airplane were made for love, not for hate.


Yes, the movie was good.


Among my favourite scenes was when Jamie went off to Portugal to ask Aurelia for her hand in marriagel. And when they tried to rescue the manuscript of his new novel in the small lake. When they were riding the car together – he’s sending her home. Even when they don’t speak the same language, they were one.


Or when this boss guy told his lady staff to throw all caution to the wind and tell the other guy colleague that she had a major crush on him.


I love it when the British Prime Minister made a speech when the American President’s visit to the UK came to an end. It was such a patriotic speech, which spirit we may actually take. Simple but loyal, true to his roots. David Beckham’s right foot and Harry Potter. Funny.


When the young kid worked so hard to woo the girl he liked.


That wedding at the start of the movie – the love of a best friend. Also when he put on Silent Night on the radio, as if Christmas Carolers were singing outside her door. She’s pretty, Keira Nightley.


Billy Mack, the funniest….despite his dirty jokes.


The end of it, of course.


The soundtrack was SUPERB!! Who would forget the performance of that little girl, singing “All I Want For Christmas”. Really, I cried until I was almost sobbing.


Up to this day, I don’t know why the song managed to touch my heart EVERY time.


. . .


It was a wonderful winter. It was our final winter in Dublin before heading back to Penang in March for the rest of the degree program.


It was a winter of Lord of The Rings extended versions.

Of long movie nights. We did not see the sunlight.

A winter of Lord of The Rings part 3.

Lord of the Rings Monopoly.

All other board games. All night.

Second homes for everyone.


It was a winter of surprise birthday parties. And more food.

Kabhi Kushi Kabhi Gham. Ada Apa Dengan Cinta. Yusry and Erra’s wedding.


Time has passed by. But I still miss it so much.


Maybe that’s why Love Actually mean a lot more now than ever.


Life was good.


.  .  .


I don’t want a lot for Christmas

There’s just one thing I need

I don’t care about the presents

Underneath the Christmas tree


I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is you


All the lights are shining so brightly everywhere

And the sounds of children’s laughter fills the air

Everyone is singing

I hear the sleigh bells ringing

Santa, won’t you please bring me the one I really need

Would you please bring my baby to me???


I don’t want a lot for Christmas

This is all I’m asking for

I just want to see my baby standing right outside my door


I just want you for my own

More than you could ever know

Make my wish come true

All I want for Christmas is YOU!!!


It’s A Beautiful Life

I heard this story three times on Saturday, from different people and different perspectives; but it’s still a lovely story altogether.

In the late 70s, my uncle Mohlis worked as a ship engineer. He used to be away from home for weeks at a time. He’s the second of ten siblings.

When he’s due home, his younger siblings would get together to prepare his welcome-home cake.

Cik Uzi would bake the cake.
My dad would cut the cake into the shape of a ship.
He’d also lead the other siblings to decorate the cake with its icing.

I could imagine how wonderful it would be to come back from a long trip overseas, to see that your brothers and sisters have happily prepared a nice gift for you.

It may have only been a cake, but it must have meant a lot.

Doctors, Death and Grandpa

They say that doctors don’t feel anything anymore when their patients pass away.

It’s not true.


They say palliative medicine is easy. “Do nothing.”

Absolutely not true.


It’s not easy.  Sure, we go on with our lives after the inevitable has happened. Sure, we go home and spend happy time with our family and friends.


That’ what being a doctor made us do.

That’s exactly how being in palliative care made us this way.






A patient’s daughter once asked me, “How do you face death, day in and day out?”


At first I did not know what to say.


Then I looked into her eyes and said, “By spending more quality time with our loved ones.”


I elaborated further.


I said to her that another person’s death would always remind us of something that is absolutely going to happen to all of us. We learn lessons from every death we encounter.


It’s up to us, whether to take it positively, or with worry and anxiety.


We learn that time is short; we never know what’s going to happen next. Hence we’d use all the time we have for the good of others. We’d make sure that everything we do means something to the people around us. Loved ones or not.


We learn that nothing is gained out of worldly belongings. They are accessories we could live without.


We learn that everything in this world is temporary, borrowed to us by Him, the Most Powerful. We may have everything now, but we may lose it all at one point of time, and we WILL lose it all when we leave this world.


We learn to love, and to love more.


We learn to care for the other person.


We learn that life is too short for grudges, too short to be spent in anger, sadness and anxiety.


We learn to live life to the fullest.


Oh, and we’re still learning.


.  .  .


Of course, we need good social support.


Number one, we give good support to each other. It’s never easy to talk to patients’ families about the fact that their loved one is dying. It’s never easy to lay down options of palliative chemotherapy or radiotherapy, telling them that the disease is incurable and the treatment may or may not be beneficial to them. It’s never easy, especially when it has to be done repeatedly, one patient after another, one family after another.


So don’t get insulted if we share jokes with each other, laugh with and at each other, in between consultations. Not in front of our patients, of course, but in our office or in the pantry, or on the way to another ward at the other end of the hospital. Because we need to release the pressure while anticipating another.


Sometimes, that’s the reason we walk in groups. The whole team. Well, a small team, that is.


Number two, we search for support outside work. From our families, from our friends.  We go out and have a good life. We have hobbies each.

.  . .

Palliative medicine is a new field in our country. We only have seven palliative medicine physicians in the whole country.


The for the past two weeks we’ve been talking about Palliative Care in Islamic perspective during our journal club meetings. It opened all our eyes.


I did have doubts, sometimes, about palliative medicine. Nobody knows what death is like. The ones who’s gone through it can’t come back to tell us. All we could do is watch and draw a conclusion. Even if we had an epiphany about death and dying, we would not be able to say it out loud.


But what made me believe in it has something to do with my grandfather.


I’ve been in palliative medicine for more than two years (why I prolonged what is supposed to be a 6-months medical rotation is another long story of its own), but I have never met anyone more ready for his death than my beloved grandfather.


My grandpa began renovating his house about a year before he passed away. He built a large hall, of which one wall faces the direction of Mecca. He did that not only so that it’s easy for us to just stand facing the wall during our daily prayers. He wanted the wall that way so that when he dies, his body would be put parallel to the wall, so that we could all do the prayers at home.


He built his new bathroom big enough so that, when he dies, he could be bathed in private, in his own home, by his own six sons. The bathroom is longer than it’s wide.


Next to the bathroom there’s a room where we could shroud him after the last bath.


(Bathing, shrouding and prayers are the last rites to be done for a Muslim before burial).


So one fine day, he got a fever. We brought him to the hospital as he did not recover after a few days. He was admitted after that.


The doctor could not find the cause for his fever. He suspected some occult cancer and wanted to investigate more. He wanted to send grandpa for some endoscopic examinations.


Grandpa declined. He said his time is coming, and he wanted to go home. There’s no need for anything invasive anymore.


So we brought him home.


True enough, his fever never settled. He became weaker and weaker, luckily he did not complain of any pain. His wife, ten children and many grandchildren took care of him at home.


He passed away peacefully after about three weeks from the onset of fever.


.  .  .


So whenever I have doubts, I’d remind myself of my grandfather.













Sexuality and Companionship – The Breast Cancer Story

Written on 3rd December 2010 @ 0022hrs


There was this lady with a large, cancerous breast lump. Well-groomed, she’s only 33 years old. She came to see my boss to discuss about her options of treatment.


She did not want to remove the affected breast. However it is not possible to leave it there without risk of the disease advancing even further. She would, of course, want to have children later in life. She’s just married and has yet to have babies.


So he said to us this morning that we should sometimes try to put ourselves into her shoes and feel what she might be feeling at this moment. Imagine how difficult it is for her to make her decisions.


He then talked about breast conservation surgery and how, according to studies, it does NOT seem to have much effect on psychological outcome of a woman with breast cancer. Interestingly enough, it is not the extent of damage to the breast that will determine the mental well-being of a patient.


It’s about support, companionship.


In short, it’s about love.


* * *

Simple enough.


A woman with a supportive partner, who walks with her throughout the difficult journey of cancer treatment, would usually come out of it better, happier, than the one who had an ignorant partner.


It is always important for them to go together for her follow-ups. For him to hold her hand when the doctor talks to her.

For him to walk along when she’s pushed to the operating theatre.


For him to rub her back when she’s vomiting from her chemotherapy.


Or if he’s the sole breadwinner for the family, not able to be with her all the time (and usually she’d understand), at least say nice words and mean it. Give her a big hug whenever he comes around.


Because she’d be there for him, too, if the same thing happens.


* * *

Dr Nick asked, perplexed, “Why wouldn’t a husband want to accompany his wife when she’s sick?”


My heart said, “Lucky you, Dr Rachael!”


Then boss told us that when he was a medical officer doing oncology, many husbands gave the excuse, “WE are suffering too!!” when found that they have ran off to marry another woman. Suffering for the lack of  “attention” that they had to endure during her illness.


Both of them frowned at the absurdity of these men’s mentality.


To make the moment lighter, they laughed at Jaspal (who’s getting married next year) and said, “We’re not saying this to scare you off marriage!”


I’ve heard too many stories about men who scarpered after knowing that their wives have been diagnosed with cancer. Not just breast cancer, you see.


Blamed the wife for not breastfeeding when she was younger.


Not willing to spend any time for her during the investigation process. Nor do they appear during treatment period.


Or, keeping quiet and move to another house. Telling all sorts of stories and excuses to his own mother, who, would believe in him rather than the poor wife.


Enough to scare some people away from married life. Some, not all.


* * *


Somehow this morning when I was driving into the hospital parking lot, I was thinking about the very topic, of marriage and companionship, and being ill.


I had a scare a few months ago. It really brought me down and has put my life into a different perspective.


As an independent woman with my own job, I could basically live well enough without a man by my side. In some ways, my life IS better without a man by my side. I wondered whether I should just forget about the whole marriage thing and focus on the existing people around me. But that’s another story.


I fell sick the other day and I felt so scared. I’d lie in my bed at night and wondered what if I don’t get better? What if this is something more serious than just an infection? It has happened to many other people and why can’t it happen to me?


Then I wondered what if I need to go for more investigations? Who would I talk to? Who would I call to come along for my appointments? Who’s going to hold my hands if something ever happens?


Yes, I know I have a very strong family support but I wouldn’t want to worry my parents too much, wouldn’t want to burden my siblings too. I’m sure they’ll be there for me no matter what but….but maybe I need someone who’s actually obliged to do so….


I then tried to make myself feel better.


I said to myself, even if I do manage to find a man someday who’d want to marry me, how do I know whether or not he’ll be there for me when things happen? Would he be someone who doesn’t know how to respond, to be responsible and worse, to love? Or would I be more lucky this time around? It would be pointless, really, if he’s around only for the happier days and disappear when I can’t be “of use” to him anymore.


Well, that’s another story.


* * *


Breast cancer is very common. I pray that it will not happen to any of us. That somehow it would just stop affecting anyone at all. But from the statistics, things may not be so rosy in the future.


Please, do support those whom you know affected with cancer. Hold their hands, say good words and give them a hug. If they win this fight, they will appreciate that you have been with them all along. Even if they lose the battle, they will move on easier, knowing that you’ve always been there for them…..


* * *


Some quotes:


“A woman’s overall psychological health, relationship satisfaction, and premorbid sexual life appear to be far stronger predictors of post-cancer sexual satisfaction than is the extent of damage to her breast.” – A Cancer Journal For Clinicians


“I’m disfigured—and lopsided. I have no hair, and I’ve gained ten pounds. Admit it! If I think my body is so repulsive, how can you say it doesn’t make a difference? I miss my breast so much!” Emily was distraught. “I miss your breast—but I’d miss you more. It doesn’t matter to me. I mean it,” her partner insisted. “You’re here, and that’s all that counts.”



Our Dreams

Written on 1st December 2010 @ 2306hrs


Mr Tee (not his real name) was the longest-staying patient in our ward.


Jaspal is my dear colleague in the ward.


One night in Ramadhan Jaspal had a dream:

She was doing her rounds alone, presumably a weekend or public holiday.

One of our staffnurses informed her that Mr Tee has passed away.


She told me about her dream the next morning.

So I told her that I, too, had a dream the same night:

I came to work on Monday after a good weekend off. It was her turn to work during the weekend that had just passed.

And Mr Tee’s bed was empty.


In our dreams, we both did not see who signed the burial permit.


We told our dear bosses of our dreams.


Dr Richard said, “Hey, he’s been with us for so long now. He’d better go when we are all around!”


Two months passed.


So Mr Tee passed away, after a long journey with us. Ten months. A little more than ten months.

He passed away on Sunday morning, Jaspal was on call.

I came back on Monday, after a great weekend, and Mr Tee’s bed was empty.


Jaspal signed the burial permit.



Written on 30th November 2010 @ 2153hrs


When someone had just crashed your life and you’re trying to build up your life again, you’d cling to even the tiniest bit of hope you see around you.

* * *

Small doses of each.

A big smile that reaches the eyes, and lights up the whole town.

That person who passed by, say a friendly “hi” and walk away with a deep sigh.

A small token of thought from far far away.

That first, second, and third glance from that one person you’d never thought would even look at you.

That email saying, “Hey, of course I remember you!” with a friendly smiley at the end of each sentence.

That person who looked so gloomy until you came into his view.

Chocolates. Of course. Loads of chocolates.

* * *

Not for love. But for a friendly face.


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