Wikipedia (my favorite reference :P) writes compassion as:

a profound human emotion prompted by the pain of others. More vigorous than empathy, the feeling commonly gives rise to an active desire to alleviate another’s suffering.

Two scenarios on the same day. Two responses descriptively exemplifying two opposite ends of that one word we call compassion.

Of the many patients I saw that day, there was one different man who walked through the door. My MO with me had gone for her lunch break… and so I continued to pick up the patient’s cards for the next consult. Opening the trauma labelled file,  the words that stood out than the rest was “Under PSY follow up at HKL”. Now normally I try to stay away from all the psychiatric cases. They’re too complicated for me. I wasn’t exactly sure what to get from them other than knowing the trouble they have caused in society, what psychotic symptoms they were experiencing, then look into any injuries they may have had in their flare up. Most of the time, the proper diagnosing and management comes from the psychiatry MOs who will have to review them all over again but in greater detail.

So I braced myself. Calling his number in, an Indian man in his 50s came in. He had a plaster on his head and on his arms. In his rage and frustration that morning, he had taken a light bulb and hit his own head with it, then tried hurting himself. He lives in a welfare home and they had taken him to the hospital for treatment. Amazingly none of the home’s representatives walked in with him. He was left alone in the waiting area. He had ran out of his anti-psychotics and all he wanted was medicine. He stuttered a lot and repeated himself many times. When asked about his auditory hallucinations, he described hearing many voices, each of a different language and he looked very disturbed about it. Occasionally he would stand up and walk around in the room to further prove his point. I had to stand up and stand near the door, ready to run out of the room in case he had gotten a little bit too aggressive. But he wasn’t. He could be easily coaxed into sitting down and talking properly. He clearly needed his regular meds and this very much warrants an admission in the ward. After checking on his wounds which were thankfully very very superficial (for a light bulb smash!), I asked him nicely to wait outside while I call the psychiatry MO to come and see him to prescribe him his meds.

DSC00506 I called the MO. She said to lock him in the isolation room – a room which we have at the end of our small corridor to temporarily house aggressive schizophrenic patients. This was more for the security and safety of the other patients. I replied that this man was not aggressive and I personally did not think he needed to be isolated in that small room. In fact I was thinking that locking him in that room might further aggravate him into announcing that he was mentally abnormal. MO quickly ended the conversation saying she will come later to see the patient. ‘Later’ being the keyword. As I was talking to my other patients after him, he kept coming in the door asking for his meds. All I could do was reassure him that I have called the appropriate doctor and she will be here soon to see him. In fact, just to be sure I would not get by butt burned, I had asked other staff members whether my patient needs to be kept in the room. All their replies were the same. If he is not aggressive and harmful towards others, he need not be there.

When she did arrive much MUCH later, he was no where to be found. He was gone. In her own frustration, she quite loudly exclaimed, “See? I TOLD you he should be isolated. Now he’s gone and no where to be found.” I honestly felt quite bad he had left, but I still firmly believed that it was not right at all to isolate a non-aggressive, relatively calmer man, even though he was a schizophrenic. How would you feel if you were made to go and wait in an empty cold room like that when you had done nothing bad to others? She walked away with a humph.

Much later on, I called another patient number. A woman in her 40s wheeled a man in his 50s into the room. Both of his legs have been amputated up to his thighs. His wheelchair looked old and was falling apart. Under his bum, on the chair was a cardboard and under the cardboard were some clothes. What an odd way to keep things, I thought. Now here is a story to tell.

She is a single lady working with a charity organization and was having lunch in Ampang. She sounded like a very well educated woman and seems like she had some medical background. She used to be a nurse. She met him on the streets, on his wheelchair and it looked like he was having chest pain. He does not have a home and was living off his wheelchair. He had ran away from the government welfare home for reasons I don’t think I should disclose here. She took him into her house for the night so she could take him to the hospital for treatment. He was a diabetic in need of insulin, but he had lost his injection pen. When I tried to ask him questions, he would only speak in words, mostly grunting to acknowledge the pain. He was not in a good state of health at all. She requested that he be admitted to sort his health and medication out while she would go to her boss who also started a home for the homeless to see if she could put this man into their care. My heart just melted and the story felt like a breath of fresh air in such a cold society. Good Samaritans like this actually exist!

While she went to sort his registration for admission, I took a few peeks at the man just to make sure he was okay. He fell asleep comfortably on his chair! The only times I can sleep upright on a chair is when I’m on-call and when there are no beds around and I need an hour or two of sleep. She was such a thoughtful and friendly lady who clearly showed much compassion to those who are suffering around her, even to strangers.

How many of us would actually do something like that? For once, it reflected back upon me and I felt ashamed. Which of us would go out of our way to make other people’s lives better? I know I hadn’t.

Until I received my first opportunity this morning. As I walked out of the Emergency Department to leave after my night shift was over, I was stopped by one of our security guards. She asked me if I had an anatomy book for students. This woman is a widow, has a daughter who is studying nursing and she can’t afford to buy her daughter the book she needs. I promised her that I will look through my books to find if I have any and pass it on to her. All I could was smile as I walked to my car. This is the beginning of many opportunities. I will do my part as a doctor in a community so much in need of compassion and unconditional love. Sort of like that movie “Pay It Forward”.

Now time to go look in my boxes before I head back out for my afternoon shift…


4 thoughts on “Compassion

    • Organizations like Mercy or Doctors without Borders were always on my mind since the beginning of med school. It would be a dream come true to join in on a mission. 🙂

  1. w1 says:

    I somehw think its a very beautiful dream. I myself thought about it from time to time.
    But…i dont know, it seems very far reaching(for me), one has to put down everything and of course, has to have a stable financial status .

    Hehe, hope its not cold water splashed across .

    ya, as u said, maybe one could start from small tokens of anatomy books that could change another’s life.

    So, how about it? you found it from your boxes ?

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