People’s Action Party (PAP) parliamentarian Tan Wu Meng has penned and published a letter to a junior doctor who broke down when one of her patients passed away. The doctor, 26-year-old Alvona Loh Zi Hui who works at a local hospital, had recounted her experience in a letter published by TODAY.
In her letter, Dr Loh described how she remembers the strength of a stage 4 cancer patient who had opted for palliative care after several failed rounds of chemotherapy. The patient, who was in his 60s, was always cheery despite his pain and told Dr Loh stories about his life and shared his dreams with her during the three weeks she cared for him as part of his primary internal medicine team.
Describing how much her interactions with the patient moved her, Dr Loh wrote: “I took care of you for almost three weeks. Our conversations shifted from your life stories and hopes, to your acceptance of the disease and wish to be comfortable at life’s end.”
One night, Dr Loh was the on-call doctor taking care of your ward when she was informed that the nurses could no longer measure her patient’s vitals. Dr Loh rushed to his bedside immediately but found that her patient had died overnight. The young doctor recounted:
“You were the first patient to have died under my watch. Your family, including your extended family, were by your bedside. I explained to them that we would be preparing your certificate of death. Everyone was in solemn silence.”
Later, Dr Loh broke down and began crying in the privacy of the doctor’s room. She said that she was surprised that she was grieving even though she should have been prepared for the patient’s impending death given his medical decline and bleak prognosis.
She wrote: “There was not much time for grief. There were patients to be seen, blood test results to review, chest X- rays to be read. It was a hectic night call and my phone was ringing incessantly. I held back my tears as I did not want the nurses to see me crying.”
In a tribute to her late patient, she wrote: “You have passed away, but your smile and your stories will live in my heart forever. The quiet strength which you displayed — a stark contrast to the weakness of your physical body, was apparent when you told me that you had no fear of death with a life well-lived…I miss you, and the heartfelt conversations we had, but I know you have left us gracefully and comfortably.
“As a doctor, I have learnt from you the invaluable lesson of acceptance and finding peace in the face of death. No amount of theoretical discussion or simulation from medical school would have been useful for this. And I know that you are at some place better than here, where you would no longer be suffering from pain.”
Moved by the young doctor’s experience, PAP MP Tan Wu Meng wrote his own letter and published it on his social media page. He wrote:
“Dear Alvona, I saw your moving letter to your patient. It’s okay to cry, when a patient dies. It’s okay to feel sad, together with the family.
“That sadness says that we have given something of ourselves, when we walk alongside patients and the folk we look after. And it‘s the nature of life that, sometimes when walking together, it proves in hindsight to be someone’s last journey.
“In years to come, as you grow more senior and even more wise in your medical journey, don’t ever let go of that big heart, and that capacity to feel. Duty demands that we are steadied enough to look after the next patient, even when we’ve lost the previous. But in our work, and in so many spheres, a steady mind with an open and caring heart can make the greatest difference.” /TISG