Friday, May 5, 2017

Our First Wedding Anniversary

Last weekend Kamaliah and I celebrated our first wedding anniversary. We spent time on a private island north of Pulau Kapas in Terangganu. The trip was much more of a honeymoon than the one we had last year in Cambodia, which we end up seeing patients at their houses instead. People say the first year of marriage is the hardest, I guess because as in any process of learning, the beginning is the toughest part. It was even tougher because 2016 was a year of drastic change for me. Several months after we got married, Kamaliah found out that she was pregnant. Not long after, Hospitals Beyond Boundaries shot to international prominence. She was there in New York when it all happened. Kamaliah had to bear the brunt of me shifting attention from her to the public which constantly barrage me with questions, interview requests and speaking engagements.

Upon returning to Malaysia, we received the distressing news that our baby's heart was no longer beating. It was such a hard thing to accept. At that same time, I was so occupied with prior speaking engagements and interviews, something that I regretted. I remembered the day she miscarried, I came back at night from a talk, and saw her crying on the bed. I was lost for words, and we only spent the night in silence, hugging each other till morning.

I still regret that I didn't spend my time at her side during the moment that she needed me most. But Kamaliah still stood by my side, and was always my number one supporter. She was always there to cheer me up with her wide smile. From the first day I met her, I've always had it in my mind that she is a person with an infectious smile. People just couldn't help smiling when they see her smile. She brings cheer to every room she enters, and I am blessed to have her exuding cheerfulness into every seconds of my life.

One year spending time with her, I realized that unconsciously, my life priority has slowly changed. If I can summarize everything she has taught me the past one year to one word, it would be: "humility". Being the super ambitious young man I used to be, it took a strong woman like her to change me. For the first time in my life, I find great satisfaction in fulfilling the need of someone other than myself. I begin to think as a couple, no longer as my own self. At a time that I thought I was "oh-so-human-look-at-me-I-am-humanitarian', she taught me what being a real human is all about. About sharing, caring about those who are close to us on top of caring for strangers, and knowing that no matter how amazing your life achievements are, it would be depressing if there is no one for you to share it with.

Kamaliah, I would like to thank you for holding on and teaching me what the real important things in life are. Thank you for being such a great wife, and I am looking forward to the years and experiences we'll forge ahead as husband and wife. Happy first anniversary to us, love you to bits!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Happiest Day of My Life

I remember every time I go to an old relative's house, wedding pictures were always the ones that is kept displayed in the bedroom, most likely on the vanity table. Those pictures were a window to a time period when they look really beautiful, and we'd say "lainnye muka atok masa muda!". Some of their spouses died when I was really small, and the pictures were the only way for me to see how they look.
These digital age, we rarely get our photos printed, we always say we'll print them someday, but in the end never get the time and energy to actually go to a print shop and frame it. Someday, all those photos will be gone when our laptops breakdown...even the ones we thought will be safe in Cloud drives will disappear along with the login passwords that will be lost to dementia or death. In the end, physical printed photos will be the only evidence that we once lived.
I don't know if I will ever go out to print another picture, but if I never did, this photo is enough to represent the life that I had lived...Someday, if I get to live long..if my grandchild or great grandchild sees this picture, I just want them to know, that what they see, is a snapshot of the happiest day of my life.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Me Before You

Earlier this month, my wife pleaded to watch the movie Me Before You, an adaptation of a novel by the same title by Jojo Mayes. Although I was not always fond of book-to-movie adaptations (a cynical outlook that proliferated throughout the years precipitated by movie adaptations such as World War Z, Dreamcatcher and The Great Gatsby), I yielded to her persuasion and decided to give Me Before You a try. A smile settled across her face, her eyes creasing with pleasure as I told her we were finally going to see the movie.
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed the movie, with some conversations in it stuck in my mind long after the credits finished rolling. A dialogue that made me reflect was towards the end of the movie, when Lou, who was taking care of Will, a young man progressively paralyzed from an accident (although not medically plausible, unless he suddenly caught Guillain-Barre syndrome, succumbed to a spine cancer or his spine decided to spontaneously degenerate at a young age), asked a question along the lines of “where would you wish to be if you were still healthy?”

Will, who was a wealthy young banker, was portrayed as an avid traveller and an adrenaline junkie before he met with the accident. I expected him to answer things like skydiving in New Zealand, surfing in Hawaii or scuba diving in the Great Reef Barrier, but his answer perplexed me:
"Paris. I would sit outside a cafe in Le Marais and drink coffee and eat a plate of warm croissants with unsalted butter and strawberry jam. I want to be in Paris as me, the old me, if I shut my eyes now, I know exactly how it feels in that little square. I remember every sensation”
I could instantly relate to what he said.
I guess that when our basic ability was taken away, the activities that seemed presumptuous and routine, were the ones that we miss doing the most. Not skydiving, not scuba diving, not wall climbing. When we are left paralyzed in a wheelchair, the thought of not being able to do simple things like having a cup of coffee in a cafĂ© without the hassle of trying to fit behind the table, having someone to carry us up the curb, or the stresses brought by being unable to charge our electrical wheelchair because the plug won’t fit French electrical socket made us miss the person who we used to be most.
Although I abjured the movie’s devastating ending that sort of advocate assisted suicide, I am glad that my wife brought me to see this movie for its message of gratitude. I pray we would all stay away from such debilitating disease, and still be able appreciate the little things in life and be thankful for what we have.

The scene from the movie reminded me of my time in Geneva. After work, I would sit outside a cafe in Le Grand Rue, a cobbled-street alley in between teetering apartment blocks, to drink hot coffee and eat a plate of warm crepe with chocolate, banana and peanuts. It's one of the place I keep visiting when I closed my eyes.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

The Kind of Day I Wish to Live All My Life

I spent the night at the clinic and woke up at 6 a.m. I woke up, washed my face and performed Subuh prayers. Later I boiled hot water and had my morning coffee overviewing the small lake by the clinic. The sun had began to rise and I enjoyed it listening to Sigur Ros on my phone while sipping one of the best Cambodian coffee. By 7 am our laboratory staff began sweeping the floor of the clinic. I cleaned and rearranged everything inside the clinic, and then went for a morning shower around 7.30. By the time I got out of the shower 2 patients were already at the waiting area. Lucky I slipped into my jeans and t-shirt in the toilet! I took off the towel from my neck and exchanged it with my stethoscope that has been hanging on the IV drip stand yesterday. It was last used on a student who came in the middle of the night. Now my stethoscope and I am ready to take on a new day. Our main doctor had to go to his university from morning till afternoon, hence I am the only doctor at the clinic. I had to depend the staff nurse to translate the patient’s history. I saw patients until 12pm, a total of 5 patients in the morning. One case of inguinal hernia, one case of UTI, a follow up for hypertension, a follow up for renal stone and a case highly suspicious of basal cell carcinoma, which I referred to a dermatologist for biopsy.

At noon one of the obstetric and gynaecology doctors we interviewed and selected to employ last week came to discuss on her contract. We discussed and concluded the contract, and hired her as part of HBB staffs. Later I had lunch at the clinic with all our staffs and stole a bit of time to read on microfinance and community based health insurance since I have a meeting with one of the microfinance institutions in the evening. I performed zuhur prayer before the meeting. The meeting started at 2 pm. We discussed to start a community based health insurance for the community around our clinic. I am sure that this project could benefit the community tremendously. The meeting ended around 3.30 pm. I made my way back to HBB clinic, arriving at 4 pm. I took a short 15 minutes nap and woke up refreshed, and performed Asar prayers.

After Asr prayers, I saw that our doctor has seen the last patient. We had our evening tea around 5 pm. By 6, all the staffs had gone back to their homes. I had nothing to do for the night so our male nurse invited me to follow him to take a walk by the junction of Phnom Penh’s 4 rivers. We took a bike there and walked along the river banks where there was stark contrast between the poor people in boat houses and the big hotels by the river. We went down to see the boat people and I decided to start a food package program for them the next time Malaysian volunteer comes.

We walked until Maghrib and performed prayers at a nearby mosque. Then we went for dinner by the roadside. We saw one HBB medical student volunteer was eating there alone. We joined him, and I had a good Pho noodle. After dinner we went to Costa Coffee by the Royal Palace. I had a long talk with our male nurse about the future of HBB. We went back to HBB clinic around 10.30 pm. I prepared my sleeping blanket on the floor of the clinic, performed Isya and went to sleep, ready to take on tomorrow

Wednesday, February 10, 2016


This old lady was lying on the bed when we came up to her house. We couldn't speak Khmer, hence we gestured our way, signaling that the food package were gifts for her. Then, we realized that she was too frail to walk. Wanting not to disturb her rest further, we made our way down from her house. It was then that she suddenly called 'wait!' in Khmer. To our surprise, she crawled her way to her door to see us go, and when she saw all 13 of us handling all these food packages...she started to cry. One of our doctors went back up and hugged her tight. It was one of those moments that I will remember for the rest of my life. A moment where I will always go back to when I feel dissatisfied with life. In the words of Leo Tolstoy:
"In contrast with what I had seen in my circle, where the whole of life is passed in idleness, amusement, and dissatisfaction, I saw that the whole life of these people was passed in heavy labour, and that they were content with life. In contradistinction to the way in which people of our circle oppose fate and complain of it on account of deprivations and sufferings, these people accepted illness and sorrow without any perplexity or opposition, and with a quiet and firm conviction that all is good. In contradistinction to us, who the wiser we are the less we understand the meaning of life, and see some evil irony in the fact that we suffer and die, these folk live and suffer, and they approach death and suffering with tranquility and in most cases gladly. In complete contrast to my ignorance, they knew the meaning of life and death, labored quietly, endured deprivations and sufferings, and lived and died seeing therein not vanity but good…"

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