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The outspoken doc
From strays to the elderly, this healthcare physician isn’t afraid to air his views
11:55 AM January 20, 2009
AGATHA KOH BRAZIL
voices editor email@example.com
KEEPING yoga free of religious bias, subsidised healthcare for foreign workers, showing gratitude to nursing home staff — these are some subjects Dr Tan Chek Wee has been vocal about last year.
“My main concerns are the strays — cats and dogs — the elderly poor and our environment … the ‘boh chap’ attitude or the lack of concern as indicated by our selfish littering habits,” he says.
Dr Tan, a primary healthcare physician with a special interest in Community Geriatrics, is particularly frustrated with the enforced culling of stray cats by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority (AVA) — despite the efforts of carers who ensure that the animals are caught, sterilised and released back into the neighbourhoods.
Such active citizenry should be encouraged because it leads to concerted efforts in other areas, he says. “My personal experience is that people who have compassion for animals have compassion for other things.”
He writes to the media because he wants to “speak about unfairness to humans disadvantaged by being poor and elderly and to low-wage foreigners”. And for animals “simply because they have no voice at all”.
Dr Tan gets the column inches because the 53-year-old’s letters are not laced with ire and displeasure but are gentle admonishments to be grateful, gracious and kind. His are not missives dashed off in anger but slices of life, written with compassion and common sense.
In one, written before Chinese New year last year, he related how the nursing matron and a staff member of a voluntary welfare organisation nursing home cut short their celebrations and rushed to the home because an elderly patient’s daughter, who visited once a year, was accusing staff of abuse.
But the elderly woman’s bruises were due to ageing skin and the oral anti-coagulant she had been given. So, Dr Tan wrote: “This year the staff were a little jittery before Chinese New Year in anticipation of such complaints.
“For 365 days a year, these people start work in the wee hours to bathe residents, change their diapers, clear their waste, transfer them to wheelchairs, push them to the dining area, feed them and so on. They do not ask for gratitude but it would be nice if families of residents said thank you.”
His feelings for felines
In the mornings, Dr Tan looks after the elderly sick at a home run by a voluntary welfare organisation. Afternoons, he makes home visits to the terminally ill. At night he helps fellow residents trap cats or assists Town Council officers in looking into complaints about the felines.
“The intensive part of our ‘cat management’ is over with almost 100 per cent neutered in my neighbourhood. We now look out for ‘new’ cats that are abandoned, to trap them for sterilisation.
“We also speak to owners of cats, and tell them to be responsible by keeping them indoor and sterilising them,” he says.
He has been practising yoga and taiji for six years, something that must surely help in being calm when he finds himself making little headway in changing the official stance on community cats.
“We can resolve community problems such as the curbing of the stray cat population by choosing the humane method of sterilisation, rather than culling … The Cat Welfare Society has inspired ordinary people all over the island to put in their own effort to get stray cats sterilised”, as evidence by the growing number of cats with clipped ears, a sign that a cat has been neutered, says Dr Tan.
“I hope that Government will acknowledge this rare display of active citizenry and recognise it by providing free sterilisation of stray cats and dogs at the AVA, instead of just using the facilities to kill them.
“I speak my mind and hope that we will be a kinder and environmentally-conscious society. I truly believe that our kindness is reflected in the way we treat animals, from the Government’s policies to the individual’s action and attitude.”
He writes “what is in my mind and from my heart. I am just a simple person who lives a simple life and who is fortunate enough to disengage himself from a materialistic conditioning”.
He was in private practice but found his calling among the elderly sick.
“I feel fortunate to be in a health-giving profession, being able to help people and getting paid as well. I feel good when I can bring laughter or just a smile to patients, even those facing imminent death.
“A good doctor is one who is able to connect with a human being in need and gain his or her trust. If I can make them happy by listening to them, and be able to speak to them in dialect — something some young doctors cannot do — that is meaningful enough for me.”
It is all about interconnectivity, says the vegetarian, using his diet as an example.
“I am not asking everyone to abstain from meat, but we can still treat animals in farms with some respect by giving them more space to move around and terminating them in as painless way as possible.
“We can reduce suffering by eating just enough and not overindulging.
“We are all interconnected.”