A Love Story

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[One night, he was so sleepy, he fell asleep while reading to my mother, slumped forward and hit his face against the music stand.]

>>Source: The Sunday Times, By Lee Wei Ling, 20 Jun 2010<<

Valentine's Day 2008 @ Sentosa - My mum was in a playing mood. She said to dad "Harry, let's take a photo by the roses."

An advertisement for the ‘Sassy Miss 2010 Workshop Series’ in The Straits Times caught my eye recently. The headline was: ‘The Power of First Impressions.’

The text claimed: ‘It takes just 30 seconds for your first date or prospective employer to form an everlasting impression of you. So flash your X-factor, from the way you look to the style in which you carry yourself. Come uncover all the trade secrets of image-making at this power workshop!’

I was amused. If I want to make an impression, it would be to show my competence, sincerity, pragmatism and willingness to fight for what is right. My appearance and how I carry myself are highly unlikely to make an impression in a 30-minute encounter, let alone a 30-second ‘flash’.

As for assessing someone on the first encounter, it would take me at least five to 10 minutes to appraise a person. I do not base my judgment on whether the person is good-looking or how he carries himself. Instead I would focus on his facial expression and body language.

If these contradict what he says, I would be wary of him. Body language and facial expressions are rarely under voluntary control and hence are better indicators of the true intent of a person than speech.

I am fairly good at sizing up people. There have been quite a few instances when I have accurately assessed someone at the first brief encounter. But even then, I seldom depend solely on first impressions. I will reassess the person on subsequent occasions. Only if I observe certain traits repeatedly would I be confident in my assessment.

Some people do indeed judge others on the basis of first impressions. Their judgment may well be strongly influenced by the person’s appearance, how well he carries himself and how eloquently he speaks. I think such people are shallow. In life, we have to interact with people; and the more accurately we judge people, the fewer mistakes we are likely to make about them.

Research on interpersonal relationships between strangers shows that physical appearance does influence first impressions. But this does not explain why people stick together in long-term relationships. Commitment is a key variable in sustaining such relationships.

The one remarkable relationship I have personally observed is the one between my father and mother. Theirs was certainly not love at first sight. Nor were looks the main factor in their mutual attraction. Rather, it was personality and intellectual compatibility.

They are not only lovers, they are also best friends. There has never been any calculation about how much each had invested in the relationship. Theirs is an unconditional love.

Before my mother suffered her first stroke in 2003, she lived her life around my father, taking care of his every need. The stroke and the resultant disability made my mother quite frail.

From that point on, my father lived his life around her. He was still in the Cabinet, first as Senior Minister and then as Minister Mentor, but he tried his best to arrange his working schedule around my mother’s needs.

He also took care of her health, strongly urging her to swim daily for exercise, and supervised her complicated regime of medication. He would also measure her blood pressure several times a day, till I got in touch with Dr Ting Choon Ming who had invented a blood pressure measuring equipment that is worn like a watch. Next day, when Dr Ting came to take the watch back to analyse the recorded blood pressure, my mother said to him: ‘I prefer to have my husband measure my blood pressure.’

After my mother’s second stroke in 2008, she became bed-bound and could no longer accompany my father on his travels overseas or to social functions here. Every night after returning home from work, my father now spends about two hours telling my mother about his day and reading aloud her favourite poems to her.

The poetry books are rather thick and heavy, so he uses a heavy-duty music stand to place the books. One night, he was so sleepy, he fell asleep while reading to my mother, slumped forward and hit his face against the music stand. Since the music stand was made of metal, he suffered abrasions on his face. He cursed himself for his carelessness but still carries on reading aloud to my mother every night.

I have always known my father was fearless, willing to fight to the bitter end for Singapore. When Vietnam fell in 1975, it looked for a while as though the domino hypothesis – which held that other South-east Asian states would also fall to the communists like dominoes – might turn out to be true. My father knew how ruthless the communists were, but he was determined to stay on in Singapore, and my mother was just as determined to stay on by his side.

I began this article because I was reading an article in a psychological journal on ‘love at first sight versus love for a lifetime, for better or for worse’.

Love at first sight is rare and often does not endure. The affection my parents have for each other is also rare. They are each other’s soul mates; their happy marriage has lasted beyond their diamond anniversary.

But they have never made a show of being a loving couple in public. Even in private, they have rarely demonstrated their love for each other with hugs or kisses. It was only after my mother’s second stroke that I saw my father kiss my mother on her forehead to comfort her. They don’t seem to feel the need for a dramatic physical show of love.

I have great admiration for what my father has done for Singapore – and at age 87, he is still promoting Singapore’s interests. But he being the first-born son in a Peranakan family, I would not have suspected him to have been capable of such devotion as he has shown for my mother, taking care of her so painstakingly. My admiration for him has increased manifold because I have watched him look after my mother so devotedly over the last two painful years.


The Truth About My Father’s Health

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[I have no doubt my father will fight his disease for as long as he thinks he can contribute to Singapore.]

 The Sunday Times
6 Nov 2011
By Lee Wei Ling

In my last article in this space, ‘Living a life with no regrets’, I wrote about my father’s deteriorating health due to my mother’s illness and subsequent demise.

I wrote truthfully and frankly, for that has been my ‘style’ in both writing and speech for as long as I can remember.

My father had read the draft as well as the published version of the article, and had e-mailed me to say, in his usual understated way, ‘reads well’.

The following week, when I showed him the positive feedback from two readers on the article, he paused for a moment, then said: ‘Let the readers know I have sensory peripheral neuropathy.’
Lee Kuan Yew
In my father’s case, sensory peripheral neuropathy has caused the conduction of sensation from his legs to his spinal cord to be impaired. This makes his walking unsteady, as many Singaporeans have already noticed.

I was there when the American television journalist Charlie Rose engaged my father in a dialogue in Istanbul, Turkey, recently.

I was also there when he delivered a speech at Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC before receiving the Lincoln Medal.

There was also a dinner hosted by Mr Fred Malek, a prominent member of the Republican Party, as well as dinner and lunch in Kent, a small town in Connecticut where Dr Henry Kissinger has his weekend home. The guests at these functions were all influential, with some of them having driven hours to see my father.

My father was in top form at all the events. He was asked for his opinion on many issues, and he did not get as many opportunities to ask questions of his interlocutors.

On the afternoon of our departure from Kent to catch the Singapore Airlines flight back to Singapore from Newark Airport, I watched Dr Kissinger and my father walk out together along the passageway to the door.

I remembered how in October 2009, I had noticed my father’s broad-based unsteady gait compared with Dr Kissinger’s steady gait, despite the fact that Dr Kissinger does not exercise with the same regularity as my father does.

Just a month before that, in September, my father had had no difficulty walking on the cobblestones around St Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow.

The deterioration within the space of a month was worrying.

I did a few simple neurological tests and decided the nerves to his legs were not working as they should. More sophisticated testing at the National Neuroscience Institute in Singapore confirmed my observation and conclusion.

I had a similar but milder attack in 2005. That was why when I was hiking in New Hampshire and subsequently in New Zealand I had a serious accident near the Punakaiki Rocks. I knew the long-term outcome of my disease and decided to get in as much hiking as I could before I was no longer able to hike. To compensate for my sensory peripheral neuropathy, I trained hard to improve my balance using a Swiss ball, as well as doing step aerobics for two hours holding a 4kg dumbbell in one hand. I purposely held the dumbbell alternately with my right and left hands so as to make it difficult for me to balance. This training helped me improve my balance.

But my father was 86 years old when we first noticed his peripheral neuropathy. He was obviously not able to do the strenuous exercises I did. His day-to-day condition now fluctuates. On some days he is fairly steady and on other days his balance is poor.

The problem is limited to the sensory nerves outside his central nervous system. His brain and muscles are working normally.

But being deprived of sensation from his legs means he finds it a challenge to balance. Thus his unsteady walk.

My father and I are temperamentally similar. In addition, fate has inflicted on us the same uncommon disease.

He will fight it with all the energy he can muster.

Already, he has started to practise walking. We have bought a treadmill for him to use at home. He does so three times a day, unfailingly, with his customary discipline.

I have no doubt my father will fight his disease for as long as he thinks he can contribute to Singapore.

I think with medication and simple precaution, he can continue to be of service to his country and the world.

He is that rare person, someone who will look at the facts carefully, and express his opinions regardless of what others might say.

He will say and write what is truthful, no matter how politically incorrect he may be viewed by others.

The following passage from Rudyard Kipling’s poem, If, represents accurately what my father will, and can, do:

If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’…

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute.
Send your comments to suntimes@sph.com.sg

Living a life with no regrets – LKY

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[He is aware that he can no longer function at the pace he could just four yearsago. But he still insists on travelling to all corners of the Earth if he thinks hi strips might benefit Singapore]
Source: The Sunday Times – Oct 23, 2011 By Lee Wei Ling

About 20 years ago, when I was still of marriageable age, my father Lee Kuan Yew had a serious conversation with me one day.He told me that he and my motherwould benefit if I remained single and took care of them in their old age. But I would be lonely if I remained unmarried.I replied: ‘Better lonely than be trapped in a loveless marriage.’I have never regretted my decision. Background story The life experience that my father has accumulated enables him to analyse and offersolutions to Singapore’s problems that no one else can.Twenty years later, I am still single. I still live with my father in my family home. But my priorities in life have changed somewhat.

Instead of frequent trips overseas by myself, to attend medical conferences or to goon hikes, I only travel with my father nowadays.Like my mother did when she was alive, I accompany him so that I can keep an eyeon him and also keep him company.

After my mother became too ill to travel, he missed having a family member with whom he could speak frankly after a long tiring day of meetings.

At the age of 88, and recently widowed, he is less vigorous now than he was before May 2008 when my mother suffered a stroke. Since then I have watched him getting more frail as he watched my mother suffer.Lee Kuan Yew

After my mother passed away, his health deteriorated further before recovering about three months ago.

He is aware that he can no longer function at the pace he could just four yearsago. But he still insists on travelling to all corners of the Earth if he thinks hi strips might benefit Singapore.
We are at present on a 16-day trip around the world. The first stop was Istanbul for the JPMorgan International Advisory Council meeting. We then spent two days in the countryside near Paris to relax. Then it was on to Washington DC, where, in additionto meetings at the White House, he received the Ford’s Theatre Lincoln Medal.As I am writing this on Thursday, we are in New York City where he has a dinner and a dialogue session with the Capital Group tonight, and Government of Singapore Investment Corporation meetings tomorrow.

After that, we will spend the weekend at former US secretary of state Henry Kissinger’s country home in Connecticut.Influential Americans will be driving or flying in to meet my father over dinner onSaturday and lunch on Sunday.Even for a healthy and fit man of 88, the above would be a formidable programme.For a recently widowed man who is still adjusting to the loss of his wife, and whose level of energy has been lowered, it is even more challenging.

But my father believes that we must carry on with life despite whatever personal setbacks we might suffer.

If he can do something that might benefit Singapore, he will do so no matter what his age or the state of his health.

For my part, I keep him company when he is not preoccupied with work, and I make sure he has enough rest.Though I encourage him to exercise, I also dissuade him from over exerting himself.I remind him how he felt in May last year when, after returning from Tokyo, he delivered the eulogy at Dr Goh Keng Swee’s funeral the next day.He had exercised too much in the two days preceding the funeral, against my advice. So naturally, he felt tired, and certainly looked tired on stage, as he delivered his tribute to an old and treasured comrade-in-arms. A few of my friends were worried by how he looked and messaged me to ask if my father was OK.Now when I advise him not to push himself too hard, he listens.

The irony is I did not take my own advice at one time and it was he who stopped me from over-exercising. Once, in 2001, while I was recovering from afracture of my femur, he limited my swimming. He went as far as to ask a security officer to time how long I swam. If I exceeded the time my physician had prescribed, even if it was just by a minute, he would give me a ticking off that evening.

Now the situation is reversed. But rather than finding it humorous, I feel sad about it.Whether or not I am in the pink of health is of no consequence. I have no dependants, and Singapore will not suffer if I am gone. Perhaps my patients may miss me, but my fellow doctors at the National Neuroscience Institute can take over their care.

But no one can fill my father’s role for Singapore.

We have an extremely competent Cabinet headed by an exceptionally intelligent and able prime minister who also happens to be my brother.But the life experience that my father has accumulated enables him to analyse and offer solutions to Singapore’sproblems that no one else can.But I am getting maudlin. Both my father and I have had our fair share of luck, andfate has not been unfair to us.My father found a lifelong partner who was his bestfriend and his wife. Together with a small group of like-minded comrades, he created a Singapore that by any standards would be considered a miracle.

He has led a rich,meaningful and purposeful life.

Growing old and dying occurs to all mortals, even those who once seemed like titanium. When all is said and done, my father – and I too, despite my bouts of ill health – have lived lives that we can look back on with no regrets.
As he faces whatever remains of his life, my father’s attitude can be summed up bythese lines in Robert Frost’s poem

Stopping By Woods On A Snowy Evening:

The woods are lovely, dark, and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute. Send your comments to suntimes@sph.com.sg 

Mourning My Mother

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[I am totally illogical and much too emotional. I had thought I could face any misfortune or tragedy, but I was wrong. The mother- daughter bond is too strong and it goes beyond logic.]

Source: The Sunday Times, Oct 31, 2010
By Lee Wei Ling

My mother Kwa Geok Choo was born on Dec 21, 1920. She came from a family with genes for longevity. Her father died at 89 years old and her mother at 87. Her eldest sister is still alive at 95.

My mother, or Mama as I called her, was always health-conscious. She was strict with her diet, eating mainly fish, tofu, vegetables, fruits and unpolished rice. Her cholesterol level was low and her blood pressure was normal. She exercised almost daily, swimming and sometimes taking walks.

Sept 16, 2003 was my father Minister Mentor Lee Kuan Yew’s 80th birthday. It was a joyous occasion, with no storm clouds in sight. But five weeks later, while accompanying my father to London, Mama had a stroke on Oct 25. It was caused by bleeding into the brain because her blood vessels had become fragile with age.

Fortunately, the bleed occurred on the right side of her brain so her speech was unaffected. But she could not see what was in her left visual field. She was flown back to Singapore on Oct 31.

As it so happened, my father had already planned to have a prostate operation in November. So they were both admitted to Singapore General Hospital in adjacent rooms, with a sliding door between them so they could keep each other company.

The day after she was admitted, the late Dr Balaji Sadasivan, then still practising medicine, dropped by to discuss her case with my father. Papa asked Dr Balaji: ‘Will she be able to attend social functions as well as travel

with me? If she cannot, her life would be miserable.’

The discussion was supposed to have been between Dr Balaji and Papa. But a group of doctors who had just seen my father were nearby and listened to the discussion intently. They got a lesson on marital life that I hoped they would always remember.

My father was then 80 years old and my mother 82. Their hair was all white and they looked very different from the handsome couple they once were. But they continued to love each other, through sickness and in health, richer or poorer, for better or worse, so long as they both lived.

Mama’s rehabilitation programme was intensive, and there were times when she felt tired and disheartened. But the therapists soon found a way to get her to try harder. When they told her that my father was coming to see her do her exercises, she would immediately put in more effort.

Both my parents were discharged from hospital on Nov 26. Mama’s only residual disability was the tendency to neglect the left side of her body. So Papa would sit on her left side at the dining table so as to be able to prompt her to eat the food on the left side of her plate.

Though she recovered well from her 2003 stroke, her doctors and I knew that the blood vessels in her brain were fragile and there was a high chance of another bleed. We decided not to tell my parents about this as it would only cause them worry and there was nothing we could do to prevent another bleed. We felt they should enjoy life rather than worry about something none of us could control.

They continued to travel. Prior to her stroke, she would pack his things for him. Now, he tried to pack his things himself. But he would find it difficult to close his luggage bag after he had done packing. In the end, his security officers helped him pack.

Prior to the stroke, she would never leave the hotel until he had left for his appointments. She did this in case he needed a particular tie or shirt. In fact, she had always set out what was appropriate for him to wear.

After the stroke, she was unable to do this. Still, he wanted her to travel with him. This was because after a hard day’s work he could talk to her about his day. The bond between them was as close as ever.

Mama was a voracious reader before the stroke. Now, her left visual field defect made reading difficult. But she persisted, using rulers to help her keep her place on the page.

Papa was convinced that exercise would be good for her. But after the stroke, she seemed sensitive to cold. So we had several wetsuits tailor-made for her in bright, cheerful colours. When they travelled, Papa would always choose hotels with swimming pools.

On one occasion, she wanted to rest rather than swim. ‘Today is a public holiday in Singapore,’ she said to him. ‘Can’t I take a rest from swimming?’ But he persuaded her to go for her swim.

As they both aged, their fitness and agility deteriorated, and aches and pains became part of their daily life. But they both put up with the difficulties stoically, grateful to have each other’s company.

On May 12, 2008, I was on medical leave and napping in my room at home. A security officer came to call me because Mama had fallen from her chair as she was having breakfast. I took one look at her and realised that the left side of her body was paralysed.

Without waiting for an ambulance, we drove her to the National Neuroscience Institute at Tan Tock Seng Hospital. I was hoping the stroke was due to an occlusion of a blood vessel, in which case a clot buster could be used and she could recover. Unfortunately, the CT scan showed a bleed into her right brain.

I called Papa and my brothers to come to the hospital. I knew there was no chance of a good outcome, but I wanted my family to hear it from the doctors.

From then till her death earlier this month, I watched my mother suffer. By last year, she did not seem aware of the people around her. She responded almost exclusively to my father’s voice and would keep awake for him to come talk to her late at night.

After seeing her suffer despite the best nursing care we could give her, my logical mind told me that death would be kinder than the life she was living. So I was confident I could control my emotions when she actually passed away.

But when it came to my turn to speak at her funeral, my voice broke and at one point I had to cover my face as it was twisted with anguish.

I was ashamed of myself. Emotion had supplanted logic as I remembered Mama.

Over the last week, two natural disasters occurred in Indonesia, killing thousands and making many more homeless. I read about the disasters in the newspaper and thought to myself that these people suffered more than I did.

But still, my mother, who had enjoyed 87 years of happy life, remained the dominant thought in my mind.

I am totally illogical and much too emotional. I had thought I could face any misfortune or tragedy, but I was wrong. The mother- daughter bond is too strong and it goes beyond logic.

Medals Don’t Matter, Doing Right Does

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[I try not to hesitate to speak up when my superiors or even the Government do something that I think is not in the best interest of Singapore. ]

[The criticism is made with the sincere wish to improve our system and to benefit Singaporeans.]

Source: The Sunday Times, Aug 1, 2010

By Lee Wei Ling


I was searching for some old books containing many of my favourite Chinese poems. My books and my room at my parents’ house have seen extensive changes since I moved to live with my brother Lee Hsien Loong’s family from 2002 to 2005.

My room at Hsien Loong’s house was too small to move more than a tenth of the books I needed. So the rest, I left in my room in Oxley Road.

In 2003, after my mother suffered a bleed into her brain, my room at my parents’ house was extensively renovated so a nurse could rest there. The nurse needed more creature comforts than I did. So a bed was placed in the room and a water heater was installed in the bathroom so she could have a warm shower.

And my books, packed in boxes, were moved into the basement. It took me two days a few weekends ago to find the books I wanted and even then, I couldn’t find several.

But by chance, I did find the nine medals that I had been awarded for topping my cohort in medical school as well as individual prizes in subjects where I was first in class. One medal that I recall was made of pure gold was missing.

I had handed it to my mother to be locked up as I have a talent for losing things. I was surprised that I felt no sense of triumph or joy when I found the medals.

In my immature youth, I had worked very hard to earn them. Indeed, 35 years ago when I was in medical school, I would study the following year’s subjects even while on vacations, reading several textbooks on each subject before the new term began. Hence, I knew not only the scientific facts that the authorities agreed about, but I was also aware of what was still controversial.

When term started and I attended the lectures, I didn’t have to take notes except when I wanted to prevent myself from falling asleep. I remember that while I was still a medical student, I accompanied my parents on a trip to Osaka.

A Mr S. Oya, an elderly gentleman who owned Teijin, a manufacturer of synthetic fibre, invited us to his house for dinner. His first wife had died and he had married a woman much younger than he was – a vivacious Japanese lady not at all sedate as one would expect a Japanese wife to be.

When my parents introduced me to her, she prophesied ‘one day you will be a famous professor’. I did not demur since that indeed was my ambition. Decades have passed since then, and my priorities in life have changed. Medals and titles now mean little to me.

What matters is that I must do right, and I should do so even if I offend people who have power over me. I have acquired the title of ‘Professor’, but that gives me no joy.

In fact, I prefer to be addressed as ‘Dr’. The title ‘professor’ has been sprinkled around liberally among the medical fraternity here, and there are some professors with whom I certainly do not wish to be grouped.

My younger brother, Lee Hsien Yang, once asked me: ‘Why do you step on powerful and sensitive toes?’

I replied: ‘But if I don’t, who will do so to put things right?’

Hsien Yang is no coward.

When in the army, to which he was bonded for eight years for accepting the President’s Scholarship as well as the Singapore Armed Forces Scholarship, he earned badges for scuba diving as well as parachuting.

He needed to get only one of the two badges, as all senior officers had to to prove to their men that they were not cowards.

Hsien Yang got both.

Like me, he likes physical challenges. But as a businessman, he knows that antagonising powerful people does not make good business sense.

But I am not a businesswoman; I am a doctor serving patients in the public sector.

Since 2008, I have also been a regular columnist in The Straits Times and The Sunday Times. I am much less important and well known than my two brothers or my sisters-in-law.

But writing columns gives me a chance to discuss social trends and to point out government policies that I think are wrong.

That does not mean my bosses cannot take action against me if they so wish.

But it is better to do what is morally correct than to be so afraid that one does not dare say ‘boo’ to our superiors.

Pay rise, bonus, promotion or demotion are much less important than doing what is right.

Besides, if I do not try to right a wrong that I am aware of, my conscience will bother me. I don’t think my temperament has changed since I was a child, but my purpose in life certainly has – and I hope it has changed for the better.

I try not to hesitate to speak up when my superiors or even the Government do something that I think is not in the best interest of Singapore.

The criticism is made with the sincere wish to improve our system and to benefit Singaporeans.

I do all this not because I wish to score points or gain glory. I do so because I owe Singapore a debt for the opportunities it has given me.

In return, people in my position should always do what they think is the best for Singapore.

Persisting Despite Everything

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[The first dinner must have been painful for him because it was less than a month before that he and Ming Yang were at a similar dinner, and at times,I saw his face drawn with pain and his eyes filled with tears.]

Source: The Sunday Times Apr 24, 2011

By Lee Wei Ling My elder brother Hsien Loong’s son Yipeng was born on Oct 7, 1982. The baby had albinism, which means he had no pigment on his skin and eyes, and his vision would be impaired. Hsien Loong phoned our father to tell him about the baby’s condition, and added: ‘He will not be able to do national service.’Loong’s late wife Ming Yang died of a heart attack three weeks after delivering the baby. I had just returned to Boston then after passing my MRCP (UK) examination, when my father phoned me to tell me that Ming Yang had died.I flew home immediately, and stayed for a month. Then I returned to Boston to continue my training in paediatric neurology.

Recently, while clearing some papers, I came across old letters exchanged between my mother and me from that period. They speak of a sad time in our family, of persisting despite everything, of keeping faith with the fundamentals.Below I reproduce a letter from my mother to me, dated Nov 25, 1982, and my reply, dated Dec 7, 1982.

My dear Ling,

Your letter of 14/11 arrived a few days ago.We (Pa and Ma) were barely stirring, about to wake, when the SOs (security officers) put through your call. We were both glad to hear your voice. You sounded more like your usual self.I was fearful you would be down and depressed and very vulnerable then to ‘falling in love’. Papa always assures me that when he ‘fell in love’ with me, it was a very carefully considered decision. He wanted someone intelligent so he could talk to her; someone healthy to bear healthy children, and someone tall and big because he wanted tall big children.The fact that I am two and a half years older than he is, was also carefully considered!

He did not discuss me with his parents, though he was very close to his mother. I hope you have inherited Papa’s approach to this very important decision, and will not allow yourself to fall in love with the wrong person, and that you will make as happy a choice as your father did. Loong has brought Yipeng to Mount Elizabeth medical centre. Dr KCY, an ophthalmologist, arranged for a British specialist, Dr MR, to see Yipeng. 

Dr MR did not tell us much that Loong did not already know. He examined Yipeng’s eyes in a darkened room with an ophthalmoscope and made what Loong cynically described as ‘comforting sounds’. He said that the pigment will probably develop when the child is between 12 and 15 years old, but he was just making a general statement, not forecasting anything for Yipeng.

We invited Loong to a poolside barbecue, and he said he would (come) and did bring Xiuqi to this second poolside barbecue. The first dinner must have been painful for him because it was less than a month before that he and Ming Yang were at a similar dinner, and at times, I saw his face drawn with pain and his eyes filled with tears.

The second dinner, he was a little more composed. He must and will get over it. But it’s so painful.

Mary Thatcher (the widow of W.S. Thatcher, my father’s former tutor at Fitzwilliam College, Cambridge University), to whom Loong had sent the two cards (one to announce Yipeng’s birth and the other Ming Yang’s death), wrote a letter to him and one to me.

She was very perceptive, and wrote that I must be grieving to see my son grieve, and that is true.

I don’t want to make you sad, Ling, but I must get it off my chest. I went to see Dr LYK and Dr CBL for a thorough check because I still have heartache. They made me do the treadmill test and took some ultrasound pictures of my heart. They said everything was fine and I quite believe them, and know it is just psychological heartache.

Look after yourself and write home.


Dear Pa, Ma & Family,

This past weekend was the first weekend since returning from Singapore when I did not have to carry my beeper, because my colleague is back from vacation.Saturday was an exceptionally warm day. I went for a long walk at Mount Auburn Cemetery. I have walked there many times before, especially last fall and this past spring and summer. The last time I walked there I was depressed over failing the MRCP exam and anxious about trying the exam again.

I remember Ming Yang wrote me a comforting letter soon after I arrived back in Boston (after failing the first MRCP exam). This time Ming Yang is gone. I felt very, very sad as I walked in the cemetery.

But cemeteries always have a calming effect on me and put life in its correct perspective. When I see graves of whole families with members dying at all ages, from babyhood to their 90s, I remember what we all know but purposely try to forget: how transient and unpredictable life is.

Ma, if you could send me at least US$3,000, I want to open a ‘First Rate Account’. I am enclosing a letter from the bank. You can see the conditions and let me know whether I am wise. I can start the account any time after 14/12/82. My current account is running low again because I have been buying quite a lot of books.

Ma, stop fretting about my falling for an American. I can’t give any 100 per cent guarantees, but have always let reason override passion in this particular matter. Besides, I am not even sure I want ever to get married.


It is now April 2011. Yipeng is a polite, gentle and determined young man of 29, a graduate of the National University of Singapore. He is still undecided about what career he wants to take on. He assures me that he does not want a routine job but one where he can contribute to society.Hsien Loong got over his grief and married Ho Ching, who has two sons, both now studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She has been a kind and sensible mother to Ming Yang’s two children as well as to her own. She has been a filial daughter-in-law and a kind and very considerate sister- in-law. And I have remained happily single, and now support my father in his old age.Life is an obstacle course. Neither moaning nor surrendering to depression can change things for the better. We have to roll with the punches, grit our teeth and carry on with life.

As a character in the Samuel Beckett novel, The Unnamable, puts it: ‘You must go on, I can’t go on, I’ll go on.’

Subsidized or not, treat all patients equally

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[My doctors know that I would come down on them like a tonne of bricks if I found they were not providing the same quality of care to subsidised patients as they were to paying ones.]

Source: The Straits Times  16 Dec 2009

By Lee Wei Ling

THOSE who have been reading my columns regularly will know that my health has been uncertain. Perhaps for that very reason, I feel keenly the ill fortunes as well as triumphs of my patients.

Today, as I write this, I feel like a ‘104-year-old’, a term that my friends would understand. It means I feel 50 years older than I really am.


But I have patients to see. Many among them would have taken leave or made special arrangements to be accompanied by a parent or caregiver in order to see me.

I could, of course, get another doctor in my department to see them, for most of my patients are subsidised and thus not allowed to choose their own doctors. But I treat my subsidised (B2 and C class) patients no differently from my full-paying (A and B1 class) patients, and provide all with the same quality of care. I also insist that all the doctors at the National Neuroscience Institute (NNI) do the same.

This ethos of caring for patients regardless of whether they are subsidised or not is sometimes absent in our hospitals, even in cases of subsidised patients with complex problems. Sometimes such patients are assigned to junior doctors.

Recently, a friend telephoned me one evening, very distressed. Her husband had had a severe head injury. I asked her who was the doctor in charge. She said she did not know. I told her to write down my name and mobile number on a piece of paper and pass it to the most senior doctor there and ask him to call me.

The moment the doctor saw the note, he telephoned his head of department. My friend had never seen or heard of the head of department before that. Other doctors in the hospital asked my friend: ‘Who are you and how are you related to Professor Lee Wei Ling?’

An hour later, the head of department called me to give me the medical details, sounding as though he had been in charge all along. The next day, a bouquet of flowers from the hospital appeared in the room of my friend’s husband. A senior doctor took care of my friend’s husband and performed every operation on him personally. My friend’s husband had been admitted as a subsidised patient because all emergency admissions are categorised as ‘subsidised’.

Our system must find an effective way of ensuring that senior doctors also treat subsidised patients. At present, it is in the economic interests of senior doctors to focus on paying patients rather than subsidised patients – and it is not always the case that doctors look beyond their economic interests. Thus we get incidents like the one I have just described. My friend’s husband should have been treated by a senior doctor as a matter of course, without my intervention.

At NNI, a subsidised patient with a complex medical problem would be seen by a senior doctor, or at least a junior doctor under a senior doctor’s supervision. My doctors know that I would come down on them like a tonne of bricks if I found they were not providing the same quality of care to subsidised patients as they were to paying ones.

Back to today: I had four glasses of ice-cold kopi-o and made it to the clinic to see my patients. I have just finished seeing all my patients and decided that doing so was the best medicine I could possibly have.

Two of my patients were young men who had been under my care for about 20 years each. One was an engineering graduate of the National University of Singapore, and the other, a polytechnic graduate; both are now gainfully employed. Two other patients were severely handicapped, and seeing them reminded me that I had no right to whine about my fate.

Another patient came with her mother. She continues to have seizures but less frequently now compared with her previous visit.

Three patients did not come. Instead, their elderly parents came and I asked the parents how the patients were doing. I knew all three well and their parents knew me well. I understood the difficulty of elderly parents having to take their handicapped adult children to the hospital by public transport.

My best reward of the day was a lady with epilepsy who has been under my care for 12 years. I casually asked her whether she was still employed.

‘Yes,’ she replied, ‘I am in the same company I was working for when I first saw you. Don’t you remember, when the person in charge of me asked for a medical report from you, you said that she could contact you personally? She never did, perhaps because she was frightened of you, so I am still working in the same company. During the recent retrenchment exercise, she lost her job and I have been promoted to take over her duties.’

If that superior had contacted me and the patient had granted me permission to release her medical information, I would have done so. Since her seizures had been brought under control within six months of her coming under my care, and since there is still much social stigma attached to epilepsy, I would have told the superior that the seizures were well controlled and would not affect my patient’s ability to carry out her duties.

When I walked out of my clinic after attending to all my patients, I felt psychologically like a 44-year-old, 10 years younger than my actual age. Which medicine can make you feel 60 years younger? More importantly, I felt I had contributed, in a small way, to human welfare.

Today was worth living though it had started badly and I am still stiff and tired. I will do my best, though at times my best is not good enough, for my patients’ medical conditions are too severe for current medical science to cure.

The writer is director of the National Neuroscience Institute. Think-Tank is a weekly column rotated among eight leading figures in Singapore’s tertiary and research institutions.

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