Racing with time, seeking healthcare with optimism

February 25, 2010
Singapore Democrats

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Eddy P. Kasdiono

The Jakarta Post

Seeking medical treatment in Singapore has become a choice for many Indonesians. They have various reasons for doing so, such as excellent service, medical expertise and complete equipment. There are also others who combine their medical trip with a holiday and shopping.

Early last month there were brief reports in several Medan newspapers about the medical services in Singapore, where North Tapanuli Regent Torang Lumbantobing had a race with death. The regent had a heart attack on Jan.1 in his hometown and was taken to Medan the following day. After staying for two days in a Medan hospital, he suffered another heart attack. His family then decided to take him to Singapore.

In the morning, one of Torang’s relatives called Mount Elizabeth Hospital in Singapore, which immediately arranged for him to be transferred to the city-state. A few hours later, at about 3 p.m. on Jan.5, the regent was onboard a chartered plane from Medan’s Polonia Airport heading for Singapore. The operation, which lasted almost seven hours, was performed the following day.

Torang took about three weeks to recover from the operation. On Feb.2, he returned to Medan. Torang was thankful for Mount Elizabeth hospital’s quick response. He could not imagine what would have happened if had been late in getting treatment. Therefore, he was not too concerned about the medical expense as he felt it was a miracle that he was still alive.

Helen Tambunan went to Singapore for treatment twice, in November and December 2009. The 72-year-old woman had an intestinal problem, prompting her to visit Singapore in November. She was treated at Raffles Hospital

A month later, Helen returned to Singapore when she had colonic polyps, which had her in despair. The good service that Raffles Hospital gave her encouraged her to be treated at the same hospital.

Raffles Hospital’s medical personnel displayed a good attitude, which revived her spirit of life, Helen said.

Helen was handled by Dr Eric the Cin Hoat, whom she said supported her psychologically with his great attitude. “I felt that I was totally accepted and I became very optimistic,” she said.

According to her, the doctor clearly explains many things related to a patient’s ailment. “He is not loath to talk. He explained my condition before I asked him to do so. I was given a list of healthy foods to eat and habits to follow.”

Effectiveness and efficiency are highly emphasized at the hospital, which is vital for international patients, Helen said.

“For the sake of efficiency, I was once asked to undergo several related medical checks at the same time and it turned out that it was useful as it helped the doctor diagnose my main illness.”

Another thing that impressed her regarding her treatment at Raffles was that she was not asked to take a lot of medicine. After the operation, Helen was not given any medicine at all, which prompted her to query the doctor. According to the doctor, her body would recover by itself. “I think they (doctors) give medicine based on trial,” she said.

According to her, the hospital is also excellent when it comes to medical records. “I can get complete photos of my operation.”

Aside from medical treatment, the hospital provides non-medical services, which are helpful for ailing international patients. These include pickup service from Changi International Airport.

The hospital also has a hostel charging affordable rates on the hospital’s ninth floor. “My accompanying family stayed at the hospital comfortably and peacefully,” she said.

Abi, 36, an Indonesian oil industry professional who works in Dubai, also experienced the efficiency of Singaporean medical services. In December last year when Abi was on leave in Indonesia, he called he called the Singapore National Eye Centre (SNEC) a week before he was to return to his job as he was having problems with his vision. He talked to Dr. Yeo Kim Teck, a well-known eye doctor in Singapore who was recommended to him by a friend.

On the phone, Dr. Yeo adjusted the consultation and operation schedule with Abi’s holiday. “I only needed to spare four days to transit in Singapore,” Abi said. Everything was efficient and convenient. Abi was picked up at the airport and taken to the eye center, where he spent the night before meeting Dr. Yeo the next morning for a consultation.

“Dr. Yeo was very friendly and his explanation was so convincing,” said Abi, who asked to have operation two days later. The next day, Abi met up with two former campus mates from the Bandung Institute of Technology, who visited him at the eye center and they went to a coffee shop for a catch-up. The eye surgery gave Abi a pleasant experience. He returned home to Jakarta with happy feelings. He had better vision and had good time with old friends.

Mien had a different experience. The working woman had long suffered from cervical cancer. Her ordeal began in 1998, when Indonesia was in economic crisis. At first she had nausea, a headache and no appetite. She was initially diagnosed with anemia. Her eldest sister, who was an internist, took part in her thorough examination and it turned out that she had cervical cancer. After that Mien underwent intensive health treatment and took several kinds of medicine routinely.

Almost two years passed, yet she did not get better. In mid-2000, the mother of one fainted in her office a number of times. Her supervisor granted her sick leave and gave her the opportunity to work from home. She was weak and remained bedridden for about two months.

“I remember crying when my friends came to see me. I was skin and bones, and couldn’t move a lot. I felt nailed to the bed,” she said.

Her determination to get well resurfaced upon seeing her son studying.

“At that time my son was facing the elementary school final exam. He studied hard by my bedside until late at night.” She was motivated to recover to raise her only child. “My husband had started staying out late; who would look after my child?”

Being determined to find the best treatment, she started looking for information about healthcare abroad. After her sister suggested she go to Germany, she started to correspond with a professor at the university where she used to study. A close friend then suggested that she contact doctors in Singapore, which she did. It turned out that Singaporean doctors were more responsive. They exchanged emails before she received a call from a Mount Elizabeth hospital doctor.

“They asked me carefully about all of my symptoms, diagnosis and treatment.” Mien was impressed by the doctors’ empathy. She said they were very careful and explained the chances of recovery and a medical plan.

After one month of long-distance consultations, Mien decided to fly to Singapore, taking along all her medical records and a list of all the drugs she was taking.

Upon meeting the doctors, Mien was again impressed by their empathy. They seemed to regard her as a partner in fighting the disease together. The doctors did not always sit behind their desk during consultations with her, putting her at easy with their informal manner. They also seemed to allow unlimited time for consultation. She eventually gained a lot of knowledge and was better able to understand her disease.

“They did not treat me as a passive patient, who should just accept any treatment offered. They gave me knowledge, asking me to discuss my condition so that I was actively engaged.”

Mien felt her optimism rise due to the medical staff’s treatment of her. She was sure that the doctors really knew what they were doing. They always explained any development and her medical plan. The young mother’s physiological condition also improved. She became very cooperative and enthusiast to observe any developments in her body.

It is almost nine years since she visited Mount Elizabeth hospital for the first time and Mien is thankful that her cancer was stopped in its tracks. Every year she visits Singapore for a checkup.

“And also for a holiday with my son.” She also has emotional ties with the doctors and can phone them at any time.