August 2015 | Issue 19


My Humanity in Medicine


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Dr Mary Wong
Senior House Tutor, William Osler​ House

​​Mr T staggered into the pre-operative ward, two hours late. “Just give me another
three years, no, two! That should be enough! Please don’t cut off my leg! How will I
work?” he pleaded in Mandarin. It was obvious to the cancer surgeon and me that he
was intoxicated. We looked at his thigh bone tumour, the size of a football. We looked
into his eyes and saw the despair, the denial and the bargaining. Our hearts went out
to him, knowing that the resection of the tumour with hip rotationplasty (a partial
limb-saving procedure), would have to wait. We needed to talk to Mr T, and listen to
​what was in his heart and on his mind.

Humanitarianism is more than voluntarism and activism. I find it relevant as a daily
way of life. When we look into the face of each person and see a human being of equal
value and dignity as ourselves, and consider​ that he is someone’s child, parent, spouse
or sibling, treasured, beloved and respected, we accord him the same. As we listen
to his special story, perceive his pain and strength, his challenges and perseverance,
we may stop seeing him only as a patient with an illness, a challenging diagnosis, a
jigsaw puzzle to assemble, an organ to fix. We will be humbled and recognise the
​privilege of sharing in the most private and vulnerable moments in his life.

Nothing will sustain you more potently than the power to recognise in your humdrum
routine, as perhaps it may be thought, the true poetry of life – the poetry of the
commonplace, of the plain, toil-worn woman, with their loves and their joys, their
sorrows and their griefs.” – Sir William Osler