Team doctors use a stitch in time

Team doctors use a stitch in time
Dr Teoh Chin Sim with athletes who can turn to her medical team at the SEA Games. This is her 15th international event since the 1994 Commonwealth Games, where she was in charge of only seven athletes.

A MANGLED rugby player walks up to her, looking puzzled. "Doctor, why is the ice cream spilling from the bottom of my lip?" he asks, complaining that he has been unable to keep any of it in.

Intrigued, the doctor leans over to inspect his sticky chin, only to find a full-thickness laceration at the bottom of his lip. She quickly begins stitching it up, and tends to the other wounds on his head, which has cuts suffered during a game.

Such was the scene at the 18th SEA Games in Chiang Mai, Thailand, 20 years ago. These days, it is still all in a day's work for the same doctor, Teoh Chin Sim, Team Singapore's chief medical officer (CMO) for the SEA Games.

Dr Teoh, 50, is helming a team of over 40 medical professionals, including four other doctors, tasked with looking after the 749-strong home contingent.

It will be her 15th time at a Games and is her heaviest appointment so far.

"You could say it is a 100-fold increase," she said, referring to how she started out treating only seven athletes as a team doctor at the 1994 Commonwealth Games in Victoria, Canada.

Beyond her Games designation, Dr Teoh is a senior consultant and director of sports medicine at Khoo Teck Puat Hospital.

The qualified acupuncturist also wears other hats, including chairman of the Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) Committee of Anti-Doping Singapore. (A TUE is necessary before an athlete uses a prescribed prohibited substance or method for the treatment of a legitimate medical condition.)

Preparations for Team SG's medical team started almost two years ago with the appointment of Dr Teoh as CMO and the recruitment of the rest of the team.

Despite all preparations, being a doctor to athletes during an event often comes with a fair share of surprises as revealed by Dr Teoh's anecdotes.

In a consultation room at the Games Medical Centre recently, she recounted one of the most traumatic injuries she has witnessed, during a taekwondo bout at the 1995 Games.

"I was right there when the fracture (of his shinbone) happened. The athlete's kick met his opponent at the hip and I witnessed his leg snap in mid-air at the point of contact.

"Then, he fell to the ground and I just ran down from the stands and cut his pants open with my scissors," she described, even re-enacting the kick herself.

When asked if there is additional pressure while treating world-class athletes, whose limbs are their livelihoods and are likely to be worth millions, Dr Teoh said: "Among the medical fraternity, we work together to make the best possible medical recommendation to the athlete.

"We care for every athlete as a person, regardless of their profile. The athlete's health is primary."

Nevertheless, she noted that treating sport's big names comes with additional challenges as the attention which surrounds their medical care can make it a bit more stressful given the multitude of stakeholders involved.

Fortunately, there have been lighter moments too, such as when an official once sought Dr Teoh for treatment after being constipated for eight days.

"She was very bloated," said Dr Teoh "so, short of sending her to the hospital for an enema, I tried acupuncture."

Success followed, just 30 minutes after the acupuncture session.

While this is Dr Teoh's biggest role at the SEA Games yet, she remains unfazed by the challenges.

For instance, the Team SG medical team have been on call 24 hours a day since May 24.

"It's just like you are a reservist. You don't get a day off," she explained.

"(But) I love it and I enjoy it because every team is different and this is the biggest team I have worked with.

"It is my privilege and honour to be serving my country in this manner and that people feel I am still of use, at 50!"

yzchoo@sph.com.sg


This article was first published on June 6, 2015.
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