Healer, teacher

As a haematologist, Dr Ronald Ng wants to educate his patients to help them grasp the scientific truth in medicine.

I decided to specialise in haematology because...

It was pure serendipity. When I was a doctor in training, a woman came in all blue. She had taken Lysol, a cleaning agent. This can be fatal unless the amount ingested is so small that it will not kill the person.

The chemical had altered her blood cells causing her to turn blue. My mentor, a clinical haematologist, and I investigated this phenomenon and published our findings in Blood, a prestigious medical journal.

I was just 24 years old then and it gave me my first taste of the intellectual excitement that haematology could bring.

Unfortunately, the woman did not survive.

The human body is fascinating because...

It is intriguing how white blood cells respond to infection. They respond to a host of chemicals and, in turn, release a host of other chemicals calling for reinforcements.

Most of the particles, while homing in to kill the bacteria, are killed themselves.

If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I would be a..

Healer-educator. I like to explain to patients the science behind what we do, for example, the results of clinical trials on medication.

I feel that people should understand more about statistics, so as to grasp the scientific truth in medicine.

I have come across all types of cases...

Haematology deals with the blood, so I mostly see problems related to white blood cells, platelets, clotting and bleeding. I have treated patients with leukaemia and lymphoma too.

A recent case was a woman with an auto-immune disease - she had antibodies that were destroying her own red blood cells. The standard treatment is to give steroids which can, however, cause side effects. She decided to go for alternative medicine.

One night, she came back to the hospital with a haemoglobin level of around 1.5g/dL, the lowest I have ever seen and about 10 per cent of the normal level.

She nearly died. I see this case as a warning about the dangers of blind faith in alternative medicine.

A typical day for me would be...

Work starts at 9am and ends at around 5pm. I see patients in my clinic and also ward patients at Mount Elizabeth Hospital.

Currently, my family is overseas. My wife, Tisa Ho, is the executive director of the Hong Kong Arts Festival. I have two grown-up sons: one teaches computer science at Stanford University while the other is a lawyer in England.

I spend my time with my books as I am an avid reader. I do not watch television at all. I am also a very active Freemason and I am kept busy travelling overseas for Masonic meetings.

As a qualified mediator, I also help people settle disputes amicably at the Singapore Mediation Centre.

I love patients who are...

It is heartening to see patients whom I had treated many years ago survive. Many were leukaemia and lymphoma patients in their youth. They are now middle-aged and I am seeing them for middle-aged problems.

Patients who get my goat are...

Honestly, I do not think I have ever come across such people.

One little known fact about alternative treatment is...

People can be fooled by the placebo effect. This happens when one believes he is cured because of the treatment given, when, in fact, it is due to his own healing power or simply a matter of perception. This could by why many subscribe to alternative treatment, such as acupuncture and homeopathy.

I am not discrediting the methods; I just think that people should be more discerning.

Things that put a smile on my face are...

Smiley faces. I collect objects with smiley faces because I am a happy person. It is nice when patients remember this when they travel abroad and get me something for my collection.

It breaks my heart when...

I get upset when I see a person suffering when there is an available but unaffordable treatment.

I would not trade places for the world because...

I really enjoy practising medicine because I know that I have helped save lives and relieved people's suffering.

My best tip...

Think carefully before proceeding with medical-related decisions. For instance, for herbal remedies, check their efficacy first. Do not believe product claims too easily.

For guidelines on exaggerated or dubious claims, the Health Sciences Authority's website has very useful information. Another recommended website is www.quackwatch.com.


This article was first published in Mind Your Body, The Straits Times .