Race to save lives

Changi General Hospital's (CGH) Dr Siau Chuin says he is like a sprinter and time is of the essence in his line of work.

I decided to specialise in respiratory and critical care because...

Early in my training, intensive care was not as developed as it is now and I felt that patients who are in the intensive care unit (ICU) are possibly the people in the hospital who are most ill. I felt there was a need to cater to such patients.

It is great to see that the specialty has evolved since I started and there is currently a movement towards recognising the work that ICU doctors do as a specialty. This means that training can be more structured.

The lungs are fascinating because...

They provide an essential function for life. When the lungs do not work properly, life support and critical care become necessary.

This intimate link is one of the reasons respiratory doctors tend to do a fair amount of ICU work.

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

Sprinter because time is of the essence. The biggest challenge in my job is that I am given a really short time to piece things together and execute a plan.

It's like running a race. There are tasks I need to complete fast but every step has to be performed well to achieve the best possible outcome for the patient.

I have come across all types of cases...

I encounter patients who are very, very sick. There were times when I did not expect to see certain patients again because I could not be sure they would survive. However, the gratifying thing is that there are always people who manage to beat the odds and get better.

A year ago, I treated a man for a life-threatening lung infection. He was then transferred to another hospital and I did not know what happened to him. But a few days ago, I received a lantern made of red packets for Chinese New Year made by him and his wife.

A typical day for me would be...

I take my youngest daughter, four, to kindergarten at 7am. I have a son, six, and another daughter, seven. Then, I head to the hospital, where I spend most of the morning doing ward rounds.

Afternoons are spent in clinical consultations with outpatients. I also do procedures such as bronchoscopy to inspect the airways for respiratory diseases and do another ward round in the evening.

I am also part of the medical emergency team at Changi General Hospital. Our aim is to prevent ward patients from deteriorating through early intervention. When there is concern about a patient's condition, the team is alerted. We then take the necessary measures.

When I knock off at 6pm, I pick up my three children from childcare and primary school.

My wife, 33, is a housewife. After dinner on weekdays, I supervise my children in their schoolwork.

The downside to my job is that I have to work on weekends. However, I spend whatever time I have left with my family. We may watch a movie or go to the beach.

I love patients who...

Try to cope and make the best of their health situation. It is always nice when they manage to remain well.

Patients who get my goat are...

Those who miss appointments and neglect to take their medication despite my advice. It's quite sad to see a patient suffering from a near-fatal asthma attack, for example, because he decided to take matters into his own hands.

One little known fact about asthma is...

It can be controlled. Not only that, one does not need to alter one's lifestyle because of it or have one's daily life severely hampered.

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

When the patient responds positively to treatment.

Sometimes, when a patient is at the brink and when none of what we do seems to work, we may decide to try a long shot.

When it does make a crucial difference, it is a very good day indeed.

It breaks my heart when...

Despite doing everything we can, the patient does not respond to the treatment quickly enough.

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

It is a blessing that my interest and work are in tune. I enjoy my work and that is the most anyone can ask for.

My best tip...

Listen to your body. If you feel unwell, seek medical attention early.

Unfortunately, when we are young, we think we are invincible. From time to time, I see a patient and wonder if things would have been different if something had been done about his condition earlier.


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


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