Surgery is like cooking, doctor says

I specialise in foot and ankle disorders because...

I was inspired and encouraged by my department chairman, Professor Wong Hee Kit, to specialise in orthopaedics.

When I was doing my training in this specialisation, I realised that our understanding and treatment of foot and ankle conditions lagged behind what we could do for other joints, such as the knees and hips.

Many patients, who suffered from deformities and trauma in the foot and ankle, were being managed conservatively without good results.

I wanted to contribute to the development of new understanding and surgical techniques to elevate the status of foot and ankle surgery.

The feet and ankles are fascinating because...

They are complex arrangements of multiple - more than 20 - joints and bones that have the flexibility to adapt to different surfaces and for sports such as football. The feet provide stability and durability to bear our weight over a lifetime.

One little known fact about our feet and ankles is...

They are unsung heroes. An average person takes about 5,000 steps in a day. Assuming a lifespan of about 75 years, over a lifetime, a person would walk about 136 million steps. That is twice around the circumference of the Earth. This gives us an idea of the punishment our feet have to put up with.

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

Be a chef in a boutique restaurant. Surgery is like cooking in many ways - working with your hands and requiring precision and a keen sense of timing to get a good result. I have always enjoyed cooking, though I do not claim to be a good cook.

As foot and ankle surgery needs to be individualised, I need more time to communicate the surgical plan to the patient.

This is like a chef coming out of the kitchen to explain to a diner how he is customising a dish and cooking it based on the diner's preference.

A typical day for me would...

Start at between 7.15 and 8am, typically with a meeting where we discuss cases and the latest in medical research.

I am particularly enthusiastic every Tuesday morning when surgeons from the National University Hospital and other hospitals meet to discuss difficult foot and ankle cases.

I usually spend the rest of the day in the operating room or clinic where I would see patients with various lower limb problems and review post-operative patients to ensure their rehabilitation is going well.

Every Wednesday morning, I hop over to the University Health Centre at the National University of Singapore to see students and staff with various sports injuries and orthopaedic conditions.

About once a week, I may have a meeting at the end of the day. That would mean going home a little later than usual.

I spend Saturday mornings on administrative work and medical reports. Once that is done, I pick up my son from my in-laws' home, which I always look forward to. We would then do something fun, such as ride the cable car or go swimming.

I have come across all types of cases...

From children with flat feet to young adults with sport injuries or bunions and elderly people with arthritis and deformities in their feet.

I love patients who are...

Actively interested in their condition and motivated to improve their function. They often get the best results as they put effort into rehabilitation after the operation.

Patients who get my goat are...

Those who are confrontational and have a short temper. Over time, I have come to realise that by taking the effort to understand them, we can discover why they feel that way.

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

Seeing patients, who were unable to do things they enjoyed before, recover and regain their function.

A patient in her mid-50s wanted very badly to climb the Great Wall of China but could not do so due to a tendon injury in her foot. Recently, after we reconstructed the tendon, she was able to do so and this really brought a smile to my face.

It breaks my heart when...

Patients give up on themselves and do not seek or agree to further treatment that can potentially make them better.

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

This is what I find fulfilment in doing. Our professions often become part of who we are and coming to work every day and fixing people's feet and ankles has become part of what defines me as a person.

My best tip is...

Look after your feet as many foot conditions can either be improved or, to some extent, prevented by wearing good footwear.

Choose shoes that are suitable for the shape of your feet and your choice of activity. If you have broad feet, opt for shoes with wide toeboxes. If you have uncomfortable flat feet, use shoes with arch supports.


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