A Letter to a Somewhat-Stranger


Dear Nice Uncle in Bed 3,

The doctor just told me to take a history from you. She said you were planned for an operation tomorrow and I was to follow through with your hospital journey.

It is certainly tiring, I know, to have interns-after-interns asking you the same old questions over and over again. To have your curtains drawn around your cot, with so many strangers in white coats crowding around you. To have random hands palpating your belly, and cold metal stethoscopes pressing against your bare skin.

You're just lying there on your bed, taking a short post-dinner nap. There were remnants of shredded greens and clumps of soggy rice leftover on the plate. I don't blame you for not finishing your dinner. Hospital food isn't that nice, to be honest.

You look pale. Anaemic, I would say. You told me you knew of the operation - the surgeons were to remove a segment of your intestines. There was a growth, they said.

But I didn't lose any appetite. I didn't lose weight. I lived life as per normal!

You were propped up on two pillows.

I get breathless easily at night. 

You smiled in exasperation, while patting your chest.

You told me about your family - who comes visit you daily. You cringe as you mention the possibility of requiring a stoma bag.

The doctors said if the operation didn't go as well, I would need a bag to store my poop. It will look so unsightly! I pray that my operation will go well. I want to go back on my daily evening walks with my family.  

Yes uncle, I certainly hope you'll fare well too.

I took a quick glance at your case notes.

The biopsy results showed cancer.

Perhaps you're still unprepared to stomach that thought. Maybe you're trying to persuade yourself that it's all fine.

I'm sorry I didn't know what to do. I'm sorry I simply forced a smile and bade you goodbye. I'm sorry I couldn't tell you anything that you would prefer to hear.

But thank you for reminding that medicine is not just all about focusing on symptoms. Thank you for reminding me that patients feel, fear and worry. I will learn to comfort people well one day.

I wish you will have a successful surgery and recover soon.

Your family is waiting.

Stay strong.

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