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Food for Thought

28 March 2009

By Dr Albert Lim Kok Hooi

Doctor, dine at the table of science!

It amazes me to think how old I am. I grew up in a time when notions like “wind” (angin, hong, foong to use the vernacular) and “heatiness” (panas, yeet hei) were all pervasive.

A woman who has just given birth was told not to take a cold shower or wash her hair as “wind” would enter her body and many years on she would be afflicted with painful, crippling arthritis. Any sore throat or swelling in the neck was due to “heatiness”. Measles and chicken pox were every child’s due.

Without them, growing up was not natural and their bodies would be harmed in strange, mysterious ways.

If a woman did not menstruate for reasons other than pregnancy, the bad blood would accumulate and cause her to be very ill.

It was a time when leukaemia was attributed to germs. Polio was rife. HIV/AIDS was not even an accepted disease entity.

Things moved on with a better understanding of the human body and what causes disease. Or so I thought. Listen in today on any doctor consulting a patient in a typical Malaysian clinic. Many patients have really no idea what a human body is made up of and how it works. Knowledge of the causation of diseases is even more abysmal.

Sadly, a handful of doctors readily agree to concepts like “wind” and “heatiness” to be in step with their patients’ cultural beliefs. They do not wish to alienate and upset them. To educate patients about their bodies and how and why their bodies can malfunction is surely one of the most important roles of a doctor.

Notions about the harm hair washing can do in the early post-partum can be amusing. It is a good way of fending off the amorous husband who had been abstinent for nine months!

Some health and medical myths are sadly not that benign. I recently consulted a cancer patient who had lost half his weight in a matter of three months. (from 80kg to 40kg). It was not the cancer which caused his drastic and rapid weight loss. He had starved himself with the idea that he could starve the cancer to death. He did not think much of surgery, chemotherapy, radiotherapy and molecularly targeted therapy as ways of treating cancer.

What was he doing in my clinic? Probably to convince me about his novel way of treating cancer.

I also have major problems with some patients who are already undergoing mainstream treatment. There was a patient who had a large, purulent (pus producing), offensive–smelling, ulcerated breast cancer. I spent hours listening to her brand of health science and cancer treatment.

This article was first published in The Star on 11. January 2009

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