BARBARA Yen, was a medical social worker at Universiti Malaya Medical Centre, Kuala Lumpur for 25 years before retiring in 2001. In the course of her work, she had met patients with various illnesses and even interacted with some personally. Lending an ear, she had patiently listened to their stories – “some tragic, scary, rewarding, funny and humorous”.
“The hospital was the first place where many social problems could be found,” said Yen.
She started at UMMC’s Department of Medicine for four years with specialists and attended lectures and informal teaching during ward rounds.
She came across patients diagnosed with various illnesses – diabetes, cancer, heart problems, neurological and renal conditions, pulmonary diseases, epilepsy, depression and others.
Yen encountered many incidents which she shared in her book, Moment2Moment: Breathless In Kuala Lumpur! One such occasion was when she reunited a leukaemia patient with his estranged siblings to fulfil his last wish of having them by his death bed. He survived for two weeks, long enough for most family members to see him before his passing.
She shed tears of relief and joy that the patient and his family could reconcile and move on. “The patient could die in peace with no fear, guilt or regret,” Yen said of that experience. She also recalled that once this same patient refused to let her go home because he feared he would “die alone”.
Yen also never imagined playing Cupid, of all things. There was a young manager who was downcast when he found out that he needed long term dialysis. To uplift his spirits, Yen introduced him to a girl, who was a patient with successful renal transplant. After that fateful exchange of phone numbers, the two hooked up.
“Six months later, they were married and brought me a cake,” said Yen.
“Later, the manager had a successful transplant overseas and the couple adopted a daughter.”
However, gifts of appreciation have come in strange forms for Yen, particularly an incident in which she was amused by her encounter with an orang asli man.
“His child was admitted to the hospital and was suffering from malnutrition. He brought a gift in a cardboard box. It was a live rooster,” Yen recalled.
Yen declined the gift and implored the man take the rooster home instead “as his family would need it more”.
Thankfully, he agreed. Majorie Chiew