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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

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Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Excerpt #49: The Gratitude Of Plastic Surgery Patients

Excerpt # 49:  The Gratitude Of Plastic Surgery Patients

         We had plastic surgery clinic every few months, with the plastic surgeons from GHKL coming down to JB to do the cases. We had this young boy with a simple cleft palate. It should have been a routine case. The patient being a child, I suggested to the consultant anesthesiologist that maybe he, instead of the medical officer, should do the case. He assured me that he had full confidence in his medical officer and that she had many years of experience under her belt with young patients. The plastic surgeon expressed no preference so I did not push the issue.

         The surgery was flawless. As we proceeded to our second case, there was a commotion in the recovery room. To shorten the story, the patient had an apneic (cessation of breathing) episode that was not recognized early as he was not being monitored closely enough. He suffered brain injury. Totally preventable. Today all surgical patients are fitted with oxygen monitors during and immediately after surgery.

         That tragic fate of that young boy reminded me of the earlier catastrophic abortion case. Despite the decades that have gone by, my sorrow in recalling both tragedies has not been dulled.

         I was in awe of my plastic surgeon colleagues, Drs. Lal Kumar and Yusof Said, who came down from KL to help us. Both could have done very well money-wise in private practice but chose instead to be in government service, and with all the constraints. The unbounded gratitude of their patients and their families was reward enough for them.

         I did not realize the depth of this emotion until I saw a young woman with severe cleft palate and lip. It was obvious that she would need at least two and possibly three stages of repair. As the slots for the upcoming session were already full, I booked her for the next, three months hence. They were simple village folks; they accepted my pronouncement with no question. Her parents did not even attempt to convince me to squeeze her in. It was their fate to wait and that was it. Besides they were pleased that somebody had agreed to do it, never mind when. In the village, time had no meaning.

         Something about their quiet and graceful acceptance tugged at me. I asked the father if there was any special reason to do her sooner. Again, three months’ wait would be fine, he replied. Remembering my old village courtesies where you had to ask at least three times before accepting a “No!” I repeated my query.

         “There is something … ,” the father hesitated. He had difficulty uttering it. After many promptings from the nurse and me, he finally let out that her wedding would be next month. He thought it would be nice if the gaps in her lips could be closed when she would be on the pelamin! (wedding dais).

         Yes, every parent would like their daughter to be beautiful on her wedding day. I re-booked her for the first slot the very next day. Later when it was time to remove the sutures, I took her to a private room with a nurse, a female intern, and her parents only. She already felt the vast improvement right after surgery with the gap in her lips gone. When I was done removing her sutures, I handed her a hand mirror and stepped back while she stared at herself in the mirror. No words were spoken; none were needed. She wiped away her tears and soon everyone in the room too were teary-eyed, including her father and me. He shook my hand with both his palms and repeatedly offering prayers of gratitude, “Alhamdulillah! Allah hu Akhbar!” (Praise be to Allah! God is Great!)

         The girl did not say anything; she didn’t have to. Her expressions said it better than words could.

         Non-Muslim readers may wonder why the father did not thank me and the plastic surgeon. When Muslims wish to express their gratitude or appreciation, they would utter the phrase, Alhamdulillah, Allahu Akhbar! It is a short-hand version of “Thank you Great Lord for giving the surgeon such a talent that he could help my daughter!” It is an indirect compliment. Likewise, when you hear a beautiful rendition of the Koran. Thank you, Lord for giving her that voice and talent that she could share with us! To me that is a humbler and more heartfelt way of expressing your gratitude, a recognition that your talent is ultimately the gift from Almighty Allah, and for you to share it with your fellow beings.

Excerpt #50:  Issues With Trainees

Excerpted from the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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