Still in the midst of digital detox, celebrating a month of mindfulness and time for self. The above was from the most recent Splash! Carnival by Creasionaid on a Saturday evening on my own. Tomorrow would begin the countdown of the last 20 work days left in Raffles Hospital’s Rehabilitation Centre. In my tendency to dramatize milestones as such, I hope for this piece to shine light on the insights to the healthcare industry that this 6-month commitment has offered me, albeit limited.
The Rehabilitation Centre sees patients who require long-term care. More often than not, their recovery requires their sustained commitment and frequent dedication. I observe close cooperation between the therapists and their patients in designing treatment plans and learning therapeutic exercises (only a small fraction of the amazing work that these professionals do). It is exactly the emotional support, on top of the medical assistance, ‘prescribed’ by the therapists that makes the nature of rehabilitation work by allied health professionals incredibly inspiring for me.
Thankful for the opportunity to shadow therapists and encounter patients on a personal level in treatment rooms, I hear countless stories everyday as our conversations revolve around stories of how they got injured, how they lead their day-to-day lives differently now and anything else at all that matters to them in this time. They could be stories of pain (and painkillers), of inconvenience (and public insensitivity), or of mixed feelings (sometimes, despair). From the days of the Future of Us Engagement Sessions, I have gained insight on gaps in Singapore’s healthcare system. For too long, we have turned to doctors for diagnosis and treatment regardless of where our needs lie on the spectrum of possible forms of “healthcare”. Our understanding of “healthcare” is limited to what really is “disease-care” – the Accident and Emergency hospital departments and the all-in-one General Practitioners in polyclinics. Potential in aspiring healthcare professionals and a more well-informed public should see this evolve, slowly but surely.
We all desire ‘healthcare’, not ‘disease-care’. “No time” is a common excuse for any inaction amongst the local population. The rat race for financial security in a culture like ours has (almost) necessitated long working hours as a testament of diligence. Herein lies our hidden assumption that hard work will definitely translate into results and financial gains. A large proportion of locals who visit us are the elderly. The reality that our demographic changes will create an ageing population is not as scary as the truth that our lifestyle will lead to most of our elderly ageing in sickness. Years down the road, with the urgency for answers, some may say “Singapore’s sickly, aged population today can be attributed to the lack of foresight from the young of yesterday”. For as long as we can help it, I hope that we can focus on prevention rather than cure.
Developing an individual responsibility for our own health should be top priority: the government can subsidize the cost of screening tests and medical check-ups but it would take an understanding of the importance of prevention to bring ourselves to these clinics for regular check-ups. The value of prevention is often underestimated because absence is more difficult to quantify (and hence, justify). It is easier to justify money spent on a cough syrup to cure a cough, than to justify money spent on supplements to enhance our immune system, and “prevent” a cough. Who knew if the cough would necessarily happen anyway?
Having learned the impossibility of utilitarianism and the failings of communism, I understand the need to manage my expectations in our society developing a sense of shared responsibility toward our nation’s health. Pessimism aside, we can still strive towards our ideals so we can close the gap between “what it is” and “what it could be” as effectively as possible. A question I’ve often revisited since I’ve worked in the hospital is, “how might we, as a society, decide to do away with cigarettes?” For as long as the environment we live in has substantial numbers of smokers, our common aggregate for air cleanliness and hence lung health will remain lower than possible. In that same way, we will continue to develop spinal injuries in a matter of time for as long as we propagate long working hours in front of the desk and our digital devices.
In spite of the abovementioned qualms on the limited (though growing) focus on prevention and the lack of shared responsibility, months at the hospital has only left me more hopeful. Hopeful because of the growing allied health industry and because of the clear commitment of many patients, dedicated to their recovery amidst other priorities. I appreciate the sense of commitment these patients have especially because it is a commitment that comes only with privilege – to be able to put aside other priorities and commit financially and emotionally to treatment is a decision not everyone can make. The commitment to healthcare doesn’t come from just individuals but as a consensus in a community. I am hopeful that we will find means of reconciling one another’s limitations so as to strive towards a healthier society. Not just one with less sickness, but one with more well-being.