Friday, November 21, 2014

Disease of the Heart

"Yesterday she came back to life..after having literally died for 10 minutes.
It was the scariest thing I've seen in my life!", 
said the staff nurse with a morbid sort of excitement, almost gleefully.

"Anyways, both of you can take her blood glucose reading", she said. 
It was music to the ears of my clinical partner and I - two typically UPSA-obsessed medical students.

"She is very poorly..she won't get better again. We are waiting for her son to fly in from America tomorrow morning to see her", she continued. 
("...for the last time", she could have added.)

So my clinical partner and I, armed with the blood glucose and ketone monitoring kit thingy, approached the bed of the lady who came back from the dead yesterday.
Around her machines beeped and sighed; as if lamenting the situation, as if grudgingly acknowledging the futility of the task they have been set up to do - to keep her in an artificial state of life.

Then again, was she really alive? 
I mean,
her brain is present..but her thoughts were most likely not.
Her lungs exchanging gases..but only with the persuasion of those sighing machines.
Her anatomy complete..but yet, very much like a piece of meat which though has not yet decomposed, is already past its date of expiry.

She lies down there asleep, never to wake up again; a living corpse.
She still exists, but I dare not say she is still alive.

If those thoughts were on my mind, I pushed them aside to focus on the task at hand 
as I took her hand, still warm (my hands ironically colder than those of a dying lady),
pricked her finger, and tried to coax a drop of blood out of her.

Bumbling medical student that I was, though, I tried and failed a few times - one time I would drop the sample collecter to the floor, on the next try the blood would stubbornly refuse to come out, etc etc.
The only comfort I could draw from the situation was that my clinical partner was just as clumsy.

As we struggled on incompetently by the patient, I noticed the staff nurse in conversation with another healthcare professional (the pharmacist?).
I no longer remember what they said - but what I recall was the cheerful nature of the chat.
It struck me as disrespectful somewhat: here was a lady who was about to die, at the very latest, in the next 48 hours (if she isn't already classed as dead) - but there you are chatting away like nothing of significance is going on!
This lady, lying prone on the bed, is a person - a human being was once upon a time born into this world, grew up with loved ones, probably went to school somewhere, went to work, fell in love, became a mother herself (maybe even a grandmother?).
God knows the joy and grief she went through in this experience called Life; and how, along that journey, she has touched the lives of those around her - her loved ones, her friends, her acquaintances, or even strangers.

To put it simply, this is a lady who has a life story..and we, in this ward, today, have received the honour of becoming part of the final chapter of that tale. 
It struck me as disrespectful
because of how matter-of-factly the nurse and the pharmacist(?) treated such a profound fact.

But then I took a look at myself
and saw a medical student 
struggling to get blood 
out of a dying lady's finger
just to get an UPSA signed off.

Who was I to talk about disrespect?

*          *          *

Later on a palliative care nurse spoke to my clinical 
partner and I.

What she said, I still remember - and could very well resonate throughout my medical career - 
as she questioned:

"What we are doing now - taking obs, sticking needles into thislady once every hour, blowing her up with IV fluid - is it really for the patient?

"or do we actually do this for our own benefit? For us healthcare professionals to feel like we are still able to do something..?"

*          *          *

In these past few weeks the PBL cases have been about diseases of the heart:
AF, CCF, ACS, MI, and the like.

But I've developed the feeling 
that the most horrifying (and possibly most dangerous)
disease of the heart
is when we - the doctors, nurses, and other healthcare professionals -
become numb to the passing on of our patients from this life to the next.

And my fear at this point of my training?
Is that this disease is taking root in my heart as well.

P.S. I do not deny that healthcare professionals have to 'build a shield around their hearts' in order to protect themselves from the emotional demands of this profession; in order to operate more professionally for the patient's benefit.

I just fear that we will go too far and stop caring; in a field where caring for others is the core of what we do.

P.P.S. We did not get the UPSA signed off that day - instead getting a telling off for taking nearly an hour to get blood glucose and ketone readings from the patient (in our defence, we were distracted by the palliative care nurse!) 

- dedicated to a patient who, at the time this is written, has likely already left this world for the next. 
Though I have inadvertently become only an insignificant part of the final chapter of your life story, 
you have become a significant part of this chapter of my life story: 
the chapter in which I try becoming a good doctor -

Tuesday, November 18, 2014


Allah has spread the 5 solat throughout the day
like paradise islands in this ocean called the Dunya -
so that at set times of the day
we can go ashore,
take refuge, take a break
before we continue the difficult swim
through the Dunya.

But instead we can't bear
to stay too long on these God-given islands
(Naudzubillah..maybe we don't even visit them!)
and prefer to stay all day in stormy waters.

Take a long hard look at your daily schedule:

Are the five daily prayers
a sanctuary from worldly concerns,
or merely 
just another appointment
to add to that busy schedule?
Just another event to be rushed through?

Enjoy your solat..
take it slow,
feed your spiritual needs;

you have nothing to lose but the anxiety in your heart.

Friday, August 22, 2014


To: Muhammad Lam

This was your earlier question, paraphrased:

"So you don't care about those people who died on that plane lah..
even though they're Malaysian, closer to you?
You only care about your 'Muslim brothers and sisters' in Gaza lah..??"

After years having not spoken to you,
I've forgotten that you were, and still are,
the lovable pessimist;
my eternal debate teammate/opponent

And put on the spot very suddenly by your accusation/query,
I answered "Yes" (big mistake)
Followed later by my awkward statement
"Muslim doesn't have to mean Al-Qaeda lah.."

Yup. Obviously not the best answer.
(Kalau debate, confirm I have to answer a lot of POIs at this point)

I know writing this after hours of thinking it over is kinda cheating
(confirm cannot do in an actual debate).
But your question was a very good one;
definitely worthy of a better answer than the one I gave.

So here is my 'scripted', but HONEST answer:

I still remember the morning after MH17 crashed.
Eating sahur with my family I was silent as always,
but on that day not because I was sleepy;
it was because I felt that I've just had a brush with death.

Because the route MH17 flew, over Ukraine,
is most probably the exact same route which I took
when I myself flew to the UK two years ago
(my transit was at Amsterdam).

That morning, in my mind,
I was wondering if any of my friends were on MH17,
and also I was thinking:
"It could have been me on that plane"

So your statement is correct, Lam:
in a sense, those people who died on MH17
ARE closer to me than those in Gaza are.


But the next part of your statement
is also spot on:
I DO care very much about my brothers and sisters in Gaza.

And yes,
a large part of that care comes from the fact
that they are fellow Muslims.

I am not ashamed to admit that.

But allow me to quote the cliche:
"You don't have to be Muslim
to care about Palestine.
You just have to be human."

(Saja quote a cliche..I know cliches get on your nerves) ;)

Point is, the fact that so many non-Muslims
are so aware of the Gaza crisis
is because it is a HUMANITARIAN crisis.


Of course I am affected by the loss of Malaysian lives,
and the grief of Malaysian family members.
People who talk and look like me.
Because I am Malaysian.

I am also not ashamed to admit that.


But as I write this
so many people are living continuously in Gaza
in conditions worst
than those who died instantly on MH17.


Both incidents tug on my heartstrings.
Because both are tragedies.
Both lives ruined by injustice.

So today I join the rest of my country
in remembering those who were lost on MH17.
But I don't apologise
for also remembering my brothers and sisters in Gaza.

I am Muslim first.
That doesn't make me any less Malaysian.

With love,
The lovable optimist;
your eternal debate teammate/opponent

P.S. see you at dinner tomorrow, insyaAllah. I kinda miss our conversations, believe it or not

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

I'm Keeping the Beard

So many judgemental people out there
when it comes to non-hijabis

"What's wrong with her??"
"Showing off-lah tu"

I wonder how these judgements were made..
what was the basis of their comments?
Do they know these non-hijabis personally?
or at least TRIED to understand them -
their personalities,
their backgrounds,
their knowledge of the Deen?

Funny, too, that many of these Haram Police are men

How can they know what a woman goes through
when she first wears the hijab;

The wordless protests of family and friends,
the discrimination at work,
the hateful looks from strangers,
or at the very least
the disapproval of a culture
which views the hijab as
"Melayu" (if she's not Malay-lah)

The closest to this woman's experience
that a man can go through
(in my humble opinion)
is if he suddenly chooses one day
to grow a beard.

(And no, not those Robert Downey Jr.-type goatees
but a full-fledged beard.
As the Prophet (peace be upon him) said
when it comes to beards:
"Let it flow")

And no I am not justifying the act of not wearing a hijab
(or not wearing a beard ;) )
Because its true..the Quran DOES tell you to wear the hijab (24:31)

But the Quran also tells you to do dakwah with hikmah - wisdom (16:125)

I'm keeping the beard ;)

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Traffic Jam

No eye contact.
Because everybody's looking in one direction - forward -
and not at each other.

Me, me, me..
I had a long day at work
I have stuff to do at home
I'm tired-lah, let me through!!!

No eye contact
Because our windows are tinted,
And so are our eyes;
tinted by
Me, me , me!

So easy to forget
when all you see are faceless cars
that inside every one of them
is a person just like you

Who hasn't had a good day,
who has a family waiting at home,
who is tired.

Once in a while, make way-lah for someone else...
Don't-lah all the time
Me, me, me

(Muhasabah of a Malaysian driver)

Friday, August 1, 2014

A Place To Turn To

Two days ago, I heard on the radio Yasmin -
a lady who reverted to Islam 21 years ago -
say (paraphrased):

"I fell in love with Islam because 
through it I finally knew

who to thank when I am happy,
and who to turn to when I am sad

I know who to say Alhamdulillah to
and who I can cry in front of when I need to"

Then today I came across the ayat Al-Fatir, 35:34.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The Death Throes of Israel

Under the stare of a merciless master,
under the glare of a merciless midday sun,
the man lies pinned down on the searing hot ground
by a heavy rock on his chest.
It's nothing new;
just another slave being punished

F-16s and gunboats
homemade rockets and stones;
a military superpower
massacres the citizens
of the world's largest open-air prison.

It's nothing new;
just another slave being punished
Or is it?
Because look closely and see
that while the "slave" refuses to be broken
uttering, stubbornly: "Ahad, Ahad"..
the "master" has broken
into panicked sweat..

A military superpower
massacres the citizens
of the world's largest open air prison.
Maybe the Gazans
would simply give up,
starve to death,
submit meekly.
Maybe, the Zionists thought,
it would be that easy.

The "master" has broken
into panicked sweat..
as he feels the pressure of the crowd gathered around him.
Some have even started laughing, mockingly him!
For if the slave lives, uttering "Ahad, Ahad";
then the "master" has lost to the "slave".
But if the slave dies, uttering "Ahad, Ahad"
then, also, the "master" has lost to the "slave".

Maybe, the Zionists thought,
it would be that easy.
But living in constant struggle with injustice,
spitting in the face of oppression
has become the Palestinian
way of life.
A life that may end
with a shot to the head,
or a deadly air raid;
but nonetheless,
a life lived free.

For if the slave lives, uttering "Ahad, Ahad";
then the "master" has lost to the "slave".
But if the slave dies, uttering "Ahad, Ahad"
then, also, the "master" has lost to the "slave".
For the master fights for his ego,
while the slave fights for his right
to live free.
And arrogance will not defeat sincerity

A life that may end
with a shot to the head,
or a deadly air raid;
but nonetheless,
a life lived free.
My Gazan brothers and sisters,
they may put you under siege
and destroy your dwellings
but never can they enslave your souls.

And arrogance will not defeat sincerity
As Abu Bakar steps up
to buy Bilal off Umayyah:
‘By Allah,
if you had refused to sell him except for a hundred ounces,
I would have paid it.’
Bilal was emancipated that day,
but his soul had always lived free.

My Gazan brothers and sisters,
they may put you under siege
and destroy your dwellings
but never can they enslave your souls.
Because actually, it is Israel
who is enslaved
by the very cycles of violence
she creates.

As the world wakes up.
From New York to Paris,
London to Hong Kong
...and even Tel Aviv,
people are standing up for you.
For your voice to be heard.

This cycle of violence..
it's different.
Because Gaza, though today we see
the might of a modern army
against a captive refugee population.
We are actually witness
to the death throes of Israel

The might of a modern army
is no match
for the free human soul.
Arrogance will not defeat sincerity.

Eid Mubarak, my Palestinian brothers and sisters
Who knows?
Next Eid, insyaAllah, a free Gaza. Ameen.


Wednesday, May 7, 2014

It Can Grow to Define or Destroy You


"An idea is like a virus.  
Highly contagious. 
And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow. 
It can grow to define or destroy you"

..goes a quote from a movie which used to be among my favourites
because of how it rings so very true.

the dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich.
the crippled for life still dream of walking once more.

Highly contagious..." 

Ideas become part of one's identity,
integral to one's cognitive existence; as blood is to flesh.

Ideas make a human being..human.

"...And even the smallest seed of an idea can grow..."

Conceived in the mind of any one of us,
it is able to spread far and wide.
Over not just space, but also time.

Generations of minds infected by a single idea
powerful enough to become a shared Dream.

The Dreams of nations:
the American Dream of equal opportunity
the Chinese Dream of sustainable development
the Palestinian Dream of freedom


But what is the Malaysian Dream?

I grew up with a vague awareness of it.
(Maybe, you could even say, "indoctrinated" with it)
But then again, how could I not..
when I was brought up by a Malay dad and a Chinese mum?

For me, that Dream
is the eternal tale of the three quintessential children:
budak Melayu,
budak Cina,
budak India.

The Petronas commercial; the annual doctrine of the Merdeka and Raya period;
the stereotypical plot:
three kids who are
classmates at school, neighbours at a village;
getting into trouble, growing old together;
the best of pals.

Yet the classic story so familiar, so often repeated to the point of being typical
is, somehow, still potent;
still able to pull on the heartstrings of the typical Malaysian.

The dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich.
The crippled for life still dream of walking once more.

And Malaysians still dream of unity.

"...It can grow to define or destroy you..."

Define us it has, this Dream of unity.

But destroy us, it also may;
for the psyche of this nation suffers also from a cognitive dissonance:
a contradiction in belief and action.
A tug-of-war
between the Dream of unity
..and a reality which is far removed from it.

The reality acted out in the canteens of schools and National Service Camps nation-wide:
Budak Melayu duduk dengan budak Melayu,
budak Cina dengan budak Cina,
budak India dengan budak India.
Budak-budak Kayelle and "speaking" (like myself) sit with our own gang in a corner.
Parallel universes.

Fact of the matter is, there is no one Malaysia,
but many Malaysias existing in one land.

And I'm sorry.
But mere coexistence is not unity.

As we live our lives in parallel universes,
the Dream is just that.

A Dream.


Yet once in a while - but only once in a while - a glimmer of hope appears
in the shape of events or places where suddenly this nation is one.

Bukit Jalil Stadium, AFF Suzuki Cup 2010 final: Malaysia beats Indonesia 3-0

"I’m a huge Manchester United fan and I celebrate every goal they score with enthusiasm and joy. 
However, it is a totally different story when your country scores. 
I am Malaysian and therefore I am connected to my national team in a way that no other team will ever be. Every goal the team scores is for us, all 26 million of us."

The author of that article was caught in a traffic jam on the way back from that epic victory against Indonesia. He says this about the experience:

"I rolled my windows down as my cousin hoisted the Jalur Gemilang. And we proceeded to high-five anyone that walked by as I honked all the way home... 
Motorcycles and cars usually do not get along on the road. Tonight, even the vehicles came together as one as we shared Malaysia’s triumph."

Two years later the setting is London: Dato' Chong Wei's struggles against China's Lin Dan,
and unites Malaysians - at least for 79 minutes

Never mind that Chong Wei lost...we had a common hero for a while, a common cause.

In those moments, suddenly,
"being Malaysian" felt almost tangible
like the smoke of fireworks burning in the Bukit Jalil air
or the gold medal of London 2012.


But just as abruptly the mirage clears, and we wake up from that high.

And once again, the traffic jam is no longer an euphoric after-match experience shared with fellow Malaysians;
it is a torturous ordeal to escape - to get away from the irritating presence too many of your countrymen hogging your road.

This Malaysian wonders, desperately:
Do we depend ONLY on sporting successes - or near-successes
for this country to be one?

And even then...only for 79 minutes, over two halves of a match??

But my Malaysian-ness will not allow me to let go of that Dream.
Though outside I put on the "skeptical Malaysian" mask.

As the dirt poor still dream of becoming filthy rich,
the crippled for life still dream of walking once more
this Malaysian still dreams of unity.

*                         *                         *

But the Malaysian Dream is not the only one which has infected my mind
because these past few years another virus has been "indoctrinated" into my conciousness.

I remember where I was the first night I read the meaning of 49:13 in the Quran.
And wondered, subconsciously maybe:
"why did I not know about this before??"

That memory is from a phase in my life where I was being introduced (by a Higher Power?)
to another Dream.
Bigger even than the Malaysian Dream.

Like the Malaysian Dream, this Dream I was being introduced to
is also resilient, highly contagious
and has entered my mind through distances of space and time;

but seriously, it is waaaaay more awesome.
That Islam.
I was born into it, but it took me decades to discover its beauty.

Don't get me wrong:
This doesn't make me any less Malaysian.

Deep down I still hold on lovingly to childhood memories of
football matches on rainy evenings at the muddy neighbourhood padang
playing with a bunch of pals of every race (seriously, there was even a Punjabi and a few Eurasians)

That classic story so familiar, so often repeated to the point of being typical
but, somehow, still potent;
still able to pull on the heartstrings of the typical Malaysian...
I am a part of that story!
And that story is very much still a part of me.

And I want with all my heart for that scene to be a regular occurrence in every neighbourhood and kampung across our nation.

And you may agree or disagree with me about how we reach that Malaysian Dream.
But the only way I see that 49:13.

My entrenched belief: only a set of shared values can unite us all - for good.

And that's where my two Dreams
(not clash, but) intertwine:
the Malaysian Dream of unity,
and Islam.

There is no conflict,
no incompatibility,
no cognitive dissonance;

these are BOTH my dreams; part of my identity,
integral to my cognitive existence; as blood is to flesh.

It has grown to define or destroy me.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Batch Pemutus Dakwah

Here's the deal:
There's a vehicle to be driven, and no one's there to drive it.

"So, siapa nak drive Jengkaut tahun depan?"

The awkward, unanswered question for this batch - my batch.

The name of the red Estima which is the kereta kawasan for Manchester.
Oficially it is named 'Al-Adiyat' - The War Horse.
But its loud diesel engine and sluggish swagger found more often in vehicles on the construction site then on the road have given it a new name:

'Jengkaut'- The Excavator

Last year Capek was the driver operator.
This year it is Syak.
Next year...?

"So, siapa nak drive Jengkaut tahun depan?"

*                    *                    *

The Jengkaut was the vehicle which brought us to our first car boot sale.
But at a deeper, more profound level, it has seen us discover something more amazing than cheap books and novelty items;
over the past year it has witnessed us discover the sweetness of tarbiyyah...

Now it is witnessing us realise how much we really have on our shoulders.

Because last year 50% of the ikhwah graduated, leaving Manchester for good.
At the end of this year even more are leaving.

What will happen to dakwah and tarbiyyah at Manchester then?
In the Northwest?
In the UK?

"So, siapa nak drive Jengkaut tahun depan?"

In the past few weeks, I feel like this question has taken a more symbolic meaning.

Jengkaut mengangkat beban dakwah

Relax, they say.
Allah will take care of dakwah and tarbiyyah, they say.
After all, did He not promise in His Book and via the Messenger that there will always be a group of people on this Earth calling to the Deen?

But did He not say also, in a chapter of that Book named after his Messenger:

"...And if you turn away (from Islam and the obedience of Allah), He will exchange you for some other people, and they will not be your likes." 

It doesn't need us. Rather, it's the other way round.

It isn't something that's merely 'found'. Rather it's to be fought for.

Somehow the chain that is dakwah, stretching back to the Prophets of yesteryear, have reached us;
mere mortals halfway across the world from home, at a place cold and dark.
And with that the responsibility to keep that chain going...for future batches to also feel the sweetness of tarbiyyah.

will we be the batch pemutus dakwah..?

"When we live only for us, life is so very short.
It starts from when we start and ends at the end of our limited lives.
But if we live for something other than us,
live for an ideology,
then verily life is long and meaningful;
starting from the start of mankind and ending with the end of mankind on this Earth.
If we feel like we start this struggle,
we will feel constrained facing death
 (because the struggle has not reached its goal yet). 
Remember, it is not us who start this struggle neither is it us who end it.
It was started by the Prophets and goes on until the end of time.
We are links on a chain of a long struggle"

- Sayyid Qutb

Here's the deal:
There's a vehicle to be driven, and there's no one to drive it.

And no, that vehicle isn't the Jengkaut.
that 'vehicle' is dakwah itself.

Ikhwah, we better start driving.

Jengkaut operator at work