Restoring good health and useful life By Mizi Hamzah EVERY time I make new friends, the most common question I am asked is what I do for a living. Although I smile, deep inside I dread having to answer. My usual reply is: ¡°I¡¯m completing my Masters degree in medical rehab.¡± And the usual response to that is: ¡°Oh, that¡¯s great! We do need doctors who can deal with increasing drug issues. It is such a phenomenon.¡± But that¡¯s not what I do. WORKING WITH LIMITATIONS There is nothing wrong with having the professional skill to deal with substance abuse cases and its rehabilitation. I agree we need support in that field. But my job is slightly different. In fact, a lot different. The formal description of my job is ¡°enhance and restore functional ability and quality of life to those with functional limitation due to diseases or disorders.¡± When I graduate, I would be professionally known as a physiatrist. Or you can simply call me a rehabilitation medicine physician. What does that mean? Put simply, I¡¯m a doctor who deals with health issues of people with disabilities and try to make their lives better but not necessarily easier. SPECIAL PATIENTS I see patients in the hospital when they are ill from an acute illness like stroke or after surgery or brain trauma through referrals by other medical or surgical teams. For example, Mr. L was referred by a neurologist after he had a stroke which caused weaknesses in both his right arm and leg. He also had difficulty in the speech components - both the ability to find words to express himself verbally and to articulate them. These impairments made it difficult for him to stand and walk and he was not able to perform his own basic care need including putting on clothes and bathing. He became very dependent on his carers and this caused a lot of anxiety and strain on them too. My task was not only to predict the chance of recovery and anticipate the possible physical-complications of the stroke but also to acknowledge his carer burden issues and his own emotional status. It¡¯s a wide spectrum, and I can¡¯t do this job on my own. What comes with this career is the ability and the need to work hand in hand with other health professionals. They include surgeons and physicians, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech and language pathologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists, clinical psychologists, dieticians, rehabilitation nurses, social workers, the governmental ministries, NGOs, counsellors, carers and the public. In a way I also help to coordinate the patient¡¯s care among these professions. It is truly a multi-disciplinary, multi-team approach. LEARN AND LISTEN As I am nearing the end of my course, one of the main things I¡¯ve learnt about this job is acquiring the ability to listen well. I believe it is a skill that needs to be learnt and, therefore, it requires effort. Why is it paramount in my job? Well, to me, listening well is an exercise in attention and that itself is hard work. By giving attention to my patient I perceive him or her to be a person of great value worth attending to. It propels me to act appropriately and sensibly towards what matters to that person who is in front of me. And we all know the act of helping another person is very rewarding. So I guess the next time a new friend comes along and asks me what I do, I¡¯ll just tell him or her all these at length. That would be a good start, to know me, and the special people I treat.