Sunday, 31 July 2016


Everybody makes mistakes. Lawyers, doctors or pastors, we all wear our pants one leg at a time. To err is human; to forgive is divine. Yet, for some, to admit it is almost mission impossible. That's how the news rolled today.

Dr Wong, an orthopaedic, fronted the Straits Times last Thursday, 28 July 2016. The Court of 3 judges comprising the CJ and two other appeal judges enhanced Dr Wong's suspension period from 3 months to 6 months and ordered him to pay the cost of the inquiry. He was also censured and required "to furnish an undertaking not to repeat such professional misconduct."

Alas, it could have been a case that is blown in the wind and forgotten at first instance had Dr Wong admitted to his mistakes, apologized and moved on. But he didn't.

The long and short of it is that he gave only 2-day medical leave to a foreign worker, Mr Fan, after he fell and hurt his right (master) hand.

This is what the 2 days covered. On 3 Sept 2011, Fan was admitted. First thing at 1 am (in the early hours of dawn of 4 Sept), Dr Wong performed surgery on Fan "involving the immediate closed reduction" and "K-wire" fixation".

So, after the surgery, Fan technically rested only for one day, before Dr Wong issued not further MC for him, but certified him fit for light duties for one whole month. That was it. One day rest after operation and thereafter light duties, that is, immediate work assignment though measured and less intense.

This is where the Hippocratic Oath becomes an oral bargain between conflicting interests of Mr Fan as his patient and Mr Fan as someone's employee.

The Court wrote that Dr Wong "demonstrated a wilful disregard for the patient's welfare and interests, and in particular, his need for proper rest and rehabilitation." In fact, the Court agreed with SMC that "Dr Wong's main concern was not the patient's welfare and interest - he was, instead, advancing the interests of the employer and wanted the Patient to return to work as soon as possible."

Now, this is the part where I (and the Court) went "gobsmacked" (literally) when Dr Wong showed no remorse and even defended his actions almost self-righteously.

He was asked why he didn't issue a 1-week MC after surgery as is the norm and accepted practice. He argued that it only applies to govt. restructured hospital. Dr Wong said the govt. hospital have to give one week because they did not have "the luxury of seeing (a patient) in two or three days" for follow up - unlike him.

To this, the Court enquired why Dr Wong did not extend Mr Fan's MC from 4 Sept to 7 Sept when Dr Wong next see him. It's just a short three days, that is, 5 to 7 Sept. Why certified him light duties immediately after 4 Sept then (and not issue further MC until next visit on 7 Sept)?

In the judgment, this is what was recorded concerning Dr Wong's reply to that: "Dr Wong suggested (incredibly, in our view) that this was because he wanted to give the Patient the chance to try whether there was anything he could do at work and not give the Patient the impression that his condition is serious."

Ladies and gentlemen, that's gobsmacked! No. 1. Strap up, here comes gobsmacked! No. 2.

Here's the real reason why Dr Wong gave one-month light duties immediately after the surgery. He called it "supervised rest". Here's how the good doctor explained supervised rest, or otherwise known as light duties, in his own words:-

"...The crux of the matter is he does not really need to go and rest at home. So he can do something. What's the difference of him going to office and him hanging around Geylang which he obviously has gone several times...If when (sic) you put the Patient in the dormitory there is no supervised rest, right...And probably he will be doing something with his hands, maybe play mahjong or something like that, I don't know. I cannot supervise him, you see. So when you go to a company place, it is supervised rest. I would still emphasise that it's supervised rest and not actual work."

The court's rejoinder? Here it is in full: "We pause to highlight that (as we expressed in the hearing before us), in our judgment, this is an illegitimate and outrageous submission that should never have been made before this court."

Ladies and gentlemen, that's gobsmacked! No. 2.

Lesson? Just one for you to chew on, and it is captured in this Richard Feynman's timeless observation: "The first principle is that you must not fool yourself and you are the easiest person to fool...It doesn't matter how beautiful your theory is, it doesn’t matter how smart you are. If it doesn't agree with experiment (or reason), it's wrong." Cheerz.

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