Miracles don’t always happen by themselves. Some are created, and those created don’t happen when nothing is done. The fate of a dying person that turned around, together with all the events surrounding it, is certainly something worthwhile sharing. It is about compassion — the pooling together of feelings, thoughts and actions to save a life. The genuine concern about somebody’s life that is in danger of impending death; the initiative, persistence of actions, and the willingness of the few people who came forward to offer their assistance to save a life from impending death should be highlighted as a heroic endeavor for many to follow. In this one life saved, there are many lessons learned that ought to be shared to inspire more to do the same in times of need, especially in a country where many expatriates are living alone.
The importance of this incident is not just about this one life saved. More importantly, it is about the many lives in the future that can be similarly rescued if more people are inspired to do their part at times of crucial need. We need to keep reminding everybody to care for one another to make this world a safer place for all.
About a month ago, when I was in Penang, and my partner was on vacation in Europe, Robin, a Malaysian architect who also owns BKT Bak Kut Teh Restaurant in Phnom Penh, messaged me with a picture showing a gaping wound on his scalp at the vortex of his head. He thought that the injury was trivial, thus telling those he consulted that the wound was due to the accidental brushing of his head on the edge of a piece of wood. I advised him to get his wound sutured at any other clinic.
A week later, he came to BH Clinic for a check on his wound when my partner was on duty. Again, the history and his clinical condition did not suggest any forceful direct impact on his head.
About two weeks later, I took some friends to his restaurant. During that visit, he mentioned in passing that he has been feeling “a bit dizzy” from the time he had the accident. I suggested that he should go for a CT scan of his brain, if the symptom persists.
About a month after the accident, on July 25, 2019, he presented himself to my clinic with a severe headache, dizziness and nausea, thus not eating much over the day. A check on all his vital signs: body temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate were within normal range. As he wasn’t taking much food over the day, I also checked his blood sugar and hydration which were normal. All his 12 cranial nerves were not affected, and his pupillary response was normal. There were no signs of meningism that is indicative of infection of the membrane covering the brain. Incidentally, he had epigastric tenderness and was treated accordingly.
While he was resting in bed, I insisted that he reviewed his history as the history may contain the important relevant facts needed to establish a good clinical decision. It is only then that I was told that a 10-foot long, 2×2-inch piece of timber fell horizontally on his head from a height of about three feet. I impressed upon him that the force of the impact on his head in such a manner is significant and may cause an intracranial bleed. I wrote him a referral letter to a private hospital advising the need for a CT scan of his brain and neck (he also had a pain in his neck). I also advised him to consider going directly to the hospital for admission, but he wanted to take a rest at home first before going for the CT scan the next morning. He left my clinic at about 6 pm. I was a bit concerned and insisted that he text me upon reaching home.
By about 9pm, I still did not receive any message from him. This prompted me to call his mobile phone repeatedly. There wasn’t any reply. I thought that he might have reached home and fallen asleep. Thus, I waited until the next morning to call him again. My repeated call to him in between seeing my patients went unanswered. I sent a good friend, Mr Danny Cho to his restaurant to check with his staff. His staff kept saying that he went to the hospital and none of them knew where their boss is staying.
My clinic manager, Ms. Patricia checked with the private hospital that we referred him to and was told that Robin wasn’t there. I suspected that something untoward had happened and became increasingly uncomfortable. Next, I flashed a message on the Malaysian Business Council Cambodia (MBCC) WhatsApp group, “I need help. Does anybody know where Robin stays?”
Many responded immediately by posting up Robin’s mobile number but that wasn’t helpful. Soon, chairman of MBCC Mr Teh Sing phoned me, telling me that he was at the airport and shall be proceeding straight to Robin’s restaurant to look for him. Robin’s staff took Mr Teh to another place that he used to visit. Upon arrival, Mr Teh was told by another restaurant owner that Robin doesn’t stay there. He went there regularly to chat with him and charge his phone.
Somehow Mr Teh managed to contact Robin’s employer CEO, Ms Sokheak. They headed straight to Mekong Condominium and found Robin’s room locked. Forcing the door open, they found him sprawled on his bed, unconscious but breathing.
Ms Sokheak attempted to summon an ambulance from the hospital but was told that their ambulance was heading to the Thai border. I immediately contacted my local colleague Dr Som, to send a private ambulance. Robin stopped breathing upon arrival at the hospital, was intubated and put on life support system. The CT scan of his head revealed evidence of two episodes of bleeding — the old clots on one side and fresh blood on the other, within his skull, compressing on his brain. It is the second bleed that caused his consciousness to deteriorate.
At 4.30pm, upon closing my clinic, I headed straight to the hospital. Robin required emergency head surgery to release the compression on his brain. I explained to his wife that Robin needed urgent surgery to save his life. His wife reluctantly obliged. Later, I was told that Robin’s insurance doesn’t cover his surgery overseas. He needed to be transferred to the Calmette Hospital as the insurance bought by his employer covers surgery done at the government hospital (Calmette).
Robin’s wife and son could not secured the air tickets to fly on the same day. I decided to break my own rules to sign the consent on behalf of his family for the discharge at own risk from the former hospital and also the consent for emergency head surgery in Calmette Hospital to avoid further delay of the surgery and increase the probability of a successful surgery. I escorted Robin to Calmette Hospital and do all the needful before I left for home at about 9pm.
The surgery done by a very humble senior neurosurgeon was superb. Robin regained consciousness on the third day and has recovered remarkably with no serious complications. He has regained all his physical and mental functions fully. He is as chatty and jovial as he was and is looking forward towards returning to his job. A precious life has been saved. More importantly, there are lessons to be learned from this incident so that more lives could be similarly rescued in the future. The lessons are:
- It is important for all expatriates living overseas to let their friends or employees know where they are staying.
- Expatriates living overseas must seriously consider buying medical insurance to cover any unforeseen mishaps.
- It is important to ensure that a sick person reaches his or her home if they are noted to be unwell.
- Be a member of one or more active social media groups so that the members of the group could help locate your whereabouts in time of need. We should also respond promptly to the call for help to save a life. Somebody’s life may be in our hands.
- Where somebody’s life is in danger, we should do whatever we can to lend a helping hand to save that life. Do not give up halfway as the success depends on our commitment and persistence. Be compassionate and do all that is necessary to increase the chance of survival of the victim.
- Always give your doctor a complete and accurate history. Be aware that a complete and accurate history helps your doctor to establish an accurate clinical diagnosis.
(Mr Robin Tay has given his consent for the publication of this column.)
Dr Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med. (Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr Victor is also known for his skill in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via email [email protected] Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977. Facebook name: Victor Ti.