About 12 years ago, I was in the plush office of the legal firm that I worked for. In front of me was my client. With the passage of time, I cannot recall all his facial features. What I can remember is that he was Indian (probably Ceylonese) and since I can’t remember his name, let’s just call him Dr. Lingam. He was well dressed in a beige coloured suit with a yellow necktie. I think he had a moustache. We were discussing a medico-legal case where he was being sued. I only remember that he was a neurosurgeon because of the story I’m about to tell.
“Dr. Lingam,” I put my pen down and relaxed into my chair. We had just concluded discussing what his defence was to a claim for medical negligence. He had rejected my advice to settle the matter out of court and was determined to defend his actions. “Can I ask you about one of your patients?”
“No. Don’t worry. I’m not asking you to disclose her records. I just want to know if you know her.”
“Her name is Molly.” I scrunched up my nose and added, “Errr… I think Molly Khoo. I think that’s her surname.”
“I sort of recall the name.”
“She had a terrible accident two months ago.” Shaking my head, I said, “She opened the gate and drove her car into the driveway. Like my father-lah, she also didn’t pull up the handbrake when she stopped the car. Just put the gear into ‘P’ and that’s it. So, when she went to the check the post near the gate, the car rolled back into her. She was pinned underneath the car.”
“Ah, yes. Molly Khoo.” It was the way Dr. Lingam said her name. Something wasn’t right about his reaction. He was looking to the side, as though the firm’s new wall paper was the most captivating thing on earth. What was this man hiding?
Suddenly, he looked straight at me and said, “What she did was wrong.”
“Huh?” It was all I could say. I didn’t know why he had become defensive. I wasn’t accusing him of anything.
“Actually, Dr. Lingam, I wanted to know what her injury was. Molly is from Alor Setar and so am I. My parents say that no one there really knows. They just know it’s bad.” I had gone to visit Molly in the hospital a day before. I had never seen a patient like that in my life. She was lying flat on the bed, her entire body strapped, almost, to the bed. She could not move her neck at all as it was in what I understand is called a ‘halo’.
“Oh,” he said, his shoulders relaxing. He leaned back in his chair and crossed his arms across his ample belly. “Well, to put it in simple terms,” replied Dr. Lingam, “she came in with this injury and we did all we could to stabilise her.” Shaking his head again, he said, “But they were wrong-lah.”
He wasn’t going to let this go. I decided to ask him about what he thought Molly had done wrong. “What do you mean, Dr. Lingam?”
He came forward and rested his elbows on the table. “We were willing to do everything for her. But just because she had a friend in another hospital, they transferred her out before we could do anything.”
This wasn’t what I’d heard from Molly’s family. As per the rumour mill in Alor Setar, when Molly first arrived at the hospital, Dr. Lingam refused to attend to her until he heard from the Accounts Department that her husband had paid the deposit sum. Then, when Dr. Lingam arrived, he examined Molly, but refused to tell her husband his diagnosis. “I am the doctor. I’ll tell you when I tell you,” were his exact words, apparently. The last straw was when Dr. Lingam wanted to perform a complicated surgery on Molly’s spine without explaining all the risks of the procedure to Molly’s husband. No other option was provided. The husband did the only thing he could think of doing at the time – he called another doctor friend of his and asked for his help and within 24 hours, Molly was transferred out of the hospital.
I could have told all this to Dr. Lingam. But, his entire attitude towards me made me aware that there could be some truth to the rumours about how he’d treated Molly. And it was no wonder he was being sued, yet again, for malpractice.
I decided to say something that I know went against many doctors’ beliefs.
“Dr. Lingam, you know, I remember coming to visit Molly in hospital. Did you ever look up at the ceiling when you were visiting her?”
He frowned, perplexed. “Huh? What for?”
I smiled. “Well, if you’d looked up, you would have seen that on the ceiling, they’d stuck the verses from the Bible and the Hail Mary on the ceiling. She may have been on her back, but her gaze was firmly fixed on God.”
“Err…” Dr. Lingam responded. Shifting his weight back and forth, he was all fidgety.
“I’m not finished,” I said and lifted one eyebrow.
He looked at me and said in a sheepish tone, “Go on.”
“She’s from Alor Setar. And so am I. If only you could see what’s happening in the Catholic church there. They are having a non-stop vigil in that church, I tell you.” I paused to let the information sink in. “And you know, they’re still having it. I think her operation in this new hospital was last week. From what I can tell, the op was successful and she’s on the road to recovery.”
We sat in silence for a while.
Then, he took a deep breath and held the side of the table and said, “OK, Miss Aneeta. I think we’re done with the case. I will see you in court next week. OK?”
I smiled and rose to shake his hand. “Yes, Dr. Lingam. I’ll see you in court.”
I never quite understood why he was so cagey. As it happened, Molly Khoo made a full recovery. And we lost the negligence case that I was defending because the Plaintiff proved that Dr. Lingam was intoxicated when he treated her.