A short walk from the train station of a planned city in the middle of Southeast Asia, stands a medical facility wherein an eminent surgeon and second-in-command at the country’s health ministry, aims to establish a pain-free hospital. Yes, pain-free. What a concept.
Welcome to Putrajaya – Malaysia’s decade-old planned city and seat of government. A twenty-minute drive south of Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya looks like a surreal, over-designed but underfed colony.
The inhabitants are nowhere to be seen, pedestrians a rare sight and even then mostly comprised of tourists descending from and embarking onto buses. Driving up the capital’s expansive boulevards, surrounded by impeccably-manicured grounds, the ‘city’ feels more like a ghost town. High up on a hill sits the parliament building, nearby the king’s gargantuan ‘visiting’ palace – rarely inhabited.
Man-made lakes, the ‘iron’ mosque (so-called by locals), a convention centre that looks like an alien space ship and rows after rows of buildings housing government and industry. Even with its gardens, glorious bridges, the experience of driving through Putrajaya is nothing short of Kafkaesque.
And yet. Putrajaya Hospital stands as a beacon of progressive medical care because Hisham won’t have it any other way.
I met Hisham (aka Datuk Dr. Noor Hisham Abdullah) at an international pain summit last fall. He arrived at the conference not only in his role as Deputy Director General of Health of Malaysia’s Ministry of Health, but (I believe) more so as his hospital’s mouthpiece, pain-free champion and pioneer.
At Putrajaya Hospital, Hisham is a respected surgeon, specializing in breast cancer and the endocrinal system. He moved with his family to Putrajaya a number of years ago to join the hospital; then, when his efforts to implement more progressive medical methods and plans were stymied, he agreed to join the health ministry where he could effect change on a larger scale.
It was no coincidence that Hisham and I met at the pain summit. As an observer and chronic-pain sufferer, I was particularly taken with his presentation, because he dared to speak about his mission to transform medical care and interventions into a pain-free experience for all: Smaller and less-invasive interventions, translating into less anesthesia (if at all), less pain, less hospitalization, lower cost, and more benefit to the patient.
The hospital is moving away from extended hospitalization and closer towards ‘day care’ surgery. In other words, the emphasis is on outreach; a patient, once released, is regularly visited by nurses and therapists, who continue to provide necessary treatment at their home.
And, with a study underway, to determine whether acupuncture could be used more widely in surgery (instead of anesthesia), Hisham is convinced that the data will prove his theory correct; that patients can undergo medical interventions free of anesthesia, and resume their lives more easily – and without pain.
We meet close to the main entrance of Putrajaya Hospital, in front of a store called Positive Image; a sanctuary for breast cancer patients launched by the Penyayang charity foundation, together with the former prime minister’s late wife (Datin Paduka Seri Endon Mahmood, a patient of Hisham’s) who, before succumbing to the illness, recognized the patients’ need for support, both psychosocial and lifestyle.
As I look around at the women milling around the hospital, most dressed in traditional garb, I can’t help but note that even the radical side-effects of chemotherapy will not alter their outward appearance. This is, after all, a Muslim enclave, where headscarves are de rigueur.
Hisham next leads me around the corner, where he points out the innovative center for Traditional and Complimentary Medicine. It is here that stroke patients, women post-partum, chronic pain patients and others by referral arrive for massages, acupuncture, herbal medicines and traditional Ayurvedic treatments. Hisham is effusive in praising the staff and their results; he beams with pride and a sense of professional achievement.
In the TCM center, like elsewhere in the hospital, the emphasis is on minimizing hospitalization, reducing pain and improving overall health. Words like holistic, healing and empowerment roll off Hisham’s tongue with great ease and a sense of responsibility.
We pass through a meeting area being set up for the following day’s presentation about an upcoming project launch: Medik TV, a health and wellness channel that will be broadcast throughout the hospital. Hisham excuses himself, as he must go off to a meeting; and we part at the elevator.
As I head to the exit, I leave even more convinced that Hisham is a man with a clear and unstoppable vision; determined to transform the way that medicine is practiced, not just here in Malaysia, but elsewhere as well. He is a man to watch and emulate.
Where have you seen a comment such as this one on the website of a hospital’s – Hisham’s – surgery department:
THE EMPHASIS OF THIS DEPT IS…
A HUMANE HEART …TO LISTEN
AND LOVING CARE …TO IMPART
TAKING AWAY ANXIETY AND PAIN
TO LIGHTEN THE WORRIED HEART