Recently I read a very nice article about life by the late Dr. Richard Teo which I find truly inspiring and worth reading especially someone like me who have just enter the world of professionals.. Dr. Richard Teo is a 40-year-old millionaire and cosmetic surgeon with a stage-4 lung cancer but selflessly came to share with the D1 class his life experience on 19-Jan-2012.. He has just passed away few days ago on 18 October 2012.. If you prefer watching the actual video, You can watch it from here (link) since embedding is not made available..
Hi good morning to all of you. My voice is a bit hoarse, so please bear with me. I thought I'll just introduce myself. My name is Richard, I'm a medical doctor. And I thought I'll just share some thoughts of my life. It's my pleasure to be invited by prof. Hopefully, it can get you thinking about how... as you pursue this.. embarking on your training to become dental surgeons, to think about other things as well.
Since young, I am a typical product of today's society. Relatively successful product that society requires.. From young, I came from a below average family. I was told by the media... and people around me that happiness is about success. And that success is about being wealthy. With this mind-set, I've always be extremely competitive, since I was young.
Not only do I need to go to the top school, I need to have success in all fields. Uniform groups, track, everything. I needed to get trophies, needed to be successful, I needed to have colors award, national colors award, everything. So I was highly competitive since young. I went on to medical school, graduated as a doctor. Some of you may know that within the medical faculty, ophthalmology is one of the most highly sought after specialties. So I went after that as well. I was given a trainee-ship in ophthalmology, I was also given a research scholarship by NUS to develop lasers to treat the eye.
So in the process, I was given 2 patents, one for the medical devices, and another for the lasers. And you know what, all this academic achievements did not bring me any wealth. So once I completed my bond with MOH, I decided that this is taking too long, the training in eye surgery is just taking too long. And there's lots of money to be made in the private sector. If you're aware, in the last few years, there is this rise in aesthetic medicine. Tons of money to be made there. So I decided, well, enough of staying in institution, it's time to leave. So I quit my training halfway and I went on to set up my aesthetic clinic... in town, together with a day surgery center.
You know the irony is that people do not make heroes out average GP (general practitioner), family physicians. They don't. They make heroes out of people who are rich and famous. People who are not happy to pay $20 to see a GP, the same person have no qualms paying ten thousand dollars for a liposuction, 15 thousand dollars for a breast augmentation, and so on and so forth. So it's a no brainier isn't? Why do you want to be a GP? Become an aesthetic physician. So instead of healing the sick and ill, I decided that I'll become a glorified beautician. So, business was good, very good. It started off with waiting of one week, then became 3 weeks, then one month, then 2 months, then 3 months. I was overwhelmed; there were just too many patients. Vanities are fantastic business. I employed one doctor, the second doctor, the 3rd doctor, the 4th doctor. And within the 1st year, we're already raking in millions. Just the 1st year. But never is enough because I was so obsessed with it. I started to expand into Indonesia to get all the rich Indonesian tai-tais who wouldn't blink an eye to have a procedure done. So life was really good.
So what do I do with the spare cash. How do I spend my weekends? Typically, I'll have car club gatherings. I take out my track car, with spare cash I got myself a track car. We have car club gatherings. We'll go up to Sepang in Malaysia. We'll go for car racing. And it was my life. With other spare cash, what do i do? I get myself a Ferrari. At that time, the 458 wasn't out, it's just a spider convertible, 430. This is a friend of mine, a schoolmate who is a Forex trader, a banker. So he got a red one, he was wanting all along a red one, I was getting the silver one.
So what do I do after getting a car? It's time to buy a house, to build our own bungalows. So we go around looking for a land to build our own bungalows, we went around hunting. So how do i live my life? Well, we all think we have to mix around with the rich and famous. This is one of the Miss Universe. So we hang around with the beautiful, rich and famous. This by the way is an internet founder. So this is how we spend our lives, with dining and all the restaurants and Michelin Chefs you know.
So I reach a point in life that I got everything for my life. I was at the pinnacle of my career and all. That's me one year ago in the gym and I thought I was like, having everything under control and reaching the pinnacle.
Well, I was wrong. I didn't have everything under control. About last year March, I started to develop backache in the middle of nowhere. I thought maybe it was all the heavy squats I was doing. So I went to SGH, saw my classmate to do an MRI, to make sure it's not a slipped disc or anything. And that evening, he called me up and said that we found bone marrow replacement in your spine. I said, sorry what does that mean? I mean I know what it means, but I couldn't accept that. I was like “Are you serious?” I was still running around going to the gym you know. But we had more scans the next day, PET scans - positrons emission scans, they found that actually I have stage 4 terminal lung cancer. I was like "Whoa where did that come from?” It has already spread to the brain, the spine, the liver and the adrenals. And you know one moment I was there, totally thinking that I have everything under control, thinking that I've reached the pinnacle of my life. But the next moment, I have just lost it.
This is a CT scan of the lungs itself. If you look at it, every single dot there is a tumor We call this miliaries tumor And in fact, I have tens of thousands of them in the lungs. So, I was told that even with chemotherapy, that I'll have about 3-4 months at most. Did my life come crushing on, of course it did, who wouldn't? I went into depression, of course, severe depression and I thought I had everything.
See the irony is that all these things that I have, the success, the trophies, my cars, my house and all. I thought that brought me happiness. But i was feeling really down, having severe depression. Having all these thoughts of my possessions, they brought me no joy. The thought of... You know, I can hug my Ferrari to sleep, no... No, it is not going to happen. It brought not a single comfort during my last ten months. And I thought they were, but they were not true happiness. But it wasn't. What really brought me joy in the last ten months was interaction with people, my loved ones, friends, people who genuinely care about me, they laugh and cry with me, and they are able to identify the pain and suffering I was going through. That brought joy to me, happiness. None of the things I have, all the possessions, and I thought those were supposed to bring me happiness. But it didn't, because if it did, I would have felt happy think about it, when I was feeling most down..
You know the classical Chinese New Year that is coming up. In the past, what do I do? Well, I will usually drive my flashy car to do my rounds, visit my relatives, to show it off to my friends. And I thought that was joy, you know. I thought that was really joy. But do you really think that my relatives and friends, whom some of them have difficulty trying to make ends meet, that will truly share the joy with me? Seeing me driving my flashy car and showing off to them? No, no way. They won’t be sharing joy with me. They were having problems trying to make ends meet, taking public transport. In fact i think, what I have done is more like you know, making them envious, jealous of all I have. In fact, sometimes even hatred.
Those are what we call objects of envy. I have them, I show them off to them and I feel it can fill my own pride and ego. That didn't bring any joy to these people, to my friends and relatives, and I thought they were real joy.
Well, let me just share another story with you. You know when I was about your age, I stayed in king Edward VII hall. I had this friend whom I thought was strange. Her name is Jennifer, we're still good friends. And as I walk along the path, she would, if she sees a snail, she would actually pick up the snail and put it along the grass patch. I was like why do you need to do that? Why dirty your hands? It’s just a snail. The truth is she could feel for the snail. The thought of being crushed to death is real to her, but to me it's just a snail. If you can't get out of the pathway of humans then you deserve to be crushed, it’s part of evolution isn't it? What an irony isn't it?
There I was being trained as a doctor, to be compassionate, to be able to empathize but I couldn't. As a house officer, I graduated from medical school, posted to the oncology department at NUH. And, every day, every other day I witness death in the cancer department. When I see how they suffered, I see all the pain they went through. I see all the morphine they have to press every few minutes just to relieve their pain. I see them struggling with their oxygen breathing their last breath and all. But it was just a job. When I went to clinic every day, to the wards every day, take blood, give the medication but was the patient real to me? They weren't real to me. It was just a job, I do it, I get out of the ward, I can't wait to get home, I do my own stuff.
Was the pain, was the suffering the patients went through real? No. Of course I know all the medical terms to describe how they feel, all the suffering they went through. But in truth, I did not know how they feel, not until I became a patient. It is until now; I truly understand how they feel. And, if you ask me, would I have been a very different doctor if I were to re-live my life now, I can tell you yes I will. Because I truly understand how the patients feel now. And sometimes, you have to learn it the hard way.
Even as you start just your first year, and you embark this journey to become dental surgeons, let me just challenge you on two fronts.
Inevitably, all of you here will start to go into private practice. You will start to accumulate wealth. I can guarantee you. Just doing an implant can bring you thousands of dollars, it's fantastic money. And actually there is nothing wrong with being successful, with being rich or wealthy, absolutely nothing wrong. The only trouble is that a lot of us like myself couldn't handle it. Why do I say that? Because when I start to accumulate, the more I have, the more I want. The more I wanted, the more obsessed I became. Like what I showed you earlier on, all I can was basically to get more possessions, to reach the pinnacle of what society did to us, of what society wants us to be. I became so obsessed that nothing else really mattered to me. Patients were just a source of income, and I tried to squeeze every single cent out of these patients.
A lot of times we forget, whom we are supposed to be serving. We become so lost that we serve nobody else but just ourselves. That was what happened to me. Whether it is in the medical, the dental fraternity, I can tell you, right now in the private practice, sometimes we just advise patients on treatment that is not indicated. Grey areas. And even though it is not necessary, we kind of advocate it. Even at this point, I know who are my friends and who genuinely cared for me and who are the ones who try to make money out of me by selling me "hope". We kind of lose our moral compass along the way. Because we just want to make money.
Worse, I can tell you, over the last few years, we bad mouth our fellow colleagues, our fellow competitors in the industry. We have no qualms about it. So if we can put them down to give ourselves an advantage, we do it. And that's what happening right now, medical, dental everywhere. My challenge to you is not to lose that moral compass. I learnt it the hard way, I hope you don't ever have to do it.
Secondly, a lot of us will start to get numb to our patients as we start to practice. Whether is it government hospitals, private practice, I can tell you when I was in the hospital, with stacks of patient folders, I can't wait to get rid of those folders as soon as possible; I can't wait to get patients out of my consultation room as soon as possible because there is just so many, and that's a reality. Because it becomes a job, a very routine job. And this is just part of it. Do I truly know how the patient feels back then? No, I don't. The fears and anxiety and all, do I truly understand what they are going through? I don't, not until when this happens to me and I think that is one of the biggest flaws in our system.
We’re being trained to be healthcare providers, professional, and all and yet we don't know how exactly they feel. I'm not asking you to get involved emotionally, I don't think that is professional but do we actually make a real effort to understand their pain and all? Most of us won’t, alright, I can assure you. So don't lose it, my challenge to you is to always be able to put yourself in your patient's shoes.
Because the pain, the anxiety, the fear are very real even though it's not real to you, it's real to them. So don't lose it and you know, right now I'm in the midst of my 5th cycle of my chemotherapy. I can tell you it’s a terrible feeling. Chemotherapy is one of those things that you don't wish even your enemies to go through because it's just suffering, lousy feeling, throwing out, you don't even know if you can retain your meals or not. Terrible feeling! And even with whatever little energy now I have, I try to reach out to other cancer patients because I truly understand what pain and suffering is like. But it's kind of little too late and too little.
You guys have a bright future ahead of you with all the resource and energy, so I’m going to challenge you to go beyond your immediate patients. To understand that there are people out there who are truly in pain, truly in hardship. Don’t get the idea that only poor people suffer. It is not true. A lot of these poor people do not have much in the first place, they are easily contented. for all you know they are happier than you and me but there are out there, people who are suffering mentally, physically, hardship, emotionally, financially and so on and so forth, and they are real. We choose to ignore them or we just don't want to know that they exist.
So do think about it alright, even as you go on to become professionals and dental surgeons and all. That you can reach out to these people who are in need. Whatever you do can make a large difference to them. I'm now at the receiving end so I know how it feels, someone who genuinely care for you, encourage and all. It makes a lot of difference to me. That’s what happens after treatment. I had a treatment recently, but I’ll leave this for another day. A lot of things happened along the way, that's why I am still able to talk to you today.
I'll just end of with this quote here, it's from this book called Tuesdays with Morris, and some of you may have read it. Everyone knows that they are going to die; every one of us knows that. The truth is, none of us believe it because if we did, we will do things differently. When I faced death, when I had to, I stripped myself off all stuff totally and I focused only on what is essential. The irony is that a lot of times, only when we learn how to die then we learn how to live. I know it sounds very morbid for this morning but it's the truth, this is what I’m going through.
Don’t let society tell you how to live. Don’t let the media tell you what you're supposed to do. Those things happened to me. And I led this life thinking that these are going to bring me happiness. I hope that you will think about it and decide for yourself how you want to live your own life. Not according to what other people tell you to do, and you have to decide whether you want to serve yourself, whether you are going to make a difference in somebody else's life. Because true happiness doesn't come from serving yourself. I thought it was but it didn't turn out that way.
Also most importantly, I think true joy comes from knowing God. Not knowing about God – I mean, you can read the bible and know about God – but knowing God personally; getting a relationship with God. I think that’s the most important. That’s what I've learnt.
So if I were to sum it up, I’d say that the earlier we sort out the priorities in our lives, the better it is. Don’t be like me – I had no other way. I had to learn it through the hard way. I had to come back to God to thank Him for this opportunity because I've had 3 major accidents in my past – car accidents. You know, these sports car accidents – I was always speeding , but somehow I always came out alive, even with the car almost being overturned. And I wouldn't have had a chance. Who knows, I don’t know where else I’d be going to! Even though I was baptized it was just a show, but the fact that this has happened, it gave me a chance to come back to God.
Few things I’d learnt though:
1. Trust in the Lord your God with all your heart – this is so important.
2. Is to love and serve others, not just ourselves.
There is nothing wrong with being rich or wealthy. I think it’s absolutely alright, because God has blessed. So many people are blessed with good wealth, but the trouble is I think a lot of us can’t handle it. The more we have, the more we want. I've gone through it, the deeper the hole we dig, the more we get sucked into it, so much so that we worship wealth and lose focus. Instead of worshiping God, we worship wealth. It’s just a human instinct. It’s just so difficult to get out of it.
We are all professionals, and when we go into private practice, we start to build up our wealth – inevitably. So my thought are, when you start to build up wealth and when the opportunity comes, do remember that all these things don’t belong to us. We don’t really own it nor have rights to this wealth. It’s actually God’s gift to us. Remember that it’s more important to further His Kingdom rather than to further ourselves.
Anyway I think that I've gone through it, and I know that wealth without God is empty. It is more important that you fill up the wealth, as you build it up subsequently, as professionals and all, you need to fill it up with the wealth of God.
Here, I'll share with you some Hadiths regarding success and wealth which I find quite resembles to this story.. Hope we all learn some wisdom from it, insyaAllah~ (Source)
- “He who loves his worldly life will harm his hereafter, and he who loves his hereafter will harm his worldly life. Give preference to that which is eternal over that which is temporary”. (Ahmed Ibn Hambal on the authority of Abu Musa Al Ash’Ari)
- “The best of you are those who learn the Qur’an and teach it.” (Bukhari, Sahih)
- The best of the prayer lines for men are the first rows, the worst being the final rows. The best of the prayer lines for women are the final rows and the worst are the first rows.” (Muslim)
- “The best of which man can leave behind for himself are three: a righteous child who supplicates for him, an ongoing charity whose reward continues to reach him and knowledge which others benefit from after him.” (Ibn Hibban, Hasan)
- “The best of you are the best of you in fulfilling (rights).” (Ahmad, Sahih)
- “The best of you are those who are best to their families, and I am the best of you to my family.” (Tirmidhi, Sahih)
- “The best prayers for women are those performed in the most secluded parts of their houses.” (Ibn Khuzaymah, Sahih)
- “The best of people are those who are best in fulfilling (rights).” (Ibn Majah, Sahih)
- “The best of the world’s women are four: Maryum bint Imran, Khadijah bint Khuwaylid, Fatimah bint Muhammad and Asiyah the wife of Fir’awn.” (Ahmad, Sahih)
- The best day on which the Sun has risen is Friday; on it Adam was created, on it Adam was made to enter Paradise and on it he was expelled. The Hour will not be established except on Friday.” (Muslim)
- The best of people in recitation are those who when they recite, you see that they fear Allah.” (Bayhaqi, Sahih)
- “The best of your leaders are those that you love and they love you, you supplicate for them and they supplicate for you. The worst of your leaders are those that you hate and they hate you, you curse them and they curse you.” (Muslim)
- “The best of you are those who are best in paying off their debts.” (Tahawi, Sahih)
- “The best of you are those with the longest lives and most excellent character.” (Bazzar, Sahih)
- “The best of you are those with the longest lives and best in action.” (Hakim, Sahih)
- “The most beloved of deeds according to Allah is that you die and yet your tongue is still moist from the remembrance of Allah.” (Ibn Hibban, Hasan)
- “The best of you are those who are best to their wives.” (Tirmidhi, Sahih)
- Narated By ‘Abdullah bin ‘Amr : That Allah’s Apostle said, “There are forty virtuous deeds and the best of them is the Maniha of a she-goat, and anyone who does one of these virtuous deeds hoping for Allah’s reward with firm confidence that he will get it, then Allah will make him enter Paradise because of it “(Bukhari)
- Narated By Abu Huraira : A man asked the Prophet, “O Allah’s Apostle! What kind of charity is the best?” He replied. “To give in charity when you are healthy and greedy hoping to be wealthy and afraid of becoming poor. Don’t delay giving in charity till the time when you are on the death bed when you say, ‘Give so much to so-and-so and so much to so-and so,’ and at that time the property is not yours but it belongs to so-and-so (i.e. your inheritors).” (Bukhari)
- “The best of companions according to Allah are those who are best to their companion and the best of neighbours according to Allah are those that are best to their neighbour.” (Tirmidhi, Sahih)
- “The best of places are the Mosques and the worst of places are the markets.” (Tabarani, Hasan)
- “The best supplication on the Day of Arafah and the best thing that I and the Prophets before me ever said was, “La ilaha illallah wahdahu la sharika lahu, lahul-mulk wa lahul-hamd wa huwa ala kulli shayin Qadir.”" (Tirmidhi, Hasan)
- “The most beloved words according to Allah the Most High are four: Subhanallah, Alhamdulillah, La ilaha illallah and Allahu Akbar; (Muslim)
- “The best testimony is when one gives it before he is asked to do so.” (Tabarani, Sahih)
- “The best of dowries are the easiest.” (Hakim, Sahih)
- “The most beloved dish according to Allah is that which most hands feed from.” (Ibn Hibban, Hasan)
- “The most beloved servant of Allah is he who is most beneficial to his dependents.” (Zawaid al-Zuhd, Hasan)
- “The best of earnings is that of the labourer as long as he tries his best.” (Ahmad, Hasan)
- “The best of all deeds is the Prayer in its right time, to treat the Parents honourably and Jihad in the path of Allah.” (al-Khatib, Sahih)
- “The best of all deeds is that you bring happiness to your Muslim brother, pay off his debt or feed him bread.” (Ibn Adiyy, Hasan)
- “The best of faith is patience and magnanimity.” (Ahmad, Sahih)
- The best word of remembrance is: La ilaha illallah and the best supplication is: Al-hamdu lillah. (Tirmidhi, Hasan)
- Narrated Abu Sa’id Al-Khudri: Someone asked Allah’s Messenger: “Who is the best man?” He answered, “A believer who strives in the cause of Allah with his life and his wealth.” The man asked: “Who is the next?” He said, “One who retires into a narrow valley and worship his Lord.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
- “The best of hours are those deep in the latter part of the night.” (Tabarani, Sahih)
- “The most beloved of speech according to Allah is when the servant says, Subhanallahi wa bihamdihi (How Transcendent is Allah and we praise him!).” (Muslim)
- “The best prayer after the obligatory ones is the prayer in the depth of the night, and the best fast after the month of Ramadhan is the month of Allah, Muharram.” (Muslim)
- “The best prayer is the prayer of the man in his home except for the obligatory prayer.”(Nasai, Sahih)
- “The best prayer is that with the longest standing.” (Muslim)
- “The best of all prayers according to Allah is the Friday morning prayer in congregation.” (Ibn Nuaym, Sahih)
- “The best fast is the fast of my brother Dawud; he would fast every alternate day and he would never flee (the battlefront) when the armies would meet.” (Tirmidhi, Sahih)
- “The best of all fasts after Ramadhan is in the month that you call Muharram.” (Nasai, Sahih)
- “The world is but a provision and the best provision of the world is a pious and virtuous woman “. (Muslim)
- The best of all deeds is the Prayer at its earliest time.” (Tirmidhi, Sahih)
- The best of all charity is when the one with little strives to give; start with those you are responsible for.” (Hakim, Sahih)
- “The best of days according to Allah is Friday.” (Bayhaqi, Sahih)
- “The best of women are those that please him (her husband) when he sees her, obeys him when she is commanded, and who does not secretly betray him with regards to herself and her money in that which he dislikes.” (Ahmad, Sahih)
- The best companion with Allah swt is he who behaves best to his companion, and the best neighbor with Allah swt is he who behaves best to his neighbour ” (Tirmidhi)