It’s in the blood: The yin and yang of life

It's in the blood The yin and yang of life

Q: I have a strong interest in haematology because…

Haematology teaches me about the yin and yang of life – that it is all about balance. An abundance or a lack of certain blood cell types leads to blood disorders, including blood cancers. Too much or too little of blood clotting proteins causes abnormal blood clot formation or bleeding. If
there is any problem in the blood, it can lead to dire consequences elsewhere as our blood flows to almost every part of the body.

Q: If I were to give an analogy for what I do, I’d be a…

Prosecutor, because I need to gather information in order to diagnose a blood disorder. I ask patients about their symptoms, examine their blood or bone marrow cells under a microscope and do specialised tests to get the answer. After this intensive interrogation leads to an accurate diagnosis, I go on to “prosecute” the incriminated cells by delivering the appropriate therapy to treat the disease.

Q: I come across all types of cases from…

Patients with blood cancers such as acute leukaemia and lymphoma to patients with benign blood disorders like anaemia. I also see patients with bleeding disorders and venous thromboembolism, a blood clotting disorder.

Q: A typical day for me would… 

Start with getting my girls ready for school. I go on my ward round to see my patients around 8.30am. After that, I run outpatient clinic sessions till 5.30pm. Some days, I will be at the haematology section of the laboratory to investigate any abnormal blood films, bone marrow aspirates and the results of flow cytometry assay, an advanced technique to identify problematic blood cells. Then, I will go home and spend time with my family.

Q: Two little known facts about haematology are…

That chemotherapy is not the only treatment, and that outpatient treatment can be done for certain blood cancers. It is generally believed that blood cancers are treated only with chemotherapy, which is known to produce side effects such as hair loss, nausea and vomiting. But most of the side effects can be controlled with medication. Also, today, there’s a newer type of cancer treatment called targeted therapy, which uses drugs to more precisely identify and attack cancer cells. Many targeted therapies such as immunotherapy and cell therapy are replacing or complementing conventional chemotherapy, thanks to rapidly evolving clinical research.

Q: Patients who get my goat are…

Those who are unreasonably rude, not only to me but also to other healthcare professionals such as nurses. Mutual respect yields the best outcome in every relationship.

Q: Things that put a smile on my face are…

When my patients recover from their illness and resume their daily activities.

Q: It breaks my heart when…

Patients with curable blood cancers refuse treatment because of fallacies or hearsay that unreliable alternative treatment provides a cure. It can be harder to change human mindsets than to cure certain blood diseases.

Q: My best tip…

Is that having a balanced diet, sufficient rest and exercising as tolerated are enough to maintain one’s general well-being. This is the case even while one is undergoing treatment for blood disorders. Also, one should discuss the use of health supplements with doctors and dietitians as some may cause unfavourable drug interactions and can even harm us, depending on the reliability of the ingredients.

Q: I wouldn’t trade places for the world because…

My discipline trains me to practise medicine from bench (diagnosis at the laboratory) to bedside (instituting appropriate treatment). It is exciting and satisfying.