Doctor in the house

With full calendars and frenetic travel schedules, it’s easy for executives to neglect their well-being until something goes awry. Here, we turn to the experts, the doctors themselves, for insights into how they maintain their health and what time-starved professionals should look out for in their own.

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

With full calendars and frenetic travel schedules, it’s easy for executives to neglect their well-being until something goes awry. Here, we turn to the experts, the doctors themselves, for insights into how they maintain their health and what time-starved professionals should look out for in their own.

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To stay in tip-top shape, be selective about what you eat.

Dr Andrea Rajnakova’s professional fate was sealed when she received a toy doctor’s set at the age of four. A simple Christmas present launched the child on a journey that eventually led the adult to specialise in gastroenterology.

Passionate about her area of expertise, she says: “Gastroenterology and endoscopy are dynamic, fast-changing medical fi elds with a wide range of new technologies, innovations and medications developed and implemented in clinical practice over the past 10 years.

“The privilege of using modern technological advances in our daily clinical practice is helping us to provide the best care for our patients.”

As a specialist in the digestive system and its disorders, Dr Rajnakova has a prescription for a healthy lifestyle.

“It is a combination of physical and mental health,” says the gastroenterologist. “How we look is a refl ection of our lifestyle and diet. For me, avoiding processed food and engaging in physical activity are two of the most important things to keep fit. I don’t take any supplements and I believe that if we have a well-balanced healthy diet, it will give us all the necessary nutrients we need.”

Processed foods are those that contain artificial colouring, flavouring and additives. A healthy diet, Dr Rajnakova proposes, must contain all necessary nutrients including small amounts of complex carbohydrates, healthy fat, proteins, minerals, vitamins, fibre and water.

Dr Rajnakova emphasises that other factors, such as food portion, mode of preparation, and consumption of meals throughout the day are equally important. As someone who practises what she preaches, the doctor starts her day with freshly prepared vegetable juice, oat husks with chia seeds, and flaxseeds with a banana for breakfast.

“There is a big misconception about superfoods,” she says. “For example, if we take kale but the rest of our food intake consists of processed, deep-fried and fast food, the benefit of the superfood will be lost.”

For a doctor who is dedicated to serving patients on top of her family, there is very little time for anything else. But to tend to both well, she says, it is important to remain in top physical condition.

“I don’t have time to go to the gym,” says Dr Rajnakova. “But I keep myself active by avoiding lifts. I take the stairs no matter which floor I need to go to. I call it self-discipline. The biggest relaxation for me is the time I spend with my family. They bring sunshine into my life.”

For more information, visit Dr Andrea Rajnakova, consultant gastroenterologist, Andrea’s Digestive, Colon, Liver and Gallbladder Clinic, Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre, #12-10, 3 Mount Elizabeth, Singapore 228510. Tel: 6836-2776

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Modern medicine gets to the heart of cardiovascular issues.

No matter how long and hard your workday has been, know that a physician is probably having it worse, and that with greater regularity. Like all physicians, Dr Daniel Yeo went through the standard baptism of fire: 36-hour duties and 20-hour workdays. Though he’s long since worked his way up to being a consultant cardiologist and medical director at Apex Heart Clinic for a well-deserved slowdown, Dr Yeo knows a thing or two about dealing with stress.

As a cardiologist, he often has to treat critically ill patients despite his own personal fatigue and hunger. But all he needs is a recovering patient, a good book and some light-hearted Korean dramas to take the edge off . “When you’re stressed, there’s nothing else to do but face the source of it. Running away will only postpone what you will eventually have to face,” he advises.

In that vein, Dr Yeo believes that many misconceptions about modern medicine are causing undue worry. For example, many still think that an invasive Catheter Coronary Angiogram is the only way to assess the heart’s blood vessels, but a CT scan is now just as accurate, is cheaper, and requires less radiation exposure.

Then there are those who remain mistrustful of medication, thinking that feeding the body with artificial fixes will cause side effects. While side effects can occur, thus necessitating follow-ups, most medicines are well-tolerated by the body. A common example is the cholesterol-lowering drug class known as statin.

Opting for a natural alternative such as red yeast rice is becoming popular, but many aren’t aware that these alternatives are also statins. The first statin was isolated from a fungus, and subsequent variations are also derived from natural precursors. “It’s possibly cheaper to just buy the conventional medicine,” Dr Yeo says.

Should it come down to surgery, it doesn’t necessarily have to be a traumatic experience. Doctors now have a range of less invasive procedures at their disposal. Stents can be used to widen blood vessels through an artery in the arm or leg, and patients can be discharged the next day.

Implanting a pacemaker, which only requires a small incision about 4cm long, will only take you out of work for a week. Even if a big operation is needed, a skilled and experienced cardiologist can have a patient discharged after just four to seven days.

For more information, visit Dr Daniel Yeo, consultant cardiologist and medical director, Apex Heart Clinic, Gleneagles Hospital, #04-37, 6A Napier Road, Singapore 258500. Tel: 6479-7928

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The key to good health is in your hands.

Many of us grew up wishing we had superpowers like the heroes we idolised on television. But Dr Ganesh Ramalingam actually got his wish because his childhood hero was his family doctor. Impressed and intrigued by how the family GP could heal them when they fell ill, Dr Ganesh started on the path to gain these “powers” as well.

Today, his skills are applied as a consultant surgeon specialising in gastrointestinal , bariatric, advanced laparoscopic and endoscopic surgery at G&L Surgical@PanAsia Surgery. His advice for staying in the pink can be summed up in one word: balance. “Eat everything in moderation and don’t let work take priority over rest and exercise.

It’s a simple secret,” he shares. “People think that doctors, who have an insight into how bodies work, are better at staying healthy. But the truth is that everyone can easily be fit.” It’s a philosophy he has upheld for most of his life. At 17, he represented Singapore in the 19th Asian Schools Football Tournament in China, then served as a Commando during National Service. These days, he turns to football, writing and spending time with his family as a way to ease work stress.

All of this helps Dr Ganesh stay focused at work, where he divides his attention between his speciality in laparoscopy (also known as keyhole surgery) and endoscopy. “We are fortunate to be living at a time with techniques like these, where surgery is now possible through a ‘keyhole’ instead of having to make large incisions,” he says. Laparascopy actually allows for better visualisation inside the body, and patients benefit from fewer complications and faster recovery.

He also recommends gastroscopy and colonoscopy for regular screening, and assures us that the process is far from unpleasant. “In reality, most patients report feeling relaxed from the mild sedation. It’s a simple procedure, with test results often showing no abnormalities.”

But Dr Ganesh is quick to point out that surgery isn’t a cure-all. The body is a delicately calibrated system and even if a surgery is successful, the recovery process varies for each person. One example is the myth that bariatric surgery is an instant fix for obesity. While it is useful for weight loss, it also requires the patient to start developing better diet and exercise habits. “I’m a surgeon and a physician, but I believed in a balanced lifestyle for long term and sustainable weight loss,” he says.

Going forward, Dr Ganesh would like to continue volunteering medical aid and participating in overseas missions. “This is crucial to me as it reminds me of why I became a doctor. Once we reconnect with the ‘why’ of it all, passion becomes an antidote for any stress that arises.”

For more information, visit Dr Ganesh Ramalingam, gastrointestinal, bariatric, advanced laparoscopic and endoscopic surgeon and director, G&L Surgical @Pan Asia Surgery, #10-43/44, 38 Irrawaddy Road, Singapore 329563. Tel: 9088-8313

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Driven by passion, surgeon offers patients hope with his art and science.

As a teenager, Dr Lim Beng Hai had set his heart on becoming a pilot. But after his mother died when he was only 17, he had a dramatic change of heart. The teenager decided to help people instead and was determined to do so as a doctor.

The decision paid off . Today, Dr Lim is recognised by the Singapore Society for Hand Surgery as one of five founding surgeons in the speciality here. But that is secondary for the 57-year-old as his passion for his work is fired by the mixture of the art and science it entails.

“It allows me to do aesthetic work,” says Dr Lim. “People usually come to me in a negative state because their hands have been damaged after an accident or are abnormal at birth.”

The importance of the hand, says Dr Lim, is often understated, and its value in a person’s everyday life usually only gains prominence in a trauma. “It never fails. Every time I see a patient, they admit that they never knew how important their hands were in their everyday life,” he says.

“I see all kinds of patients, from those whose hands have been injured by a door and need to be reconstructed or repaired to others with congenital problems like an extra thumb. Some have fingers that are stuck together or have no fingers at all.

“This is where we do a bit of cosmetic work in addition to the functional. It’s satisfying to be able to reconstruct a hand and make it functional.” Another group of patients Dr Lim sees is the elderly, who tend to suffer from degenerative problems. He says that as people age, ligaments start to tear, tendons swell and fingers lock because of arthritis.

But there are preventive measures one can adopt to keep hands healthy and reduce the risk of injuries.

“I advise patients to keep stretching and strengthening their hands,” he says. “Don’t overuse them. As our environments are air-conditioned, warm hands up in warm water and stretch them before working them. When hands are cold, the ligaments are tight. They’re like a rubber band stored in a fridge. Try pulling it and it will snap.”

For more information, visit Dr Lim Beng Hai, director and senior consultant hand surgeon, Centre For Hand & Reconstructive Microsurgery Clinic, Paragon Medical Suites, #09-08, 290 Orchard Road, Singapore 238859. Tel: 6733-9093

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Doctors aren’t giving up in the face of cancer and, now, thanks to modern medicine, neither should you.

Few diseases are as dreaded and as prevalent as cancer. It’s the developed world’s greatest affliction, and one of the last frontiers of medicine that man has yet to conquer. But until that day comes, oncologists like Dr Lim Hwee Yong, senior consultant and director at Novena Cancer Centre, will continue to fight the good fight, not just by saving lives but by preserving their quality as well.

What drives him in this line of work is a desire to help patients and their families find direction when faced with this life-changing disease, as well as an intellectual thirst for the evolution of cancer treatments. What keeps him sane enough to keep at it though, is going for long runs, skiing, hiking and yoga. “I am motivated to stay healthy both in mind and body by reminding myself that the patients and their family are relying on my help and guidance,” he says.

Part of that guidance involves reassuring people that cancer does not, in fact, mean the end. Or even the end of life as they know it. “The evolution of treatments over the past decade has led to effective treatments that can be well-tolerated by patients, allowing them to maintain an active lifestyle.”

But the key is to face the initial fear. “Dispel misconceptions and discuss the approach to treatment with a professional,” he advises. “The earlier the diagnosis, the earlier the treatment and the better the chances of a cure or at least an effective treatment.”

Because the reality is that many early-stage cancers can be cured. Common ones like breast and colon cancer have a cure rate of more than 90 per cent at the earliest stages. Of course, every case is different, as is every patient, so treatment will be personalised and recovery times will vary.

“It can be months or years. And if the cancer cannot be fully eliminated, then the goal will be to provide a durable good quality of life for the patient undergoing treatment. In some cases, this can mean many years of active, meaningful, high quality life.” In this sense, modern medicine has given us hope as well as a substantial way to keep going.

For more information, visit Dr Lim Hwee Yong, senior consultant and director, Novena Cancer Centre, #09-41, 38 Irrawaddy Road. Singapore 329563. Tel: 6339-0233

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Without treatment, pesky a ilments such as a hearing difficulty or a blocked nose erode quality of life in unexpected ways.

Like all Singaporeans, Dr Lynne Lim loves having tasty local food for breakfast. But these days, she only dreams of starting the day with them. Dr Lim is an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon who sometimes spends six hours straight on intense mi-croscopic work in the operating theatre. At other times, she’s on her feet for 12-hour marathon stretches.

She is driven by the need to get things done right and the adrenaline rush pushes her on. Dr Lim insists she doesn’t get tired, but when the work is done, she withdraws and vegetates.

But a good doctor knows what can cause a body to break down and how to prevent this. So, gone are the days when Dr Lim could indulge in local food for breakfast.

“My husband has started making oats and sandwiches for me. My mum nags me about eating fruits. But I pine for runny eggs and Penang Hokkien Mee,” she admits. “I used to sleep four hours a day, fuelled by the hundreds of things racing through my mind. I have since forced myself to slow down and take better care of myself and my family.”

In being more mindful of her health, Dr Lim has come around to her own advice. ENT medicine helps patients avert a host of ail-ments, but there is a tendency to miss or un-derestimate the warning signs because some problems are subtle. Therein lies the danger.

“Many ignore their hearing difficulty or ringing ears, but it causes depression, results in isolation, and increases the risk of dementia by two to four times,” says Dr Lim. “Sufferers may delay seeking help for years and, unfortunately, the hearing brain actually shrinks without sound stimulation. Early intervention allows the brain to adapt better.”

For untreatable disorders, there is now a range of hearing aids and surgical implants, but they need to be carefully fitted.

A blocked nose is a symptom of many medical illnesses, and identifying the allergen or underlying problem and treating it with medication and endoscopic surgery may help, says Dr Lim.

“Many do not know they have a blocked nose and have lived with it all their lives. They are surprised when my scope reveals how this condition aggravates ear blocks, snoring, sinus pain, headaches, chronic fatigue, hypertension and diabetes.”

To be sure, people who snore loudly underestimate the damage that oxygen deprivation causes, thinking it’s just bothersome noise. “Gastric acid flowing up to the throat can also be silent, without stomach pains. It’s a cause of throat irritation, voice strain and bad breath.” Those nocturnal rumblings can have consequences that carry into your day, so deal with them early.

For more information, visit Dr Lynne Lim, ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon, the Lynne Lim Ear Nose Throat & Hearing Centre (Child & Adult), Mount Elizabeth Medical Centre (Orchard), #17-07, 3 Mount Elizabeth, Singapore 228510. Tel: 6737-7787