A whiff of lemon grass tea greeted us as we entered the Tzu Chi Free Clinic; it turned out to be from a special lemongrass tea beverage concocted by a TIMA member. The tables were neatly lined with plates of fruits, rows of cups, copies of the booklet on Tzu Chi Singapore’s medical mission titled "Humanistic Care Through Humane Hearts", souvenir items, and some orchid flowers. This scene was reminiscent of the small group gatherings at the inaugural TIMA Conference held at The Matrix, Biopolis, in March this year. Volunteers warmly greeted the participants, welcoming them back to Tzu Chi, just like a family reunion. Excited conversations were exchanged, punctuated with laughter. The atmosphere was filled with joy and warmth.
On the night of 11 April, 78 healthcare workers gathered at the Free Clinic for the post-TIMA Conference Reconnection Night. Among them were 18 healthcare professionals who had got connected with Tzu Chi at the conference. The evening session was a time to review the lessons learned during the conference. Many shared their experiences of being involved in Tzu Chi’s missions as well as how to start the practice of humanistic medicine in their respective working environments.
"After attending the TIMA Conference, I have learned to view and care for the patient as a whole person rather than just focusing on the treatment alone,” shared one of the attendees, Dr. Shi Kai Ping. Shi had witnessed how Tzu Chi doctors practised humanistic medicine and provided comprehensive care for patients, taking care of their physical, as well as psychological and emotional well-being. Inspired, he decided to join the ranks of TIMA.
Embarking on a Path to Growth
The reconnection session began with a video showing the Opening Ceremony of the TIMA Conference, allowing the attendees to reminisce on the performances by the TIMA drum team as well as the sign language team. It also gave those who missed the conference a chance to witness some exciting moments of the event.
That evening, the conference organizing committee presented souvenirs to those who made it possible for the TIMA drum and sign language presentations. The rousing drum performance was a result of much perseverance and diligent effort. Due to shortage of time, the drum team only had 7 sessions of practice spread over two weeks. It was decided that if the team did not make the mark after the third session, the drum performance would be called off.
Holding on to the belief that “with the will, comes the strength” (a Jing Si Aphorism by Master Cheng Yen), the team practised diligently and finally managed to make the mark. One of the drum team members, TCM physician Zhou Xiao Ping, admitted that it truly took a lot of courage and confidence for him to take on a challenge in an unfamiliar field.
Taking up a task that is unrelated to one’s area of expertise is not only a learning curve, but also a path to growth. Five healthcare professionals shared about their experiences of volunteering with Tzu Chi, and how they had grown spiritually from the work they did.
One of them was TIMA member and Tzu Chi commissioner Leong Lee Tyn, who regularly participates in charity visits. Once, she was involved in a charity case wherein the care recipient was unable to work due to illness. Despite having no income, this care recipient was still willing to contribute part of the monthly allowances he received from Tzu Chi to help other poor people. Leong also shared that some care recipients with medical conditions would still participate actively in Tzu Chi’s recycling activities despite feeling unwell.
Seeing how these care recipients had a healthy mindset despite being physically ill, and that they were willing to contribute their efforts as well as money to help others, Leong felt that she was not “contributing” but rather learning from them. She also encouraged fellow healthcare workers to work to comfort and care for the sick to bring warmth to their hearts.
Reaching Out to Patients and Understanding their Needs
Dr. Lim Dwee Wee had the opportunity to participate in the 2014 TIMA medical mission to Sri Lanka, and he shared his experiences during the trip. He said that other than providing medical treatment to the local residents, the medical mission also served to train and raise up local medical personnel so that they, too, could independently work to help the local sick and needy people.
Although already a mother of one child, nurse volunteer Ooi Yim Shan is still actively involved in Tzu Chi’s work. She is now a staff member of the Tzu Chi home care service team.
"(As Master Cheng Yen often says,) ‘those who suffer (from illness) cannot come out to (seek medical help), so the blessed ones (Tzu Chi volunteers and TIMA members) should go to them (and help them)’,” said Ooi.
Some patients cannot go to the clinic themselves due to mobility problems. So, home health care workers are needed to go into their homes to provide medical services, such as consultation, cleaning wounds, nursing care, etc.
Pang Jun Fui, a nurse at the Intensive Care Unit of a hospital, first joined Tzu Chi 4 years ago. Her daily work routine is always a race against time, so she finds it difficult to take into account patients’ feelings, and felt regret about it. Pang revealed that despite the modern and well-equipped working environment of a hospital, it is still common to hear grievances from staff. The TIMA Conference had inspired her to change her mindset – she realized that she should be more empathetic towards the feelings of patients. Now, despite her busy schedule, she will slow down and listen to her patients more intently.
"I really want to go to a Taiwan Tzu Chi hospital to see for myself how the nurses there can work so happily despite being so busy.”
Pang vowed to start working on herself, and even took the initiative to sign up as a TIMA member. She hopes to understand more about TIMA first, and then encourage her colleagues to join her ranks.
A Culture of Care, Respect, and Love
“We must treat our patients well, and we must treat the earth well, too, because our lives are intertwined with our planet’s,” said a young Dr. Ho Xin Qin. She highlighted that, in view of frequent occurrences of natural disasters, people truly need to make a concerted effort to protect and care for the environment. After joining Tzu Chi, Dr. Ho is more aware of the importance of environmental protection; she started with daily habits, such as saving water and turning off lights. She said that if more people realized the need to protect the Earth, the impact would be greater, and shared that practicing vegetarianism is also a way to care for the earth.
Alynn Lim, a Nurse manager at Tan Tock Seng Hospital, was pleasantly surprised with her first experience of participating in a Tzu Chi activity (the TIMA Conference). She witnessed the participants partaking of simple vegetarian meals using re-usable utensils and sitting on small plastic chairs during break times, which strongly contrasted with the luxurious settings often seen in other conferences. The volunteers humbly served and cared for every participant, and were polite and thankful to all. Lim said she could feel an atmosphere of deep gratitude, respect and love at the venue.
The nurse manager felt that there was still much for her to learn from Tzu Chi’s medical teams. She vaguely remembered how her father’s body was left with marked wounds and rough stitches after an autopsy. This was in contrast to the meticulous work done by Tzu Chi University’s medical students in sewing up the bodies of their Silent Mentors, which showed great respect for the deceased. Lim is interested to learn more about Tzu Chi’s culture of humanistic medicine, and has invited her friends to participate in this year's Annual TIMA Convention in Taiwan.
Before the session ended, Deputy CEO of Tzu Chi Singapore Kenny Khoo gave a short talk where he commended the TIMA Conference organizing committee for bringing the event to fruition within a short time frame. He also encouraged the participants to keep up their spirit and to show their commitment by joining the ranks of TIMA. After Khoo finished his speech, TIMA members wrapped up the event by leading all attendees in singing the heartwarming song “We Are One Family” with sign language.