A Call Too Late

September 24, 2015

“Hello, good evening. I’m calling from the dental faculty of University of Malaya. May I know, is this the family of Tan Ai Lee? ” Reading a perfectly-structured sentence from the scribbles on my paper, I waited eagerly for the person on the other end of the call to reply, wondering if she speaks Mandarin or English; because I have two versions of what I want to say next- either in Mandarin or in English, I’m prepared.

“Oh good evening, yes yes. Is this regarding the dentures?”

Young lady’s voice. Perfect English. This must be the patient’s daughter (because according to the list, my patient is 74 years old). It would be easier for me to explain to her then.

“Yes, I'm a third year dental student here.” Couldn't be more excited and nervous at the same time, my eyes wandered down to the next perfectly-structured sentence scribbled on my paper.

“Oh I see. However, my aunty passed away just two weeks ago. And we hadn't had time to contact the university about this… so…”

There was a brief moment of silence.

This answer was definitely not expected and I had to quickly run through the words on my paper to see what I can say next but in the end, all that I was able to say was:

“Uh.. ohh… I see. I’m so sorry. ”

“It’s okay. I'm also terribly sorry that you have to find another patient… but thank you so much for calling”

“No no. It’s fine it’s fine. Thanks thanks.” I found myself saying each phrase twice to sound more understanding. 

She thanked me again and hung up the phone. It was my very first time calling my very first patient and I totally did not expect this to happen.

I'm not sure why this short conversation had me impacted so deeply that I had to write it here in my blog. It struck me hard. It taught me a scary truth. Our lives are just too fragile. Who would have thought that the patient assigned to me- my very own and very first patient, who came to my dental faculty to register just two months ago, passed on? Just two weeks ago.

A call made too late. A life ended too soon. 

Although I've never met this patient before, it still saddens me a little to think about how we could have been. She could have been my best patient (or worst patient, but I'm an optimist) and I might be her youngest dentist who is able to make her a new pair of dentures. Life is so unpredictable and temporary. It is truly by grace that we can open our eyes in the morning each day. Cherish your loved ones when you still can :)

*Patient's name has been changed to protect real patient's identity.

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