A Thousandth Opinion (by Albert Lim Kok Hoo)

published in Khaleej Times on Nov 11, 2009

I know a man who has seen a thousand doctors. Let us call him Thomas. He is 80 years old but even so, a thousand is a huge number. In a year, he would have seen 12 new doctors on the average. A thousand different doctors means perhaps 20,000 consultations. Sometimes Thomas sees three different doctors in one afternoon.

Some of Thomas’s friends are doctors. Some of his doctors become his friends. His doctors range from the junior to the senior, from those in government hospitals to those in private practice, from generalists to specialists. Men, women, foreigners, graduates from local universities; he has seen them all. Sometimes he sees them just to measure his blood pressure.

Sometimes it is for a more serious matter like an unexplained chest pain. He has spent about $230,000 in his lifetime on doctor visits, blood tests, medications, X-rays, scans and Ҭminor surgeries.

He has no regrets. Others may splurge on flashy cars or the services of a sommelier, but for Thomas it is doctors, doctors and more doctors. Sadly, Thomas was diagnosed with lung cancer recently and was referred to me. I wonder how many more oncologists he has seen or will be seeing.

Thomas came across as a well adjusted gentleman. He did not exhibit any verbal or physical tic. He spoke well. He gave his medical history clearly and answered most of my questions willingly and appropriately. Having gained his trust, I decided to explore his need to see so many doctors. He was forthright about it. He is afraid to die.

So many of us, with or without cancer, are not willing to admit to our fear of death. We couch our fear like this: “Doctor, I am not afraid to die but I fear the process of dying.” Others of a more poetic bent will say, “Oh, death, where is thy sting?” It is a badge of honor we proudly wear on our sleeves.

Thomas was afraid of death, and he was not afraid to admit it. That’s courage. He was going to do his best to postpone it. Of course, seeing a thousand doctors does not help. It may even be harmful. Conflicting opinions lead to confusion and anxiety. Excessive and unnecessary X-rays and CT scans increase the chance of radiation-“¨induced cancer.

Apart from his fear of death, Thomas also disclosed a distrust of doctors. He was seeking as many opinions as possible before deciding on treatment. He had his doubts. Now you know why I gave Thomas his moniker.

Is Thomas suffering from hypochondriasis? The condition is characterised by fears that minor bodily symptoms may indicate a serious illness. The hypochondriac constantly examines himself; self-diagnosis becomes a preoccupation. He expresses doubt and disbelief in the doctor’s diagnosis. Thomas has some traits of a hypochondriac but that is too easy a label to stick on him. Thomas had a CT scan of his chest two years ago that disclosed a shadow in his lung. He was treated for pneumonia. The possibility of cancer was excluded when most of the shadow disappeared with a course of antibiotics. The doctors should have gone the extra mile to exclude cancer with a PET/CT scan and a biopsy.

Some may diagnose Thomas with thanatophobia “” an undue obsession with death (especially one’s own) to the extent that it becomes psychologically crippling. Again, this would be too convenient a label. Thomas is a successful entrepreneur and is socially adept.

I really don’t know. We tend to medicalise every little symptom and discomfort. From an infant’s excessive crying to teenage angst to a wage earner’s blues. There is a pill for everything: insomnia, erectile dysfunction and the sadness of bereavement. Perhaps Thomas has the time and money to see many doctors and he feels good doing this. It is therapeutic for him, if you can forgive my use of the word. It may be no different from some others I know who spend as much as Thomas does on audiovisual systems or eating unmentionable parts of endangered animals.

I shall help Thomas fight his cancer. I will dissuade him from unnecessary blood tests and scans. I will not judge him. Most of all, I will not medicalize his fear of death. It is about being human. There is no pill for it.


Albert Lim Kok Hooi is an oncologist based in Kuala Lumpur

Magic Realism Transformations in Paulo Coelho

Thesis Subject: Magic Realist Transformations in Paulo Coelho’s The Witch of Portobello and The Experimental Witch
Thesis Author: Meryem Riza-Ezel
Thesis File: Download

Some questions and answers

Google Alerts is great. Sometimes I found things about myself that I did not expect. Today I found an old interview for an Indian newspaper – and here are some Q&A

Could you recall from your life where you felt the feminine face of God?

It was in 1992, when I was sitting inside of a grotto, in Lourdes. Since then, I try to accept my feminine side. When I write, I am a woman. I got pregnant from life, and I don’t know how the baby looks like. My pregnancy cycle lasts for two years, and I don’t take notes, I don’t make plans. The only thing that I know is that life put inside me a seed that will grow when time comes. Then, when time comes, I sit and write. Every creative act demands a respect for mystery, and I respect the mystery, without trying to understand it.

What do you feel when readers hug you and confess in public how the book had changed their lives?

First and foremost, I am a writer – and a writer is always facing the challenge of a new book. This is, for me, what makes life interesting: there is always a new book to be written, which involves pain, joy, suffering, relief, feelings of a person who is alive. I don’t think why this or that happened, and I became a worldwide celebrity. I think: “Am I honest in which I am doing? Can I still talk to my soul?
The secret of the success of my books, if there is one; it is the absence of secrets.

Did you expect this world wide success?
When I wrote “The Alchemist”, I was trying to understand my own life, and the only way that I could do it was through a metaphor. Then, the book – with no support of the press, because the media normally refuses to publish anything about an unknown writer – made its way to the readers, and the readers start to discover that we share the same questions. Little by little, the book started to travel abroad, and today is one of the best seller books of all times. But this success came slowly, based on a word-of-mouth promotion, and this gives me the sensation, the wonderful sensation that I am not alone.


In an Interview with Juan Arias of El Paí­s you confessed that, “Happiness to me is very abstract, To tell you the truth, I am never happy”.

The fact that I don’t search for happiness, does not mean that unhappiness is the choice. The right choice is “joy”. Challenges, defeats, victories, excitement, never being bored by this peaceful Sunday afternoon “happiness”.

As a best-selling author how far has consumerism affected you. You have to go through a corporate capitalist structure.

As Buddha said, first you have to have, then you can renounce everything. It is easy to make a chastity vow if you are impotent. Easier to make a poverty vow if you are incapable of earning money with your choice, your dream. I could buy a castle, but I bought a watermill, not because I feel guilty – I work hard – but because a watermill is close to my way of seeing life, and easier to maintain. As for my work, no publisher dares to ask me anything – I don’t see the point of “corporate capitalist structure”.

In The Alchemist you have said that you have to pay a price for the perusal of ones dream. What’s the price you paid in the journey with your dream?

A very high one. But I am glad that I paid this price for my dream, instead of paying the price of living someone else’s dreams.

You have been into an asylum twice. People like Michael Foucault have written about the power discourses that create madness. How do you see you days in the asylum?

I cannot summarize that. I wrote a whole book on my experience, “Veronica Decides to Die”. But one thing I can say: it was not a traumatic experience, to begin with. It was in my path, I had to see it as something that I must overcome, not as something I was victimized by.

If you meet a person who has a deep sense of worthlessness, who is broken, and has decided to end her life, what would you tell her?

Dare to be different. You are unique, and you have to accept you as you are, instead of trying to repeat other people’s destinies or patterns. Insanity is to behave like someone that you are not. Normality is the capacity to express your feelings. From the moment that you don’t fear to share your heart, you are a free person.

Most common superstitions in Brasil

A bird in the house is a sign of a death

Never take a broom along when you move. Throw it out and buy a new one.

If the first butterfly you see in the year is white, you will have good luck all year.

If a black cat walks towards you, it brings good fortune, but if it walks away, it takes the good luck with it.

To kill a cat brings seven years of bad luck

It’s bad luck to leave a house through a different door than the one used to come into it.

A horseshoe brings good luck

If a friend gives you a knife, you should give him a coin (metal), or your friendship will soon be broken.

Walking under a ladder has long been regarded a bad luck

If you broke a mirror, you would break your future.

Many Brazilians dress in white on Fridays

New offices in Barcelona

Para versí£o em portugues, clique aqui
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Download high resolution photo here.

Brazilian author Paulo Coelho, who earlier this year published his new novel, Adultery, (in Spain, Editorial Planeta), will be in Barcelona on November 12th for the inauguration of Sant Jordi Asociados’ new offices in the heart of the city.
The literary agency, that handles the writer’s work and rights worldwide from the Catalan capital, is celebrating its twentieth anniversary this 2014.

According to Mí´nica Antunes, the author’s exclusive literary agent since the first translations of The Alchemist””currently translated into 80 languages and present over 140 countries -“the new opportunities and the transformation of the publishing market have allowed us to grow into other areas,” referring to the digital leap. In this sense, Antunes is “very confident to further expand its scope of action from the new office.”

The new headquarters of Sant Jordi Asociados is twice the size of the previous one, thanks to the growing presence of Paulo Coelho’s in the world.

For Coelho, who visits Barcelona regularly, being in the city is a great joy. “Barcelona has always been a reference in the publishing industry and very generous and affectionate towards my work,” concludes the Brazilian author.

Such good tuning is also due to the great relationship that both the writer and his agent have with their publishers. According to Carlos Revés, director of the Publishing Area of Planeta Group, Mí´nica Antunes’ presence in Barcelona has always proved to be “an advantage in our communication and closeness with Coelho, who is practically a local author for us”. “We are very pleased – adds Revés – that the author will be here to toast for the success of Adultery, which since its publication in Spain has not left the best-seller lists.”

For further information: +34 93 224 01 07

Karine Martins – Barcelona

Karine Martins Barcelona

How My Father Looked

By SULAIMAN ADDONIA

I think I have a way of finding out what my father looked like. Yes, finally! Excuse my excitement. My father died when I was very young, and to this day, I have never seen a picture of him. My search for his face goes back to when I lived in a refugee camp in eastern Sudan.
It was around 1977 when we arrived at the camp on camel from Eritrea, then under Ethiopian control and fighting for independence. My father had been murdered, but at 2 years old I had no understanding of the circumstances. Sudan promised a new beginning.
For the next two years, we lived in a hut, and my mother did odd jobs, but it wasn’t enough. She finally found work as a servant in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and left us with our grandparents in the refugee camp. I was about 4. Each day afterward, her image became more vague and abstract, just like my father’s. It felt as if I had never had parents.
My mother couldn’t read or write, but she used to record tapes and send them to us. She told us about her life in Jeddah. I would stay in our hut and play the tapes over and over again. I tried to focus on visualizing her face. That was when I started trying to create portraits of both my parents. I imagined my father’s features like mine, with pronounced nose and eyes, and I reinvented my mother’s warm smile. Drawing their pictures in my head, I believed, brought me closer to them.
Then one day, three years after she left, my mother finally sent us a photo of herself. We hung the framed photo on the wall, the only bit of color against the pale mud. Oh, my beautiful mother! I missed her madly.

to continue reading (another 2 minutes), please go to New York Times here

Aleph images