The Dead Doctor

March 19, 2009 at 08:10 2 comments

On 3rd March 2009, news broke of the death of a Dr. Allan Ooi. He was a 27-year-old Singaporean doctor who had signed on with the Armed Forces, but had been AWOL since last October. His body was found under the Westgate Bridge in Melbourne. He was last seen, by a passerby, getting out of his car on the bridge at 4 a.m.

He came from a privileged background – both parents are doctors in high-paying specialties, and his brother and sister are a doctor and lawyer respectively. Reports also mentioned his interest in ophthalmology, a specialty traditionally associated with the good-looking, well-heeled and strategically-connected stratum of doctors.

I never knew or met him, but I have friends who’d previously worked with him. They say that he was an excellent colleague. Besides being handsome and charismatic, he was also hardworking and helpful. People wanted to be on call with him. In this world, that qualifies as high praise.

Before he died, he wrote a long email, and had it sent out the day after his death. Although it was a very personal letter, addressed to ‘undisclosed recipients’, it has somehow come out in full in various media, for thousands of public eyes to see.

I confess that I have been nosy enough to snoop out this email. It states the reasons why he decided to kill himself. It is well-crafted and coherent, and makes me think he knew exactly what he was doing. His prime stressor appeared to be work. He described his job as “terrible”, a “prison”, bringing him “no joy, no satisfaction”. Signing on with the Armed Forces usually entails a 12-year bond, but his bond had apparently just been increased to 15 – 16 years “at will… simply by passing a paper”, and had been made “unbreakable”, leaving him in “utter despair”. That was “certainly the main cause of… severing of ties”.

Later in the email, he mentioned disappointment in his own “unsavory qualities”, the “failure” of his relationship with his one true love, “numerous flings”, as well as a “small betrayal” by his “best friend” that left them no longer on speaking terms, all of which he had come to regret. However, these topics were described with brevity and a flavour of acceptance, without the dramatic superlatives he used to describe his job, which suggest that these factors were not the primary causes of his suicide.

He spoke of his family, friends and personal blessings with love and thankfulness, and apologized for the pain he would cause with his suicide. He did not believe in God and hoped his death would be “final and absolute”.

Interestingly, he firmly stated that although “unhappy”, he was “not depressed”. That remark impressed me, because it showed his perceptiveness. Certainly he must have been very unhappy to wish for the complete obliteration of his existence. But he was one of the rare few who knew that unhappiness and depression are not the same thing. Unhappiness is the product of unfortunate events. Depression feeds on itself.

Painful and pitiable though Allan’s suicide was, human nature could not resist adding a heaping dose of sordid nastiness to the reporting of the event. One paper claimed that the “one poignant point” that “stood out” was Allan being “deeply hurt by the woman he loved most”. Another highlighted his name and picture under an article about gaming and violence, hinting that his status as “one of the top 10 Warcraft players in Singapore” had led to his death. A third that I heard about, but was unable to find, apparently cited gambling losses as the reason. I cannot help thinking that these very public postulations are opportunistic, irresponsible and unfair.

Free from the constraints of formal journalism, some personal comments on the matter are even more caustic. People have called Allan “shameless” and “spoilt”, a “pussy” and a “loser”, quoting Bible verses to prove their point, or going on to slime the Armed Forces, the government, the local elite and even Singaporean women for being exempted from National Service. To be fair, there were comments that were rational and compassionate as well. However, I was surprised at the amount of venom there was in general. Such sarcasm and such sneers. With a flourish of the keyboard, some people relegated Allan’s entire life to a meaningless non-entity.

Putting aside my cynicism about the veracity of online information – after all, what proof do I have that the email is even genuine? – these events offer much food for thought.

Do I think that Allan’s actions showed weakness? Do I think his fortitude and resilience were flawed? Do I feel some anger and a sense of waste over his suicide? Of course I do. I think that dissatisfaction with work is a silly reason to die. I think that being born privileged has its drawbacks in terms of character-building. I think that a bond is a bond and should either be honoured or negotiated to mutual satisfaction. I think that there must have been some other alternative – either legal recourse or simply sticking it out.

On the other hand, it hardly sounds fair for the Armed Forces to extend the length of the bond just like that. Was there no formal reason for the extension? No mutual official agreement? When my own bond to the govenment was extended, I was appropriately informed and given a choice, and there were documents for me to sign. It would surprise me to discover that the Armed Forces lack this procedure. Whether or not Allan was aware of and agreeable to the bond extension is an important point. Three to four years is a significant length of time.

As for the self-righteous, mud-slinging lot, I think they know nothing of the verse that reads, “Let him who is without sin cast the first stone”. 

However, that’s just my way of thinking. I have the benefit of being in a different situation and state of mind. Compared to Allan, I have the luxury of taking a dispassionate view from a distant perspective. My thoughts and emotions are not clouded by his misery. If it had been me, I might have done the same thing. Who knows? I am imperfect too, and am inclined to melancholy, self-centredness and pessimism.

So I ponder and comment and try to learn, and cannot help being somewhat judgmental, but at the end of the day, my own two cents are just that in the mint of wisdom.

Update: Read about my own experiences in the field here.

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Entry filed under: The Manx's Take. Tags: , .

The University Streakers Dream Of Aloneness

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Welcome to my blog!


My blog-name is Katie but I will not respond if you call me that in real life because it's not my real name. Yes, I do practise virtual-world paranoia. No, I do not enjoy stalkers. But I do enjoy writing and having folks reading said writing, so welcome to my world. It's nice to meet you.

Playing in my head over and over again argh

I'll Have To Say I Love You In A Song (Jim Croce)

Book(s) of the moment

Hogfather (Terry Pratchett)

Books read in 2010 and 2011

Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows (JK Rowling) - 'cos the movie's coming out!
Frankenstein: Lost Souls (Dean Koontz) - ah, bugger, it's part of a series! Now I hafta find all the books...
Dismantled (Jennifer McMahon) - oh, good one
Tigerlily's Orchids (Ruth Rendell)
Shutter Island (Dennis LeHane) - reminds me too much of work
Holy Fools (Joanne Harris) - it's official: I prefer her scary books
A Series of Unfortunate Events; The Unauthorized Autobiography; The Beatrice Letters (Lemony Snicket)
The Little Friend (Donna Tartt)
The main books - 11 so far - of the Southern Vampire series; the Aurora Teagarden series except for A Fool & His Honey - that makes it 7; Sweet & Deadly (Charlaine Harris)
The Woman in Black (Susan Hill)
Full Dark, No Stars (Stephen King)
Room: A Novel (Emma Donaghue)
Miss Peregrine's Home For Peculiar Children (Ransom Riggs)
The Bachman Books (Stephen King)
Men At Arms (Terry Pratchett)
Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett)
The Fifth Elephant (Terry Pratchett)
Beauty (Robin McKinley)
The Sandman, Vol 1 (Neil Gaiman)
The Burden (Agatha Christie) - her crime novels are waaay better
Snuff (Terry Pratchett)

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Disclaimers: 1) I cannot help but bitch about work sometimes, but everything here comes under the realm of personal remarks, and nothing here is said in my professional capacity. Nor does anything here reflect the opinion of the institutions that employ me. This is just me shooting off. 2) Most identities have been anonymized, particularly those of folks I know on a personal basis. Same goes for my workplaces. However, commercial and public places and figures remain named. Otherwise some things just wouldn't make sense. 3) Links and sources have been provided where appropriate and possible. They are not meant to challenge anyone's ownership. If this causes any discomfort or offence, please let me know.

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