Memoirs of a Doctor: chapter 8

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By Dr. Andrew C S Koh

The Accident

On 26th December 2019, I attended a post-Christmas, pre-New Year celebration dinner with my cardiologist colleagues in a hotel in Ipoh.

After dinner, when I was leaving the restaurant, I tripped and fell. I cannot quite remember how I fell. I must have momentarily lost consciousness, and when I came to myself, I saw my friends looking at me and calling out to me.

I could see and hear them, but I had a strange feeling. I could not feel my body from below the neck, and this was frightening! It was as though my head was cut off from the rest of my body. I could not move my hands and feet. I had no sensation whatsoever below my neck. It dawned on me then that I was a tetraplegic – the fall must have resulted in neck injury and spinal shock.

My colleagues called for an ambulance and transferred me to KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital. The paramedics were very careful not to move my neck and protected it with a cervical collar. I was immediately taken for an emergency MRI brain and neck scan and subsequently admitted to the ICU.

The MRI scan showed no head trauma, but there was a prolapsed intervertebral at the C3/C4 level causing a 90% compression of the spinal cord, confirming the diagnosis of a prolapsed intervertebral disc with cervical myelopathy at the C3/C4 level. By then, it was already past midnight.

The Spinal Surgery

The next morning, I was taken for a CT scan of the neck to delineate the prolapse intervertebral disc in more detail. By then, the spinal shock had resolved but I was still tetraplegic. The spinal surgeon who attended to me advised urgent spinal cord decompression surgery to remove the prolapsed intervertebral disc and to decompress the spinal cord.

He explained that this was a delicate and precise operation, and indicated that there was a risk of permanent spastic tetraplegia in the event of complications arising during the operation. At 8pm on 27th December 2019, I was wheeled into the operating theatre for my scheduled operation. I heard the anesthetists in attendance saying that they were giving me pure oxygen, and will be putting me to sleep.

Rehabilitation and Recuperation

The next thing that I remember was the doctors calling my name, asking me to wake up, saying that the operation was over. When I opened my eyes, I saw the doctors, nurses, paramedics, and the clock in the operation theatre – indicating that it was 11pm.

I was wheeled back to the ICU. After eight days in the hospital, I was well enough to be discharged on a wheel chair. After six more weeks of outpatient physiotherapy and rehabilitation, I finally recovered and was discharged from physiotherapy.

At that time, the Covid-19 pandemic kicked in, and the whole country was under lockdown. It took me another two months more before I became fully ambulant. It is now 12 months after my operation, and I am fully ambulant.

Thanks from a grateful heart

I truly want to thank God for saving my life. He rescued me from spinal shock and spastic tetraplegia. God also saw me through the successful spinal surgery and post-operation rehabilitation. My gratitude to all my cardiologist colleagues for calling the ambulance and protecting my neck during the ambulance transfer.

I also want to thank my wife, my sons, my daughters-in-law, my sister, my nephew, my relatives, my in-laws, my friends, my colleagues, my pastors, my church members, my school classmates, and my university classmates for their support. And I am very grateful for all those who prayed for me, cared for me, visited me, cooked for me, bought food for me, supported me, encouraged me, and reassured me.

And finally, I want to thank the spinal surgeon, neurosurgeon, neurologist, anesthetists, radiologists, staff nurses, nursing aides, paramedical staffs, radiographers, physiotherapists, KPJ ISH hospital directors, and all the other hospital staff, who attended to me during my hospitalization.

Nothing short of a miracle

According to one of my cardiologist friends who was with me during the dinner, and who was an eye witness to the accident, I fell with my head facing downwards hitting the floor, and I seemed lifeless for about 2 to 3 minutes. He said that at that moment, he thought I had died and was very worried for me. Fortunately, I revived spontaneously.

According to my eldest son, who is an anesthetist in New Zealand, injuries such as this almost always result in permanent tetraplegia. He is convinced that my complete recovery in such a short time is indeed a miracle.

Living in the goodness of God

So many people prayed for me, through WhatsApp messenger and in person. My wife and sister were very supportive throughout my hospital stay and post-operation. My in-laws were also very supportive throughout my ordeal. They drove me to various places outside Ipoh during the Chinese New Year of 2020 for food and recreation, just to cheer me up.

I thank God for preserving my life so that I can continue to serve Him. God is good! His love, compassion, mercy, and grace were lavished on me. God’s eyes were on me throughout my ordeal – I experienced such amazing grace. Once I could not walk but now can walk! I hope this testimony will be an encouragement for you as it has been and continues to be for me.

Retired and refired

On 11th January 2020, I celebrated my 68th birthday. It also marked the day I hung up my stethoscope for good and promoted it into a museum piece, after 48 years of practicing medicine. I resigned from my position in Perak Community Specialist Hospital and KPJ Ipoh Specialist Hospital and officially retired from medical practice for good.

After retirement, I began serving the Lord in St. Andrews Presbyterian Church Pengkalan, Ipoh, as a lay preacher, bible teacher, worship leader, and bass guitarist. I also became an author and self-published several books. Retirement gave me the time that I needed to do the things I previously could not do.

Over the past 12 months, I have authored 8 books including Expository Commentaries on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John, Acts of the Apostles and Romans, Expository Preaching, Daily Devotions from the Gospel of Mark, and Memoirs of a Doctor.

I wish to praise My God for His abundant blessings that He has bestowed upon me and my family.