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Ladies and Gentlemen,
Having been sentenced to serve 8 weeks in a Singapore's Queenstown Prison from Sept 20, 2008 to Nov 20, 2008 for having the temerity to criticize a judge in this blog about her conduct of a case where Singapore's strongman Lee Kuan Yew was engaged in his usual pastime of suing his critics for defamation of character in his courts, I had occasion against my will to see the prison doctor almost everyday during my last 2 weeks or so before my release.
Not that there was anything wrong with me but how can you argue with a prison warden when you are a prisoner. Almost everyday, a warden used to open my cell ordering me to go with him down the flight of stairs to see the doctor. He wore a name tag on his shirt, “Dr. Lim Jeng Min, Medical Officer, Singapore Prison Service". He is a small man, small in stature and height, Chinese by race with black hair sticking up and a black birth mark just under his nose running to his lip which gave the aspect of Adolph Hitler. Not athletic as if he never played any sport in his life or as if, with his tender hands, he had spent his entire life in an office.
The rule was for prisoners to be handcuffed while they appear before a doctor. The warden stands next to you watching.
The purpose of my visits to him was to have me weighed and recorded and to check my blood pressure. Each time I was weighed it was with the handcuffs on. Quite often, he forgets to deduct the weight of the handcuffs which I came to know was 500 grams. So after a while he decided to take the weight as it is with the weight of the handcuffs. I was progressively losing weight due to the unpalatable food, and the doctor's purpose was to see how much weight I am losing and not what my weigh actually was.
As to the blood pressure, he claimed my blood pressure was high and once ordered that I have some contraptions strapped to my chest to have my heart beat taken. There is a medical term for it but I had forgotten.
The almost daily routine would be to have me sit next to him and a strap wound on my arm to check my blood pressure. Taking it once wasn’t enough for him. He would repeat it again and again, several times in a row and tell me that my blood pressure was high.
After that he asked if I wanted any medicine. I would say no. I told him not once but repeatedly that I don't need any treatment and I wanted to be left alone. I was fine. It was my body, not his. I was being kept there against my will. I don't need any treatment. Please leave me alone, I told him. But being a prisoner, there is nothing you could do. I was forced to se him again and again, day after day to take that confounded blood pressure and my weight.
Not satisfied with having me brought to him day after day for the same routine against my will, he then said I have to be taken to Changi Hospital to be examined by a doctor there for a second opinion. I am not a doctor but I don’t think taking a man's blood pressure is rocket science. Surely it is not so hard to find out a man's blood pressure. There was no need to have me be transported in prison transport to Changi Hospital for this.
But not with this man, Dr. Lim Jeng Min. He was determined to give the run around. He was determined it seemed to make it difficult, when there was nothing wrong with me. If I knew that, surely that should be sufficient.
So I was to be taken to Changi Hospital. I said I did not want to go. When I refused the Officer Commanding of cell Block A, G Savier, an Indian, came to see me. He said I had to go whether I liked it or not. He said if I did not go, I will be punished, which I assumed to be solitary confinement and that my term in prison will be extended, and other threats were bandied about. Having no choice, I said I will go. But listen to this. I was to change into a prison jump suit; you know the type you see in prison movies, orange pajama type trousers and long sleeves for the trip. If that is not enough, I was to be shackled, which means handcuffs behind you, and a chain running down to your back to your feet connected to handcuffs at your ankles, escorted by an armed prison warder, gripping your arm! This was a bit too much. I said I will go, but without the shackles and chains. Again, no amount of persuasion would move them. The threats from G Savier were the same. If I did not submit to their demands, it will be punishment. So what choice did I have? I changed into the orange monkey prison jump suit and was shackled and chained. At that time, anyone looking at me, could have reasonabley assumed that I had indeed slit the throats of 20 people in cold blood.
Restrained by shackles, one cannot walk in normal strides. You have to walk in short strides or skip to walk, assisted by the armed guard. I get helped into the prison transport, a van with no windows on the far side with seating space only for one, separated by a locked partition where the armed prison escort sits outside. Since there are no windows, obviously you cannot look out. It is completely dark, no lights.
Your indignity is worsened when you reach the hospital. You are paraded walking in short steps, shackled and chained through the hospital concourse and waiting areas where there are many people, patients visitor's, their families and children, who all look at you as if you were Jack the Ripper. Who would blame them? After all you in a prison suite with shackles and chains about you and being escorted with an armed prison officer gripping your arm, as if you will still manage to escape even though thoroughly chained and shackled.
After going through that indignity, I am brought before the Changi Hospital doctor. He takes my blood pressure with the strap around my arm. He tells me there is nothing wrong with me. My blood pressure is fine. After various other medical questions, the examination is over. I have to once again be paraded in my prisoner’s attire through the throngs of people in the hospital to the van.
After returning to the prison, Dr. Lim Jeng Min, goes through the report of the Changi doctor. But Dr. Lim refuses to be satisfied. He then has his kicks with me, by making every person there to take my blood pressure, again and again. He asks the hospital technician there to take it. The man is a Filipino. After that he asks a Chinese woman clerk to take my blood pressure. He then asked another hospital technician who works there Mr. Jeganathan to take it. Mr. Jeganathan rightfully refuses. Dr. Lim Jeng Min's purpose was no other than to humiliate me. To show me that he can do anything he wants whenever he wants. What he tells me is something different. He wanted to be sure, he says, that his diagnosis that I had high blood pressure is accurate. So he says it is necessary to have every person at his prison clinic to have a go at taking my blood pressure. In fact he even asked a warden standing by to try his hand at taking my blood pressure, but the man rightly refused. Dr. Lim is a man, who obviously thinks he can do anything he wants to a prisoner because he is helpless.
True to a certain extent, but not if that released prisoner has Internet service and likes to write blogs!
Coming back to that doctor, believe it or not, he was not satisfied that the Changi Hospital doctor had stated categorically that I had no high blood pressure. He says that I have to see him again. The prison jump suit, shackles, chains and all. It was no point protesting anymore. This doctor was determined to make life difficult for me. And there was nothing I could do. The idea this time was a directive to the doctor at Changi Hospital to fix a device to my body with a line going to my arm, for my blood pressure to be monitored for 24 hours with the contraption on my body. I told the doctor that I wanted no such thing. But no use. I had to go. I had to be paraded one more time as a prisoner to tell everyone in Changi Hospital present that day, that Gopalan Nair, is coming to Changi Hospital.
Well I go to Changi Hospital suffering the same indignity as I go along. I see a nurse technician. I tell her very clearly that there is nothing wrong with me, I don't need any contraptions attached to my body and that the prison doctor is deliberately making life difficult for me. Hearing that she correctly says it is wrong to compel a patient to go through a procedure he does not want and lets me leave. I am brought back to prison again deliberately through areas where the most people were, to be shown like a prize bull, carted off in the prison van to the prison.
When Dr. Lim was told what happened by my prison escort, he clearly wasn't happy. At least I managed to win one round against this doctor.
Just before being released, I asked the doctor about his Hippocratic Oath. In this oath, doctors are supposed to do good for people, not hurt them, or be accomplices to torturing them. In this prison just as in other Singapore prisons, certain prisoners are sentenced to be caned. Let me explain. The caner, if I could call the person that, beats the prisoner in his bare naked buttocks, with a rattan cane, while the prisoner is tied to a wooden brace. Depending on how many strokes the prisoner receives, each stroke of the cane is intended to cause the maximum pain as possible. Almost every stroke of the cane bruises and lacerates the skin, by the force with which the prisoner is beaten, and very often the man faints. I understand this prison doctor Dr. Lim witnesses the beatings and after that treats the prisoner afterwards.
My question to this doctor was whether this is what a doctor should be doing? Personally observing the torture of a human being, without complaint? Wait a minute; has he not taken the Hippocratic Oath? And does it not say that he should do no harm? And not to witness torture without complaint?
And mind you what is worse is this. Most of this cruelty administered is to people who do not deserve being in prison at all, let alone being tortured. You see, under Singapore law, believe it or not, an illegal immigrant or even a person who overstays his visit in Singapore has to be caned under the law. In fact almost half of the prison population in Singapore’s Queenstown Prison are overstayed foreign visitors and all of them will be tortured in this way.
The doctor's answer, expected of an uneducated simpleton, but not expected of an educated man, as this doctor was, was this. He said I am only following the court order. He then said that he satisfied Hippocratic Oath because, although he willingly watches the brutality, he gives them good medical treatment after they have been brutalized!
Wait a moment! Did he take the Hippocratic Oath ? He is another of Lee Kuan Yew's digits. He keeps a low profile, tries not to have too many opinions, he treats his patients and like the vast majority of Singaporeans, keeps his mouth shut. Safety in Singapore lies in being quiet. No need to ruffle the waters, as they say.
I came to understand later that this man read medicine in an Irish University, but not sure whether it was Dublin or Belfast? I am sure Ireland produces good doctors and I do not know what they would think about Dr. Lim Jeng Min they produced.
Was the purpose of the doctor and the prison to put me through this, a deliberate attempt to break my spirit and make me give up in hopelessness? I believe I was being watched everyday and copious notes were being taken by every warden to be given to the authorities to see how I was coping. But to their disappointment, I wasn’t going to give in. Each time I saw a warder, I told him I could not have been better. Even if I had to go through moments of sadness, I never showed it to the wardens. I think this has made Lee Kuan Yew unhappy. I understand he is always unhappy if his victim is not vanquished.
And I had to go through all this, just because I wrote a blog!
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