“Doctoring is what I do 24/7. This time, I wanted to shift the emphasis from medicine to relationship-building, to be a listening ear to those in need of friends.” Initially, Dr Buzz Lightyear* wanted to conceal his medical practitioner identity and volunteer as a friend to migrant workers. “This is what I said to the volunteer manager, but he told me HealthServe needed doctors, so I ended up volunteering as a doctor.” He says with a laugh.
As with most human interactions, friendships started to form over the course of events, between Dr Buzz, his co-workers, and patients.
Dr Buzz remembers the first night he volunteered was a busy clinic night that ended late. “It was raining heavily, and I was under shelter waiting for my Grab. I looked to my side and saw brother A, whom I’d just seen for fever and a cold. He’d endured a 3-hour journey from his dorm in northern Singapore to simply reach HealthServe’s Geylang clinic, and was now eyeing the rain, trying to judge the best moment to make a dash to the MRT station for his return journey. “
Estimating the brother would reach home after 1am, Dr Buzz asked A to share his ride and ended up dropping him off at his dorm an hour later. During the journey, they swapped life stories. Brother A pointed out the building projects that he’d been involved in, shared that his bride was waiting for him in India, and that his life ambition was to buy a lorry to transport soil from Chennai to Pondicherry.
Years later, Dr Buzz still thinks fondly of the encounter, “My one regret was that we didn’t exchange numbers – I’d have liked to sit on his lorry in Chennai!”
On the topic of impactful encounters, Dr Buzz recalls another brother M. “He came to me unable to move his ring finger, which was painful and swollen from a drill malfunction. He was sent to the local emergency department, where X-rays showed no fracture yet failed to detect the completely ripped tendon in his finger. After the doctors in the emergency department told him there was nothing wrong with him and sent him home, he came to HealthServe, desperate.”
Dr Buzz diagnosed the injury and arranged for M to see a colleague who specialises in hand surgery, after which brother M was able to return to work 6 months later. “Cases like this are completely satisfying. Especially when we go out for biryani together- at least now the rice doesn’t drop through his fingers!” He chuckled.
Noting that Dr Buzz is one of our long-time volunteers, we asked Dr Buzz why he chose to give his time to the migrant worker community and HealthServe. “Practically every migrant worker carries with him a story of hardship, sacrifice and courage. Stories that echo those of our own ancestors who came to this country in similar circumstances, hoping to build a better life.”
“Who builds our roads? Who sweeps our streets? Who cares for our Ah Ma’s and our babies? Any narrative of Singapore’s success that fails to mention their contribution is woefully incomplete. They deserve to be treated with as much respect, care, love and dignity as any other person.”
“Each time I serve, it’s a gift to me of immeasurable value! In each encounter lies an invitation – for compassion, for selflessness and for growth. There are also people like Aubrey and Janna (clinic managers) who exude steadfast calmness and level-headedness and put up with my nonsense.” Dr Buzz laughed. “In them, I also see examples of kindness and love, of how to be.”
To conclude the interview, we asked Dr Buzz for his advice for aspiring volunteers. “We are often weak and powerful at the same time. The medications we have offer only partial and temporary solutions in the face of suffering.” Dr Buzz paused. “But we are powerful in our capacity to love and to empathise. Love, being the most powerful force in the universe, should never be underestimated.”
Alongside love, Dr Buzz also highlighted the importance of humility. “By humility, I do not mean that you should excessively (and falsely) lower yourself, but to recognise your place in the universe, to know that you are not any worse, but definitely no better than any of God’s creatures. Donning that cloak of humility makes you more approachable, opening the possibility of honest and open dialogue to build connections.”
“Because it’s not so much in the medicine, but in human connections where the real healing takes place. Whatever you do, no matter as a friend, an intern, a confidant, a doctor, if not anchored in love and humility, is ultimately worthless.”
Dr Buzz reminds us that no matter how bad the world might seem, there is always something we can do to make things better. After talking to Dr Buzz, we, too, feel more hopeful in making change.
Being a volunteer at HealthServe takes no more than an open heart and a willing ear – we accept volunteers from all walks of life! If you, too, believe in our vision where every migrant worker lives a life of health, wellbeing and dignity, please sign up as our volunteer at https://www.healthserve.org.sg/volunteer/.
*Pseudonym per Doctor’s request