'Mr Lee thought about others, even when he was sick'

Doctors who treated former PM reveal his softer side in SGH tribute session

Mr Lee Kuan Yew was very sick the night before he was hospitalised on Feb 5.

But he did not want to go to hospital immediately as it would mean waking up the senior doctors. He told his security officer to wait until after 6am the following day, when he knew most senior doctors would be awake.

"I was glad the security staff did not follow that particular instruction but brought him in straightaway," Professor Fong Kok Yong, chairman of Singapore General Hospital's (SGH) Medical Board, said yesterday.

"More than six weeks on, looking back, I'm still overwhelmed by the kindness of thought he had for others, even when he's unwell," said Prof Fong, who first met Mr Lee about 18 years ago.

He was speaking at a closed-door tribute session at SGH for Singapore's first Prime Minister, who died on Monday after 47 days at the hospital. Mr Lee was 91.

Other speakers who paid homage included Professor Christopher Cheng and Professor Ivy Ng, who opened the session. But they wanted their tributes to remain private. The session was attended by about 1,000 SingHealth staff from its various institutions.

Prof Fong said many people viewed Mr Lee as someone who was stern, maybe even combative at times.

"Not many have the opportunity to see the softer or gentler side of him. It is indeed a great privilege for me to have had that opportunity."

The first time he travelled with Mr Lee as his physician, he was asked to sit, and asked whether he wanted some water. Prof Fong said Mr Lee probably saw, from the perspiration on his brow, how anxious he was.

Mr Lee then poured him a glass of water. "It was a simple gesture of courtesy but spoke volumes about the way he treated and cared for the people around him."

On a trip to Britain several years ago, the staff accompanying Mr Lee were not told that they were also invited to attend a black-tie dinner. But they either had to rent the appropriate attire for $300 to $400, or forgo the dinner and wait outside.

When Mr Lee found out, he told them not to waste their money and to attend the dinner in a lounge suit and tie.

But what impressed Prof Fong was that Mr Lee himself dressed the same way as the rest of his delegation, even though he had the appropriate attire, as he was the guest of honour and was giving a speech.

"Such considerate behaviour and support from a boss is indeed very, very rare and very difficult to find," said Prof Fong.

Like many educated patients, Mr Lee would query and disagree with the medicines prescribed for him.

But after discussing it with the doctor, Mr Lee would say: "I'm not a doctor, I respect your views and recommendations. Though I may not fully agree with them, I'll follow your instructions."

Yesterday, Prof Fong told colleagues he often asked himself: "How can I repay what Minister Mentor has done for all of us?"

The answer, he said, is simple. "Follow his vision, remember his deeds and carry out our core mission."

Mr Lee, in a speech at SGH's 85th anniversary celebrations in 2006, had said: "The core mission of SGH is to serve Singaporeans with high-quality, affordable healthcare."

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