A Spark Of Understanding

by Alvan Yap


I’m the faithful type. Or maybe I’m just terrorised by the tyranny of habit. Of the two clinics in the neighbourhood within walking distance, I’ve only ever gone to one. For years and years, I went to only That One Clinic.

Until the other day.

I came down with a case of the sniffles and other bad things. And finally got around to checking the list of distinguished medical institutions affiliated to the health perk card issued by my employer. To my surprise and chagrin, The Other Clinic is on it. Yay! No need to pay to see the doc! Who doesn’t want? But why oh why hadn’t I had a look at the list much earlier? Anyway, I floated over to The Other Clinic on a cloud of fuzzy lightheadedness.

The aunty at the clinic reception counter was bustling about when I stepped foot in there, the first time I had ever done so. She said something to me, I froze, said ‘huh?’ and she repeated herself. Oh, yes, never been here before. She handed me a form, said something and again I put on my patented question-mark-over-the-head look.

Again, she repeated what she said. Oh, here’s my IC and medical card. Then Aunty seemed to glance at me just that bit longer and started speaking more clearly. She didn’t raise her voice though; she just spoke a bit louder, keeping it at a conversational level. Oh, I have to wait, so after filling up the form, I took a seat and resumed my reading.

Phew, I thought, lucky this one is the patient type. Encounters with the not-so-patient variety aren’t exactly pleasant – I’ve been frowned at and snapped at before, more times than I care to remember.

Suddenly I see fingers in the periphery of my vision. Aunty had leaned over the counter to wave at me. She must have noticed my hearing aids, I thought, and knew how to get my attention. Impressive. You don’t get many clinic staff who are that observant or that knowledgable.

Oh, it would take 20 minutes for my appointment to come up – I could wait there or walk about. I thanked her and said in that case I’ll be back.

After battling to get my nose unclogged with a cup of hot teh ‘o’ at the nearby kopitiam – and failing miserably – I waded back ashore. Spent an uneventful three minutes with the doctor, who had to pull down her face mask to talk to me, but didn’t seem eager to do so. She added “a slight fever”, which I wasn’t aware of, to my other assorted known maladies.

At the reception area, after waiting a few minutes, Aunty waved me over again, went through my meds, taking her time, looking at me all the while and taking care with the clarity of her words, before giving me the MC.

She then paused, wrote something on a piece of paper, and handed it to me.

“My son wears hearing aids too.”



  1. You have to experience something in order to feel for something. I wish I can develop empathy being exposed to more people. After all, I am not really observant or patient.

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