Letters to the Editor
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Materia-non-Medica- "What I Do Besides My Work as a Plastic Surgeon"
"... I practise magic for my own amusement. I guess it transports me back to my childhood when i could once again indulge in fantasy and mystery."
I have been asked to share some of my personal thoughts
on why, how, and what I do besides doing plastic surgery.
To keep fit I play tennis regularly. To keep my mind active I read and write to the Straits Times "Forum". For relaxation I sing and play popular songs, mainly for my own amusement.
There are three activities which I take up seriously and which take up most of my time.
They are ballroom dancing, an activity which I share with my wife Jennifer; magic and conjuring which helps me to retain some manual dexterity; and meditation and hypnosis which balance my life with spirituality and inner peace.
I became interested in ballroom dancing during my teenage courting days. The place to meet girls was at the dance floor during parties held in the school or in one anothers private homes. I could not afford to pay for dancing lessons. All the dancing that I knew then was self-taught, reading from a book by Victor Sylvester. It was the bible of ballroom dancing at the time. It did not matter that we did not do the steps right. All that the boys were interested in was to have a chance to hold a girl in his arms. This was the kind of courting which met with the parents approval.
It was not until our children had grown up, and we had time on our hands, that my wife convinced me to take dancing lessons, so that we can enjoy some activities together. We were very serious. We took medal tests, and even took part in competitions to keep our interest alive. We were active in organising and teaching our friends to dance at Tanah Merah Country Club, and at the Medical Alumni Association. Over the years, we have literally taught hundreds of students. My wife is still very active in promoting dancing and she organizes 4 to 5 dance functions a year at Raffles Hotel and Merchant Court Hotel.
Magic and conjuring had nothing to do with my wife. It was my father who got me interested in magic. He used to take me to novelty shops and brought home magic tricks which he performed to astound me. He was not a professional magician. It was just a hobby for him. I became a member of the International Society of Magicians and I sometimes perform in private or club functions, and sometimes for childrens parties. Mostly I practise magic for my own amusement. I guess it transports me back to my childhood when I could once again indulge in fantasy and mystery.
Meditation and hypnosis, to me, are related phenomena. I first became interested in hypnosis when I was training in plastic surgery in Melbourne, where there was a well known hypnotist called Dr Ainslie Meares, whose teachings and techniques I still use to this day. In those days, plastic surgeons used to transfer skin from one region to another by means of attaching tubes of skin to the arm, which is used as a carrier to provide the blood supply. It would take three weeks for the wound to heal and the blood supply to be established. During this period the arm had to be held in awkward positions and fixed for 3 weeks. You can imagine that this was not easy to do. There was a doctor, a hypnotist who successfully helped some patients tolerate these uncomfortable postures for three weeks without complaint. I was impressed with the power of suggestion and the effect of mind over matter. I began to study hypnosis in earnest.
When I returned to Singapore I joined the Society of Clinical Hypnosis and continued to pursue this interest. Dr Chong Tong Mun was a great enthusiast. He invited eminent hypnotists from abroad to give seminars and lectures which I never failed to attend. I practice hypnosis on myself, on friends, colleagues and patients, to relieve stress to induce relaxation, and to instill confidence to overcome phobias and anxiety.
I became interested in meditation when I noticed its similarities with hypnosis. I compared notes and had discussions with Dr Tan Kheng Khoo who is an experienced practitioner of Buddhist meditation. After studying various forms of meditation I find more and more similarities. There is an element of repetition like the "mantra"; there is the need to be relaxed and be still in a quiet environment; and finally it culminates in a state of trance when the mind is calm and functioning at a slow pace.
In a state of trance I have often meditated on the meaning of life. I have not yet arrived at a completely satisfactory answer. But I find meaning in the pursuit of these activities beyond my medical practice. It has opened up my mind and made me realize that there is so much more in the world to be learnt. These activities have given me physical and emotion satisfaction. I only hope that I will be able to continue to enjoy them for a long time to come.
DR GEORGE WONG