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Lo Siaw Ging: Doctoring to the rich and poor

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JP/Ganug Nugroho Adi

Lo Siaw Ging, usually called Doctor Lo, is a physician of Chinese descent in Surakarta, Central Java.

The 78-year-old man is popular not only for his correct diagnoses and effective medicine, but also for requiring no fixed fees.

Every day except Sunday, dozens of patients pack his waiting room. They come from all walks of life: pedicab drivers, sidewalk vendors, factory workers, private employees, civil servants and businesspeople. They also include patients from surrounding towns.

Dr. Lo is special for making no distinction between treating the rich and the poor. He is even annoyed if a patient insists on paying if under financial constraints.

Lo also helps the poor pay for the medicine he prescribes by asking the relevant pharmacy to collect his bills monthly.

He does the same for inpatients at the hospital where he works, Kasih Ibu Hospital. Consequently, Lo has to pay bills worth Rp 8 million (US$860) to 10 million monthly. If the cost of treatment is large enough, like in the case of surgery, he seeks donors who are prepared to contribute anonymously.

“Fortunately many people still trust me,” he said. In the eyes of disadvantaged citizens, Lo is indeed seen as an angel of rescue. He defies the logic of medical charges going beyond the financial capacity of the poor. What he’s doing seems to challenge the current witticism, “The poor must not get sick.”

“I know which patients can afford to pay and which ones can’t. Why should they pay for doctor’s fees only to be unable to buy rice later? Their children should be pitied if they get underfed,” he pointed out.

Speaking in a firm and exacting tone, Lo frequently admonishes his patients for trivializing their complaints. Once, he became angry at a housewife who took her child to him after running a temperature for four days.

“So far many people have retained such an attitude. Illness can’t be relieved without cure so one has to see the doctor immediately. Self-diagnosis should be avoided,” he said.

Yet Lo is loved by many and remains a top medical reference of the have-nots. On the other hand, the graduate of Surabaya’s Airlangga University feels what he has been doing is nothing special and thus needs no exaggeration.

“It’s the duty of physicians to help their patients recover by whatever means. I’m only helping people in need of medical assistance. There’s nothing unusual about that,” noted the doctor, who practices at his residence in Kampung Jagalan, Solo.

Born in Magelang on Aug. 16, 1934, Lo was brought up by a family in the tobacco business. His parents, Lo Ban Tjiang and Liem Hwat Nio, allowed their children freedom to choose what they wanted to be. So Lo attended high school in Semarang, for the same school in Magelang was considered inferior.

After high school, he revealed his interest in studying medicine, to which his father responded by advising him that becoming a doctor and doing business wouldn’t go together well. Lo interpreted the advice to mean that a doctor shouldn’t merely pursue material gain because of the main duty to help people in need.

“Whoever comes here, poor or rich, deserves proper service. Helping people should never show discrimination and the entire work should be done with sincerity. The medical profession helps the sick instead of selling drugs,” he said.

A doctor since 1963, Lo started his career at a polyclinic, Tsi Sheng Yuan, owned by Dr. Oen Boen Ing (1903-1982), a famous physician in Solo. During the New Order, the polyclinic became Panti Kosala Hospital, which is now Dr. Oen Hospital.

Besides his father’s guidance, Lo said he learned a lot from Dr. Oen while working with the man for 15 years. “He wasn’t just a brilliant doctor but also had a high sense of modesty and charity,” recalled the former director of Kasih Ibu Hospital.

His principle of helping people in need was also proven during a critical time. When the anti-
Chinese riots of May 1998 broke out, Lo continued his practice despite his neighbors’ warning of the dangerous situation, particularly for citizens of Chinese descent, prompting them to watch over the doctor’s home.

“Lots of people needed help, including riot victims, how could I reject them? If all physicians had stopped practicing, who would have treated the patients?” asked Lo,.

Until the rioting ended and the situation returned to normal, Lo’s residence remained undisturbed. In fact, many of the houses in the vicinity had been looted and burned down by rioters.

Now nearing the age of 80, Lo still practices daily from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. at home, and sees his patients from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. at Kasih Ibu. After a two-hour pause, he again opens his home practice until 8 p.m.

“As long as I’m strong enough, I’m not thinking of retiring yet. A doctor will only retire when nothing can be done. My service gives me satisfaction that no money can buy,” said the physician, who has for the last few years used a walking stick.

According to Lo, his wife has had a major role in boosting his career. Without her encouragement, said Lo, he wouldn’t have been able to succeed the way he has. “She is a wonderful woman. I’m lucky to be her spouse,” said Lo about the woman he married in 1968.

In the profession for decades, once even directing a big hospital, Lo has continued to live a modest life with his wife in an old house that is relatively the same as when it was built, except for some new paint. It’s not an imposing and storied mansion like most doctors’ residences either.

“This house is big enough for us both. If I earn more, let it be shared with those in dire need. We just want to live properly. I’m very grateful to be able to reach my age, meaning more opportunity to help others,” added Lo, whose 43-year marriage to Gan May Kwee has been childless.

With expensive drugs, frequently unsatisfactory hospital service and mostly materialistic doctors, the presence of Lo is indeed like refreshing dewdrops. Only a few physicians like Dr. Lo can be found today.

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