Doctors cure sometimes, treat often, but comfort always. Guided by that saying, Dr Zhen Wei made the decision early in his career to practise anaesthesiology — and later to specialise in pain medicine.

The discipline fascinated him as he viewed anaesthesiologists as being able to exercise exact control over the human body, and to practise medicine with what he describes as instant benefits for his patients.

 “Anaesthesiologists play a very important role in making patients comfortable and lessening anxiety during and after surgery by precisely managing human physiology like blood pressure, breathing volume, and body temperature,” says Dr Lim Zhen Wei, Consultant, Pain Medicine, SGH Pain Management Centre. 

“Pain medicine is a natural extension of practising anaesthesiology where I lessen patients’ pain, frequently after surgeries or secondary to another disease.”

His patients are a diverse group, ranging from teenagers to nonagenarians, with complaints such as painful joints in their limbs and even the spine. 

Dr Zhen Wei has a keen interest in horology, the art of making clocks and 
watches.  Photo credit: Vernon Wong

Most, however, seek help to manage their pain because they are not keen on more invasive treatments like surgery. 

Dr Zhen Wei recalls a female patient in her late 60s with osteoarthritis in both knees. “She was petrified at the idea of undergoing surgery. I did a right knee genicular nerve ablation treatment and her knee pain was reduced substantially,” he says.

“Numbing the nerve — a pure sensory nerve that does not supply any motor function — reduces the pain,” said Dr Zhen Wei. 

For many patients, having the pain reduced to a level that enables them to get on with life is sufficient. Making the patient more comfortable, even without correcting the underlying disease, is vital. The natural reaction of someone with a painful left knee is to use their right knee more to avoid putting pressure on the painful knee. But over time, the patient could start feeling pain in the right knee. 

“It is important that we treat the pain early so that the patients can continue to maintain a balanced posture. It slows down the progression of the disease. For many patients, that is enough,” explains Dr Zhen Wei.

He sees the practice of medicine as both an art and science. So perhaps it is not surprising that he should have an interest in horology, the art of making clocks and watches. “Other than good clinical acumen and skills, a good doctor must also be able to build rapport and make patients feel at ease. With advances in artificial intelligence and technology replacing many things in our lives, a good horological creation will remain relevant, just like a good doctor-patient therapeutic relationship, which cannot be replaced by AI,” he says.