Don't skip your vaccination jabs
Dr Jim Teo, specialist in internal, respiratory and ICU medicine, in private practice, answers your questions on vaccinations
How would you explain what you do to a 10-year-old?
I work like a vehicle mechanic. I inspect and check the lungs when they are not working. I do tests to assess lung capacity and whether the airways are blocked, or if there is any blood or water in the lungs. Once I identify the problems, I insert tubes and lines in the chest and prescribe medicine to help my patients breathe better.
Describe a lung to the child and why we need to have two of them?
The lungs are two balloons that are continuously inflated and deflated to draw in oxygen for the organs to work. Almost all organs come in pairs so when one breaks down, the other can still function.
How do you get a good "look" at the lungs since they can't really be examined physically, or can they?
We can tell if there is a problem with the lungs by listening. We do further tests like a chest X-ray, CT (computed tomography) scan, lung function test (spirometry) and endoscopy (bronchoscopy) to confirm our findings.
As a respiratory specialist, what kinds of illnesses do you see?
My patients come to me with chronic coughs, asthma, TB (tuberculosis) and smoking-related lung diseases like COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease). My very ill patients in the intensive care unit (ICU) usually have pneumonia (or a chest infection).
There is a misconception that young people do not get serious chest infections, and only children and the elderly are at risk. I always advise my patients to get influenza and pneumococcal vaccinations such as Prevenar13. It is always good to prevent rather than to treat a disease.
Give us an example of a dramatic illness you have seen? Do people actually spit up blood like you see on TV when they are very ill?
There was a patient who collapsed while having his meal and he was brought into the ICU. A chest X-ray showed a collapsed lung and when I did a scope, I found a chunk of beef lodged in his airway. I spent an hour removing the meat with a pair of tiny forceps through the scope. He survived.
And yes, if one spits out blood persistently or recurrently, it is important to make sure it is not lung cancer or TB.
How do you know that an infection has become serious?
When there is breathlessness, drowsiness or low blood pressure.
Word association game! What is the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the words "green" and "thick"?
Together, they remind me of my favourite avocado milkshake!
Tell me a surprising fact about the lungs.
It's the only organ in humans that can float in water.
What is the grossest thing you have seen?
When I was working in the ICU in Australia, a middle-aged man was brought in with a gunshot wound to his face and head. He had shot himself after a quarrel with his wife. It was tragic and he was clinically brain dead on arrival.
What are the perks of your job?
Whenever I see my ICU patients recover from near-death situations or when I see my patients with chronic lung diseases getting better each day with treatment.
What about the downsides?
On call, day and night. Sometimes, I don't get enough sleep. Sometimes, I have to cut short time with my family. Fortunately. I have an understanding wife.