09 July 2003

The Twins

It breaks my heart to announce that the 29 year-old Iranian twins, Ladan and Laleh Bijani, have passed away in the middle of their operations this evening. The twins shared the same skull cavity, and the operation was to cut open their skulls, and separate their brains.

The twins had faith in my country's healthcare system. Now, their operation began yesterday morning, and the first stage of the operation took 5 hours longer than scheduled, because "doctors had not anticipated the thickness of the conjoined skull" of the twins. I kid you not. Today, the process of separating their brains took 15 hours longer than scheduled, because "their brains appeared to have fused together" after 29 years of very closed living conditions. Thus, the doctors had to literally cut open their fused brains, millimeter by millimeter, blood vessel by blood vessel. Again, I kid you not. Of course, the twins died of post-separation complications, chiefly the loss of too much blood during the brain separation.

Singaporeans are a complacent lot. While ill-prepared for contingencies, they are nonetheless easily adaptable to even the worst of situations.

I will be interested to find out why a simple X-ray did not reveal the abnormal thickness of the twins' skulls. I will be interested to find out why an MRI would not have revealed that their brains were fused together. I will be interested to find out why it was only 2 days before the surgery, during the pre-op tests, that the doctors found out about the abnormally high blood pressure in the twins' skull. And I will want to know why the German doctors rejected the twins' requests for a separation in 1996.

Of course, our doctors and the media are now doing a damage control operation. "The risk of this surgery was known to the twins, and they accepted it." I'm sure they would've changed their minds had they or their doctors known about the complications before hand. The risks of the surgery was so obviously not calculated fully, and the twins were not aware of the full complexibility and dangers of their operation. As were their doctors.

It doesn't help that just yesterday, the hottest news on the stock market was a 15% rise in the price of shares for the Raffles Medical Group, which runs Raffles Hospital, where the operation took place.

And it makes things even worse, if you consider that half a year ago, the same hospital offered to operate on a pair of Nepalese infants (joined at the head also), for free. The price of the Iranian twin surgery? US$300,000 for the operation alone. The Iranian president offered to pay the bill, in the end.

Whatever possessed our doctors to go ahead with this surgery, short of yet another Singaporean First, another chance to gloat in the record books, "First Adult Craniopagus Twin Separation"?

There was a great tragedy today. That a pair of twins died on the operating table is just a tiny part of the tragedy. I'll be in mourning for their lost lives, and our lost humanity.

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