Dr Ong Xin Wei is a medical officer serving in the Medical Department of Hospital Queen Elizabeth, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. She recounts stories of God’s hand at work at the height of the pandemic and how God continues to empower her to faithfully live out His call.
As a medical officer at Hospital Queen Elizabeth (HQE) in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah, Dr Ong Xin Wei served in the High Dependency Unit (HDU) for patients with COVID-19 when the outbreak first broke out in 2020.
There, she witnessed loss and grief up close and struggled with emotional and physical exhaustion. But through it all, Xin Wei rediscovered her God-given purpose for her in medicine and how she could serve Him.
An introvert by nature, this city girl with a love for books and music discovered a love for medicine in her youth
Xin Wei holds a 97% introversion score on the Myers-Briggs Personality Type Indicator (MBTI); a classic introvert, she spent her childhood and youth in Bandar Sunway surrounded by music and books and away from the crowds.
“In school, I never really knew what I wanted to be when I grew up, I remember always putting something absurd as my ambition, such as being an astronaut,” she shares. “But God had His own ways of showing me and putting a burden on my heart through the many healthcare encounters I had with close family members who had various health issues. He sparked an interest and I somehow ended up in this profession.”
After high school, she pursued medicine locally in Kuala Lumpur (the best years of her life, she says) and then began her housemanship in HQE, Kota Kinabalu, Sabah. She also spent two years in a smaller district, Kota Belud before being transferred back to HQE, where she still serves today.
With the pandemic came long days and longer nights as an endless stream of patients awaited care. Bordering on burnout, Xin Wei questioned her purpose as a doctor.
When the first wave of the pandemic hit Sabah after the state elections, Xin Wei along with many other medical frontliners was thrown headfirst into unfamiliar territory. With ever-increasing patient loads and deaths becoming a daily occurrence, it stretched her in every way possible.
“There were times when I couldn’t help but ask God so many questions. Why this? Why now? When will it end? What is your purpose for me in all of this? It was not just physically draining, but mentally and emotionally as well.”
As the days grew long and nights even longer, Xin Wei bordered on the verge of burnout. She remembers functioning on autopilot, where breaking the news of impending death, a death or futility of treatment became routine. She began to forget that behind every patient was a person with a story and a family.
But God sent a revelation and reminder through an encounter Xin Wei remembers till today. Here, she shares in her own words:
“Doctor, please hold her hands and tell her she is going back to her heavenly home.”
Not too long ago, I had a frail old lady who came into my ward with a severe lung infection and was critically ill. Her condition worsened over the course of a few days and we knew that she would likely succumb to her illness.
As usual, I arranged to meet with her children to break the bad news. I met with her son and her husband who was about 90 years old. He was half-deaf, wheelchair bound and was using a makeshift hearing aid. It was a long process, as the 90-year-old uncle insisted that he be told what was going on and wanted to play a part in making treatment decisions concerning his wife.
I remember feeling impatient as I had to speak very loudly and repeat myself over and over again into the mic portion of his hearing aid so that he could hear and understand what I said. But midway through the conversation, the Holy Spirit nudged me and reminded me to be patient.
The 90-year-old uncle finally understood and it was decided that letting her pass in peace was the best for her. Due to the pandemic, visitors are not allowed to visit patients and all I could do was arrange for a video conference with family for them to see her for the last time.
With tears in his eyes, Uncle told me that he misses his wife very much as he hasn’t seen her in a week. Then he looked me in the eye and asked if I was a Christian. I said yes, and he asked me to hold her hands while I was with her and to tell her that she was going back to her heavenly home. I did as Uncle asked.
Although the video conference with her family was filled with sorrow, there was also an underlying sense of peace. And I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in the room at that moment. It was also God telling me that He is enough and that I am where I need to be at this current moment, doing what I am supposed to do and that’s all that matters. For that encounter, I am truly thankful.
As with any profession, Xin Wei views her work as her ministry: to cure sometimes, to relieve often and to comfort always.
Medicine is at times so fragmented and de-personalised in this modern age, reflects Xin Wei, that at times what is needed is to see the patient as a whole and walk with them.
“I have learnt over the short years that I’ve been working that my work is the ministry God has given to me. When people are at their lowest and most vulnerable, there are ample opportunities for us [as medical practitioners] to share God’s love, whether it’s a few extra minutes trying to explain a difficult diagnosis or having the boldness to offer to pray with our patients.”
She says that patients, their families and even colleagues can see the difference (Matthew 5:16). When she first started out as a doctor, she feared her introversion would be a stumbling block in her interactions with patients and colleagues.
“But God told me He would empower and equip me, and not lean on my own strength and understanding…God also has a way of sending the right patient my way at the right time when he knows I need a reminder,” she shares.
“My faith is everything in my life today.” When Xin Wei was a child, she remembers vividly the voice of God assuring her that He is her anchor and hope.
XIn Wei distinctly remembers the day she gave her life to Jesus. It was at a children’s camp, and the pastor had shared about the different priorities in life.
During worship when Xin Wei started singing, she felt the warm presence of God touch her heart and she began to cry. “It was then I heard a still small voice telling me that He loves me. It was then that I knew God was real,” she remembers.
“My faith is everything in my life today. Without God, I don’t think I would be where I am. At every major crossroad in life, I have heard that still small voice, again and again, revealing His purposes for my life. And I have learned through the years not to move until God has spoken, just as the Israelites only moved when the cloud or pillar of fire moved. My life has been a series of roads less taken.”
Indeed, Xin Wei seems to have taken the road less travelled: parting ways with her friends to study at a different college, choosing to stay in Sabah and starting housemanship in a small district when many of her closest university friends moved to Australia.
She too has often thought of heading overseas to pursue better career prospects, but after countless hours of struggling with God in prayer, knows that her place is here.
Through tiring days and seasons of disappointment, Xin Wei says the love of her family and loved ones is what keeps her going
The life of a doctor is not as glamorous as movies or K-drama series make it out to be. Xin Wei says the biggest misconceptions are that doctors make a lot of money (not always the case, especially in government service) and that ‘doctoring’ is always exciting.
“It’s not like what you see in television dramas where every day is fast-paced, emotionally charged and exciting. Most of our days are way less dramatic,” she says with a laugh. But less exciting does not mean less tiring, and there are often long days and nights even without a pandemic.
“Many times it feels like what I do doesn’t seem to matter. My family and loved ones encourage me and their love keeps me going on bad days. They are very understanding, especially with the very late replies on Whatsapp and multiple missed calls because I was busy trying to save someone else’s life.”
A nature-lover, she adds that short getaways to different parts of Sabah such as Kundasang (a mountain area overlooking Mount Kinabalu) or its beautiful islands and beaches do “wonders for the soul.”
“I know my place is here [in Malaysia], for this is where the need is greatest.” Where she falls short, she knows God holds the reins.
For this city girl from Bandar Sunway, following Jesus wholeheartedly is the goal. No matter the road He takes her on, she will move when He moves. She views a large part of her work as ministry and challenges herself to obey God’s prompting to see her patients holistically.
“God reminds me again and again, that this is what he will have me do at this season of my life, and if He has called me, He will equip me and give me enough to see me through. And every once in a while, God gives us little reminders that He’s still working and that He’s still in the picture.”
In spite of her introversion, God has and continues to give her opportunities to bless others. She sees herself as an extension of God’s hands and feet, and as often and in as many ways possible, hopes to bring God’s love to the sick, ailing and hurting.
The road ahead may not be easy, but Xin Wei hopes to guard herself from complacency and remember that everything she does has a lasting impact on a person’s life, both physically and spiritually. A Scripture she resonates strongly with is Joshua 1:7 — being strong and courageous.
“Joshua had Moses’ big shoes to fill and many times I still feel like being a doctor is something so big that I will always fall short. But God’s charge to Joshua was to be bold and strong, and it reminds me that God will empower me in all that I do.”
All photos provided by Dr. Ong Xin Wei.