Dr Mahathir Mohamad today said that the ability of local doctors to treat complicated medical cases was proven during his recent admission to the National Heart Institute (IJN), adding that he had always believed that Malaysian doctors were as qualified as those overseas.
The 96-year-old, whose health scare early this year sparked nationwide interest, said he too had trained as a doctor.
Speaking at a thanksgiving ceremony attended by doctors from IJN, he recalled how people had not trusted local doctors when he first started practising in the late 1950s.
“At that time there was no trust for Malaysian doctors, especially Malay doctors.
“The doctors in the hospitals at that time were known as assistant medical officers. No Asian could become a full medical officer. Everybody was called an assistant medical officer, and they were not allowed to do even simple (procedures) like (for) appendicitis. There was no faith in Malaysian doctors.”
Mahathir, who has a history of heart-related medical issues, said when he suffered his first heart attack, he was told to go to Mayo Clinic in the US.
“But I asked whether we can do it here in Malaysia,” he added. “Yes, we can.
“At that time, several doctors were able to do open heart surgery. So I decided that I should be operated on in Malaysia, at the Kuala Lumpur General Hospital.”
Mahathir was readmitted to IJN in January after undergoing an elective procedure shortly after New Year.
In a video clip shared after his discharge, he said his condition had been so bad that there were times when he hoped he would not recover.
Speaking today, he said he fully believed that Malaysians could do what others could as well.
“To me, it is a miracle,” he added. “I didn’t expect to live. I expected to die because I am old, and also because I was suffering from a serious disease affecting first my heart.”
But Mahathir, who promoted the “Malaysia Boleh” slogan during his first tenure as prime minister, said “somehow or other”, the doctors had turned him around.
“Eventually, I was discharged and became well. Not 100% but enough for me to continue whatever little work I wanted to do.”
Thanking the doctors at IJN, which he was responsible for setting up, Mahathir said he did not know how to reward them.
“I would like to give them RM100 each, but that would be bribery,” he added.
Handing out certificates of appreciation to the medical team which had treated him, he joked that this might be the first time where the patient gives certificates to the doctors.
“That’s because I didn’t have enough RM100,” he quipped.