Dr Caroline Low-Heah is one straight-talking, no-nonsense and absolutely hilarious lady. She describes her male patients as “cantankerous old goats” in need of treatment and readily admits the arrogance she bore in her younger days in which, if she had difficulty understanding people, she thought them to be “stupid”, while she was “clever”.
A good sense of humour is a useful trait to have, not least when you are as busy as she is and utterly passionate about everything she does, which she lists by way of the many hats she wears — “mummy, doctor, missus, organisation leader, daughter and academic”.
Hers is a familiar face in the society set but lesser known to many is the 47-year-old's medical practice Drs Jiten and Caroline, where she is partners with her husband's childhood friend Jiten Sen. While she started out as a general practitioner, she later decided to specialise in anti-ageing after finding it as interesting as “detective work”.
“What we do not profess to do is [make you] 25 when you're 68. That's stupid. We try to match your biological age to your chronological age,” she explains of her specialisation. Living in an urban environment inevitably places a lot of stress on our bodies. The result is that our organs are so abused that on average, they are 10 to 15 years older than our chronological age. It also means that we succumb to diseases (such as cancer and stroke) much younger than we should.
“We try to [control] how we arrive at death — instead of being a zombie for the last 15 years of your life [popping] 15 tablets three times a day, [undergoing] coronary bypasses and being wheelchair-bound, you really want to, at 82, hit a golf ball and just die on the golf course,” she states.
Her patients are usually in their mid-30s to 40s and are a mix of men and women, especially those undergoing menopause. “When they hit it, all the aunties wake up in the middle of the night and stare at the ceiling then turn on old Korean re-runs — that's why they know the dramas very well.”
Also common are those who “eat two lettuces a day, go to the gym five times a week, but are still 85kg”. Then there are the men who are undergoing andropause. “Some of them become cantankerous old goats, nag a lot, have no more career drive or become depressed,” she rattles off.
It's a sub-specialty of hers and she is gleeful in her description of male testosterone being her “favourite hormone to play with”. Quiz her on why andropause is only a recently recognised condition and she is quick with her comeback.
“When you have four girls having lunch at the Shangri-La, what do they talk about? Their menstruation. You get four men in a golf changing room, what do they talk about? Do they talk about the fact that they can't do it? No. That's why.”
Anti-ageing solutions, according to her, are lifestyle-related advice in the areas of nutrition, exercise, sleep and stress management: “We spend a lot of time listening to find out the root problems that the patients are going through. You've got to help me help you. You do 80 percent of the work, but you pay me a lot of money to help you.”
Financial rewards aside, she gets a sense of achievement when she successfully diagnoses a patient who, despite having seen three to four doctors, has not been able to find a cure to her illness: “A lot of times, the symptoms and signs are there but they're just not picked up. The best thing for me is the acknowledgement from the patient who appreciates that it is you who helped her.”
Surprisingly, studying Medicine was never her intention. “I wanted to do Archaeology. But my father said I'll literally be eating sand,” she laughs, referring to the digs she would have had to go on.
Convinced that his daughter was an aimless young lady then — “He thought I didn't know what I wanted to do by wanting to study Archaeology” — he struck a deal with her: Do Medicine and upon graduation, she would be free to further her studies. “That was 22 years ago. I'm still trying to pursue my second degree.”
In some sense, she already is. Fascinated by ancient trade for how it has made the world what it is today, she takes off on trips once a year to destinations known for their historical significance, usually with a gal pal and a guide from travel specialist Abercrombie & Kent in tow. Stamps in her passport include ones from Egypt, Turkey, Xi'an and Morocco. Next year, she'll add western Russia to the list.
“What I would really like to do is travel from Xi'an to Ankara via the Gobi Desert. That's the real Silk Road,” she points out. “The other area I am interested in, but is difficult to get access to, is the Middle East, which is basically where the original Silk Road can be found.”
She does caution, however, that these trips are not for everyone: “I museum-hop like crazy. Whoever goes with me can get very bored, that's why I have to be very careful who I go with. I make it very clear that it is quite a heavy history trip. If you don't like it, please don't come with me because I can't stand it if you pull a long face.”
Road trips are another favourite of hers, which she first started going on with her spouse, and later, was joined by her two children: “My husband and I love driving especially in Europe; much to the horror of our kids because there's no Internet and one tree looks the same as the next one.”
Family holidays (and time, for that matter) mean the world to her. “The children hardly do anything with us. We force them,” she jokes. Not that going to Disney World in Orlando, Florida needs much convincing. Her two are “king and queen of roller coasters” and the Heahs have visited it at least 10 times. “We tend to have holidays that they want.”
Yet no one more than her is more conscious of the fact that her pair is growing up and will fly the nest soon. Daughter Elizabeth, 19, will be leaving for Manchester in the UK in September to study Medicine, while 17-year-old Nick is completing the International Baccalaureate program at Anglo-Chinese School (Independent) next year.
At this point, the sentimental side of her peeks out from beneath all that matter-of-factness and it is clear her “mummy” hat is perched firmly on her head. “Once they go to university, they don't come back. It's never going to be the same [for my husband and I]. It's going to be a different era,” she says wistfully.
“But that's the journey of life. Then my husband and I will go on our driving trips again.”