Educated Lungs

Educated Lungs

“Let everything that has breath praise the LORD” (Ps 150:6)


I started work as a young doctor in the 1980s in a small and slightly antiquated hospital. Our patients came mainly from the low-income HDB apartments in the neighborhood. To impress the younger medical and nursing students, I told them that I could tell the education level of an elderly patient by auscultating his lungs.


The students naturally did not believe me. I took delight in asking the old man to breathe in deep, using my stethoscope to listen to his lungs and then guessing if he went to primary or secondary school. Sometimes I would venture that he did not attend school.


The students were amazed that I was correct most if not all the time. Over a tea break, some would ask me, "What's the secret ?"


I explained how I listen to the sound and volume of air entry at the base of the lungs. A person who had been to school would know how to breathe in deeply and fill all parts of his lungs. "Why so?" the student asked.


"Many people of their generation learned to breathe in deeply at PE classes or after participating in a sports event, when the teacher or coach told them to breathe in deeply and fill their lungs."

In the 1960s, “sports for all” and mass participation marathons were unheard of. Many of our pioneering Singaporeans built the nation with their sweat, toil and muscles. They did not have the opportunity to attend school and so never joined any PE classes. When asked to breathe in deeply they would usually inhale through their nose and fill only the upper segments of the lungs. No one taught them how to draw the air down the throat using the diaphragm and so the lower portions of the lungs were not filled with air.


It sounds strange that while everyone must breathe to live, not everyone knows how to make full use of his or her lungs. We breathe when we sleep or when we are awake. We do it thousands of times a day. Yet there is a need to teach people to breathe in deeply.


We need other reminders. Man is created to praise God. But we forget and we refuse to. Thus at the end of the book of Psalms, after 149 songs and poetry of anguish, adultery, anger and ascribing glory to God, the Psalmist reminds us :


Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

It is like the PE teacher or the sports coach who blows his whistle and shouts, “Breathe in. Hold your breath…”


Happily I can no longer try this trick these days. With the promotion of active-ageing events and other physical activities amongst senior citizens, many uncles and aunties know how to breathe in deeply to fill their lungs in entirety. Their lungs are no longer un-educated.


But there are times in the hospital when we still have to coax people to breathe in deep. My patient who has had abdominal surgery sniffs in and out, the air hardly going into the base of the lungs as it is too painful to breathe deeply. The nurses teach him to hold a pillow over the surgical wound on his abdomen and then breathe in deep.  He has to. That deep breathing prevents lung infection.


It is the same for us spiritually -  as long as we are breathing and especially at times when we have painful episodes – let us declare: Let everything that has breath praise the Lord. The deep breathing prevents us from being infected with our own stale sinfulness and brings fresh joy. Praise the LORD!


Psalm 150 (NIV)

Praise the Lord. Praise God in His sanctuary;

praise Him in His mighty heavens.

Praise Him for His acts of power; praise Him for His surpassing greatness.

Praise Him with the sounding of the trumpet,  praise Him with the harp and lyre,

Praise Him with timbrel and dancing,   praise Him with the strings and pipe,

Praise Him with the clash of cymbals, praise Him with resounding cymbals.

Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord.


Dr Tan L Y volunteers in the GROW@Noon (Godliness , Relationship, Outreach , Word )  Youth Ministry at Bethesda Frankel Estate Church