My mum’s friends didn’t approve when they first heard that I was working at a hospital. Not that I needed their approval, but they didn’t understand why I would want to work here. Common concerns were “so many people dying there”, “hospital is haunted leh”, “seventh month got a lot of ghosts there”, “so many diseases, bacteria and viruses, so dangerous” amongst many other silly reasons.

Now, I’m not even superstitious. Even if currently unexplainable phenomenons like ghosts do exist, I think I have guts (if you were to forget my lepidopterophobia for a moment) and definitely a clear conscious to deal with them, so yes, I still go to work during the lunar seventh month. And yes again, there are a lot of sick people here. That’s why we call it the hospital, duh. It’s up to oneself to take responsibility for one’s health. Gloves, face masks, alcohol swipes, alcohol hand rub, hand washing, these are all readily available on campus and it just takes a little bit of effort to protect oneself. I’m not a nurse nor a doctor, hence I am not exposed to many patients every day which puts me at a relatively lower risk. Of course, good health and thus strong immunity is also important. I myself have never once fallen sick after starting work here.

Therefore, other people’s concerns and opinions are really none of my concern. It is a fact that I love the hospital. Perhaps because it’s a very dynamic place. There’s just so many people walking in and out, moving around on the campus every day. I see different faces every single day and that’s probably exciting to me. Clearly, I’ve no demophobia. However, Raffles Place and Shenton Way are way more dynamic. What is it which draws me to the hospital then?

I find it hard to put my feelings to words precisely, but thou shalt try. I think what draws me to the hospital is how it seems to be a concentrate of life, a place where life begins for some and where life ends for some. Isn’t that how life is? We come to this world. We grow up and we grow old. At some points in time, we fall sick. Maybe we will die of illness, maybe we won’t. Maybe we will suffer, maybe we won’t. But ultimately, we die. You can say that I’m morbid but I’m far from a pessimist. I talk about life and death matter-of-factly. There is no fear because fear is useless. You can run, you can hide, but it will find you eventually. I once read how you will only know how to live once you can accept death, and how true I found this to be.

In the hospital, for every newborn baby brought to this world by the gynaecologist, there is probably at least one death in the wards or operating theatres. Almost every time when I walk past the operating theatres or the wards, it is not unusual to find families sobbing at the waiting area as they wait anxiously for their loved ones to be safe or are upset that they are not. Yet I also see many families happily gathered as they visit their sick members. You may see elderly being wheelchair bound, distressed by the restricted mobility and inconvenience caused; you may also see patients who leave their beds after a very long time, delighted to be able to go out in the wheelchair finally and catch some fresh air. It depends on which way you look and how you look at it, there’s the dark side and there’s the bright side. No matter what, it is life. Perhaps at its most cruel, its most vulnerable, its most hopeful. Life is a bed of roses – if you would recall, roses have thorns.

I like the hospital because it is very real. However if you were to foolishly think that the hospital is this white holy sacred temple filled with saints trying to save lives, well, seriously think again. Because the doctors are as real as they can get, but think along the line of the form of a solitary hunter like the tiger shark in the oceans, rather than white coated angels strumming harps and singing hymns. It is definitely not fair to say this of all doctors in the hospital because I know of many worthy of my respect, but neither is it fair to the many patients the few unworthy doctors are in charge of.

Every other day, I hear firsthand accounts from nurses, patients and even some doctors about how irresponsible these doctors are. You will be surprised that these doctors, the black sheep of the family, are ridiculously good at taiji. All blames are usually effortlessly pushed onto, who else but the nurses. With the support and backing of the HODs most of the time nevertheless. Which brings to mind a Chinese saying of “上梁不正,下梁歪”. Well, what can we do anyway? They have their union to back them, and we have, wait let me check my back, hmm, nothing but a really big backside.

Then you also have the doctors who really excel in archery. They shoot other doctors in the back every day. The HOD herself is an ace archer worthy of the upcoming Beijing Olympics, successfully eliminating two other senior consultants. Where else on Earth can one find such ridiculousness? Look no further, we have it right on our tiny island. She fractured her leg and went on six months’ leave early this year. How do I see it? It makes me believe more in karma.

Just yesterday, I was talking to a frustrated patient. I was supposed to recruit him for my research study but ended up spending twenty minutes listening to his complaints and pacifying him. The poor elderly patient started to launch into how his doctor, my co-supervisor, wouldn’t listen to him. He waited at least an hour to see him, went in and came out in less than ten minutes. For this short period of time, the doctor didn’t even make any eye contact with him because he was busy working on the computer. Yes, I understood what he was displeased about. I’ve seen the doctor at work in his clinic for almost six months. The patient would come in, he would do a brief assessment and examination, prescribe medications and then chase the patient out of the room. Many times, I’ve seen how he interrupted  impatiently what the patient wanted to say and made subtle hints to the clinic assistant to open the door so that the patient would take the hint to leave.

Even if the patient had the luck to talk because the doctor was busy reading and replying emails on the computer before he would take a look at the patient, that doesn’t mean that the doctor was listening. Chances were that you could be talking about how your dog learnt to fly and he wouldn’t make any comment because nothing went into his head anyway. Often, the patient would discontinue informing the doctor of his symptoms or complaints mainly in frustration when he realised that the doctor wasn’t paying any attention. Of course the doctor wouldn’t ask the patient to continue. He didn’t even know the patient was talking in the first place.

Honestly, the patient’s frustrations at the doctor were my exact sentiments but being the good employee that I am, I stood up for the doctor and spoke in his defense, explaining that the doctors in the hospital are too overwhelmed by work and it’s not that they don’t care. Which is quite the bullshit because if there are doctors who can give quality patient care while coping with the killing workload, why can’t the black sheep?

Why do they provide biased treatment for private patients as opposed to subsidized patients? Just because they know that private patients expect to be given better treatment as they pay much more? Because private patients will tend to lodge complaints if unsatisfied rather than those illiterate, uneduated, Mandarin-speaking subsidized patients? Is it fair then? Why take the Hippocratic oath to be a doctor in the first place when you are just a hypocrite? If I find any doctor to treat my dad like this, I’ll smack his head left, right and centre with the tuning fork and then strangle him with his oh-so-mighty stethoscope. Do you know that many doctors visit the washrooms with their stethoscopes around their necks? Talk about hygiene!

So yes, I’m frustrated with these stupid doctors. I’m annoyed at their irresponsibility. But am I jaded? How can I be jaded when there’s so many patients out there who can do with my listening ear? I’m definitely not the best that they can have, but when we have unreliable doctors that some of these poor patients have, humble characters like me will come in handy.

There is so much change that this world can do with. But can people like us help make the world a better place? When there’s a hundred ton boulder blocking the way, will my hands and arms move it even by a mere millimetre? It may not, but with all your hands, we can.

 

* The Great White Towers/《白色巨塔》/Shiroi Kyoto is a 2003 TV series production by the Japanese Fuji TV, about the political and power struggles within the hospital and interaction between the doctors themselves and with the patients. The final story and the most vital one told of how the lack of compassion and irresponsiblity of a doctor caused the death of his patient, which subsequently led to a lawsuit against the doctor and the hospital. No prize if you guess correctly who won in the end. This is doubtedlessly my favourite Japanese TV series, maybe because how the good eventually triumphed. And the bad? Died a quick but painful death of cancer. This is what we call karma.    

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