Yesterday, I saw a coffin.

“Yesterday, I saw a coffin,” my grandmother said.

“Really?” The wards in the Klang hospital were really crowded, about a few feet of space to walk between the rows of beds that are placed so closely to each other that patients practically sleep next to each other. I can hardly imagine a coffin in these wards.

“She means that someone died yesterday,” the elderly asthmatic patient whose bed is next to my grandmother said. She had been hospitalised longer than my grandmother but I could tell that the two of them have become fast friends.

“Uh…okay.” I’m squeemish about bringing up the subject of death around, you know, very sick people but this lady, with a nasal cannula for her asthma issues just shrugged. “We’re right by the ICU.”

“Chinese lady,” my grandmother said.

“The other lady was a Malay woman,” the severe asthmatic patient said. “Yeah, they died yesterday.”

“Yeah. They died. Guess it was their time.”

*
Klang Hospital feels like the busiest hospital in Malaysia. In fact, it feels like the busiest hospital in the world. The wards are clean but cramp. And then during visiting hours, it feels like a wet market with relatives piling in to visit. The humanity packed into one room is almost frightening. One patient had about ten members visiting her at one time with three babies, one a wee newborn, piled on her bed.

The atmosphere in the wards are a combination of joy and sorrow. One family was fast talking and their merriment punctuated with loud hearty laughter every so often. While another, a husband holds onto his wife’s oxygen mask as she lay there. I am not sure she is even aware that her husband is there while his face was a blank look of defeat.

I don’t know if my grandmother can see any of this, or is easily defeated by the sadness in the ward. I’m the sort of person who notice the sorrow and helplessness. Hours after I left, it was the faces of concerned and sad family members that remain etched in my memory. On the other hand, my grandmother epitomises optimism, she makes fast friends and was quick to point out to me everybody she had met: “This aunty here has kidney problems. This one has diabetes. That one – Parkinsons” and everyone is happy. The kidney patient is not sad, she has a doting daughter who takes good care of her.

She seems cheerful. The three ladies all requested that I bring them prunes tomorrow because “we can avoid taking the medicine that makes us poo”. I offered to bring orange cake that I baked for her but she said to save it for Eid which is in 5 days time. I tell her we will come back tomorrow.

There is ash on our car when we leave. I can’t help but hope it is not an omen.

*

It is difficult to reconcile how I feel. On the one hand, I know that government hospitals do have some of the best doctors and specialists around. On the other, well, it is a government hospital. There is no aircon, the wards are cramp and from the outside, it looked like it caught fire and continued to function as a hospital despite the disaster. And there are rats that come out to play at night.

We are continuously debating whether to move my grandmother to a private hospital. But the answer is not that straight forward. To put it simply, private hospitals especially at my grandmother’s age will be very expensive. Even more so because she does not have insurance. She is too old for insurance and everything will have to be paid out of pocket.

The thing about private hospitals is that niggling doubt that I have. You’re always wondering, is every procedure necessary? Do I need to take this drug? Are you really watching out for my best interest or are you milking me for money? My own experience at private hospitals is mixed. I had an excellent specialist who cared for me during my asthma episode and helped me recover. On the other hand, I paid nearly RM 300 per visit from a gynaecologist who came by to my room twice a day to say “Hey there, how are ya?” He’d stay for 3 minutes, max, we timed him and pocketed a cool RM 600 from me daily. RM 100 a minute.

In government hospitals since it’s public healthcare means continuous care even after you have been discharged. They will move your case to the KK and you are always monitored for the ailment that you came in for.

In a private hospital, well, once you’re done, you’re done. There is no continuous monitoring – you’re on your own kid. But there is comfort in a private hospital, it feels like a hotel. The rooms are air-conditioned, there is cable TV and room service.

Do you show that you love someone by taking them to a place where its more comfortable as they recover despite always wondering if the healthcare is better? Relatives assume that you don’t love your parent enough to actually spend money and put them in a cushy hospital.

Or do you grit your teeth and put up with the rats, the cramp spaces because it was in this hospital, the head of trauma, following his gut instinct refused to let a seemingly okay patient go? Because it was also this hospital that a specialist noticed something so minor in a blood test that most would have just discounted and noticed that it was a symptom of a far graver problem.

*

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Bad Day

I think I’m having a bad day. The bad day being the day after my grandmother had been admitted to hospital for a mild heart attack. This is what we know now, that it was a heart attack. On Thursday, we did not know this – my grandmother was complaining she was feeling weak and wanted us to take her to the hospital.

Problem is, my grandmother was and remains a hypochondriac. Just a few months back she checked herself and my grandfather into DEMC, a posh private hospital in the centre of Shah Alam, to which the final bill after 4 days came up to a whopping RM 13,000. She was absolutely fine, mind you. Before she checked in and after she checked in. So when Thursday morning she complained she was feeling unwell and wanted to go to DEMC, everyone suggested perhaps we check her into a hotel instead.

Thankfully, both my aunt and my mum decided to take her to the Klinik Kesihatan (government clinic), just in case. They conducted an ECG on her and the results of the test concerned the doctors enough to refer the hospital in Klang. It took 2 hours to transfer and then there, my mum, aunt and grandmother waited for 8 hours to see the specialist. During which, my grandmother declared that she was fine – who wouldn’t be, after sitting next to a on orange-clad convict surrounded by coppers – “Why is his chained to the bed?” my grandmother queried that nice police officer keeping the convict company. “He’s epileptic,” the nice police officer replied. “It’s for his safety” – and burn victims with angry blisters all over their back.

My aunt and mum spent those 8 hours badgering junior doctors to release my grandmother (all of them refused) before the specialist made a grand entrance at 8pm with the head of ER. They explained that the blood test results showed she had a mild heart attack. Obviously, at this point both my aunt and mum probably looked and felt like douchebags for trying to discharge their 80-something year old mum from the ER when she had a heart scare.

As they say, when it rains it pours. The next day I had an appointment for tea tasting in Bandar Manjalara. For those of you who know Malay, it sounds like fancy area but for those of you who know KL; Bandar Manjalara is in near Kepong, a superbly dodgy part of KL. I was hoping that the client would cancel on me, I can’t possibly go to the other end of KL when everybody is fretting about my grandmother.

But he was keen and I should be a professional and so off I went on the most hectic day involved for everyone.

*

I got into an accident back on the way from conducting a tea-tasting session with a prospective client. We, being me and my staff Kid, were in Bandar Manjalara, a suburb very close to Kepong, renowned for its sprawling viaducts and overhead bridges. The roads in Kepong climbed and towered over each other like the overgrown lawn in my tiny garden outside my house, with weeds that is taller than my toddler. It was a hot day, the GPS in Kepong came on and off and Waze kept taking us around the scenic route of Kepong. By scenic I mean, there was a chance we would be made residents of Kepong and never leave because how-the-fuck-do-you-get-out-of-this-area? And then halfway through the tea tasting I received news that the doctors will not let my grandmother leave the hospital for at least 5 days.

I was tired, mostly emotionally spent and I wanted to go back home. I could already imagine the drive back and it felt liberating.

That is up until someone rear-ended my car.

I could hear the screeching of tyres before the awful sound of metal and metal smashing into each other. I jolted forward but by not that much. Not enough to give me a whiplash anyway and so the first thing I thought off was – “Hey, can’t be that bad. I can drive off can’t I? It’s not going to be considered a hit and run. I’m the one who was hit and then I ran off…”

Kak Lin!” Kid said. “You have to stop the car and check it out.”

The car that rear-ended me was a Proton Wira. The lights were smushed in, the bumper caved in and it was a miracle that its engine and compressor were still working. The Chevrolet was nowhere in a bad shape, just a broken bumper. Of course, the first thing that came to mind was my dad, who would not see it as just a broken bumper. This Chevrolet has been to the workshop more often than some young men going to Friday prayers in Malaysia. He was going to flip.

A tall, reed-like young man with bloodshot eyes came out of the car. It was a bright day, the sun was in our eyes and he blinked a few times. He slurred as he spoke. ‘Oh,’ he said when he saw his smushed up car.  And then he looked at us. ‘What do you want to do about this?’

“Why did you hit us!?” Kid demanded.

He told Kid later that he got confused with the clutch, the accelerator and the brakes. “They all looked the same,” he whined.

I did a quick mental calculation to see if I could just pay off this bumper because I really did not want to go through the hassle of reporting the accident. But I really did not want to get this kid who was obviously high on drugs get away with it. I hinted that perhaps we could settle it outside. Kid thought he looked like the sort who would bail.

“Police report then,” I sighed.

I asked Kid on the drive to the police station later if she thought the kid was high. “I’m quite sure he is,” she said. “I’m gonna ask him.”

“Kid, you’re not going to ask someone if he’s on drugs in front of the police!”

“Of course I am. Watch me.”

Actually, one did not need to ask if he was high. His drive there was obviously so erratic, his behaviour in front of the police merely confirmed everyone’s suspicions, including the police that he was on drugs. The police snapped at him a few times and he was oblivious that he was annoying everyone there. When the police showed the write up of the report – a simple formality really – instead of just saying okay, he tried to embellish the report to make him look good.

“Wait, sir. As I drove into the lane, the bonnet of my car flew open, it blocked my view and I drove into her car.”

“It did?” the bored policeman asked, skeptical.

Funny thing was, it did happen. It actually happened after the accident when we were driving to the police station. It certainly did not cause the accident.

“Yeah, so I couldn’t see. It’s not really my fault,” he surmised.

“No. It’s still your fault.”

*

Two hours later, I was finally on my way to dropping Kid back at the shop. Kid was able to grill him what he was on and how much. He denied it at first but Kid called him out on it. “I can tell when someone is on.”

“I didn’t take it today,” he protested. “Just yesterday.”

Apparently he took batu. And at a empat dua kosong dosage. I nodded sagely before confessing, “I’ve no idea what you’re talking about.”

Batu is cocaine I think. Or heroine. I’m not sure. While I may be familiar with street drug terms in the West from, err my watching of The Wire, I’ve no clue what they are in Malaysia.

And empat dua kosong is 420 which I presume are milligrams.

“Is that like a lot, I’ve no idea really what a normal dosage is?”

Kid shrugged. “Depends really. Some people take 500, some people take less. Depends on the quality, how much money you have.”

*

On days like these, I sometimes say something a little blasphemous and that I should mandi bungaMandi bunga is an old animistic belief in Malay culture to rid yourself of bad luck. What you do is you take a bath with flowers. I’ve no idea why this rids you of any bad luck but at the very least you’ll smell good.

I joked with Eizwan that I should mandi bunga after today. And since I have a gorgeous tea blend with roses and tea, our Lady Grey, I joked that I should mandi Lady Grey.

Eizwan nodded. “Actually since you carry hibiscus tea, you should add them too.”

*