Some may say life begins and ends in hospitals.
However, I was not privileged to come to this world there when backwardness of the early 50s left longhouse mothers in a world of their own.
My four children, including half of the twin who was stillborn, were welcomed to this world inside comfortable hospitals — both privately owned and charging fees more than their sweeper’s annual pay. Three of them — a girl, a boy (the surviving twin) and another girl in that order — were exuberant the moment they were taken out of the birth canal if their cries were anything to go by.
The first girl and the boy sadly ended their short lives in sickbays — the girl, Garcia Ann Kejuang, in the Lau King Howe Hospital (LKHH) Sibu after a brief happy life of less than six years whereas the surviving twin, Jay Kingsley Gara (who only lived for 24 years), in the Sarawak General Hospital (SGH), Kuching.
Garcia died on the spot in Durin, near Sibu in the fatal crash involving the Honda Ballade sedan I was driving and a Toyota 4WD. Then I was serving in Julau about 35km from Durin.
Cancer had the better of my beloved Jay — firstly surviving nose cancer after chemotherapy in the Sarawak General Hospital (SGH) Kuching but months later, warded there again; this time for bone cancer to which he succumbed on March 7, 2015.
I have my own dose of hospital wards, debuting at Sibu’s LKHH ward in 1973 (I was studying Lower Sixth Arts at Methodist Secondary School) after a daring challenge of locally brewed liquor ‘Chap Langkau’ at the closing hours of a Gawai Antu at our Kedap longhouse in Saratok.
In 1990 when my Garcia succumbed to head injuries during the Durin crash, I was oblivious to the world in the first-class ward of LKHH — due to cerebral concussion.
It was only after seven weeks that I found out Ann and Daphne had died during the crash; this time I was in Kuching’s SGH after being transferred from LKHH Sibu on a Fokker 100 flight occupying six seats plus another for an accompanying medical personnel.
It took eight weeks in all for me to recuperate in SGH from my many injuries — no fractures, thank God — including sucking blood from my head (can’t recall the medical term) as part of treating my concussion. I was among the first five patients to use the new CT scan at SGH in late 1990/early 1991 when the Gulf War was at its height.
Four years later while serving in SMK Lake, Bau, hypertension landed me again at a SGH ward, albeit briefly.
After a misdemeanour due to an overdose of alcohol in a friend’s residence in Bandar Seri Begawan (BSB), Brunei Darussalam in 2000, I became the first person ever to crash (after driving against traffic flow at 2am) into the gate of the Lapau, the sultanate’s equivalent of Sarawak’s State Legislative Assembly Complex. Upon waking up at around 6am, I found myself constrained to a strange bed and started barking expletives. It was in the A&E Ward of the RIPAS (Raja Isteri Pengiran Anak Saleha) Hospital of BSB. When I was sober, they transferred me to the ward proper where I stayed for another two nights.
“Don’t worry, you are covered by insurance,” said our Borneo Bulletin Editor-In-Chief Rex De Silva, a Sri Lankan, when he and others came to visit me on my second day. The hospital bill was B$1,504. I was privileged to be driven from the hospital to my flat in Kiangeh, BSB by our Brunei Press GM Reggie Sie, a Singaporean who was a guitarist in our regular band — I was quite sure he also wanted to check whether his countrywoman was still living in with me.
When my late Jay was in SGH ward for chemotherapy between March 2013 and June 2014 and later from Dec 2014 until March 2015, I spent considerable number of hours there looking after him.
As a patient in the ward or as one who accompanies a patient, one will most likely find hospitals sickening — on top of your own/or your charge’s sickness. One can be sick of the slow way everything moves around them. The screen (around the bed), the blood work, the X-rays and others take some time and then the doctor has to be located, a pharmacist called in, a nurse or nurses found.
A patient’s recovery isn’t just down to good medicine. Family support could often energise a patient, even giving him or her reason to live, I was told.