I’m not completely extraneous to the workings of health practices and routines internationally despite having had a fairly good run for the last five decades. And in the scheme of things, three hospital admissions and no more than the garden variety ailments like flues and the like in this length of time, give no fodder for much to complain about.
In addition, I was made in a way that my trajectory from health to ill is vertical and quick, but so is my recovery. That is, in a matter of hours I can go from hale and hearty to washed out and bed ridden. Conversely, I spruce up quickly and back at it in a flash. Thanks mum, I’m pretty happy with that.
This day began with me feeling exceedingly sensitive to the warm temperatures and deciding to take a ride to the mountains, hoping for relief in the coolness of altitude, as opposed to the usual dive in the magnificent bath tub that is the Indian Ocean.
Much to my displeasure the mountain area I rode to offered no respite, in fact it seemed hotter than the plateau; the place almost barren and the few edifices scattered around in a well planned manner gave the impression of a ghost town and begged the question for why they existed. The only relief came in the form of a phone call from a dear friend in Australia, who despite the circumstances of the call being less than high spirited, was as refreshing as the limpid waters from a cool stream.
The next best option was the journey back and a rest in bed under the blades of a fan, and perhaps a dip in the Ocean a little later. In the comfort of my bed, and with the rhythmic revolutions of the fan, I fell into a deep sleep only to wake up less than two hours later drenched in sweat, running a fever emanating enough heat to bend plastic spoon, and ridden in pain from my legs to my back, joints, muscles, neck, you name it, and a ring around my head tighter than the crown of an unwilling monarch—decisively uncomfortable.
Surprised? You bet; I didn’t recognise any early symptoms of anything brewing inside of me. I reached out for the medical kit to find a temporary solution and relief while deciding what to do. This is part of the lunacy, I guess. If I came across someone in that condition I would ask two questions and give one simple instruction—the second question being where are your car keys?; the instruction get in the car, I’m taking you to the hospital.
As I was fumbling between the Buscopan and the Norfloxacin, I caught sight of a brand new digital thermometer in the kit, and for whatever reason I contemplated using it, as if I needed confirmation that the fever was reaching Marble Bar balmy temperatures. As the device had never been taken out of its confinement I thought wisely to glimpse over the instructions, which in a nutshell read: This instrument can be used under the tongue and armpit, insert into anus gently.
Really? Did we need such quantification or the instructor was poking a bit of fun at the expenses of the inept? Do you know anyone who would place a thermometer in the mouth or under the armpit but ram it hard in their behind, or in someone else’s for that matter? No matter; at this stage of the game taking my temperature would have been completely inutile.
As I was assessing the situation, two possibilities flashed in front of my eyes—malaria or Dengue—not pleasant, I know, but I have been hanging around at risk areas for a while, and if my turn came I just would have to accept it gracefully. However, the condition took a turn. I stumbled out of bed to go to the bathroom and the act of relieving myself produced excruciating pain and burning along the urinary tract and the abdomen, reaching as high as the head, giving me a feeling that I needed to faint. I began considering a bladder or urinary tract infection with a streak of nastiness in it and decided that the best thing would be to flush it out with copious amounts of water. Of course, the more I drank, the more I peed; the more I peed, the more it hurt and the more unstable on my feet and faintly I became.
I endured the night, hoping that rest would bring some relief, but aside from a lowering of the body temperature nothing much changed. Time to call in for help; I messaged my colleagues requesting a lift to a hospital and someone who could assist with translations, as my local language skills are not good enough to tell the difference between a vasectomy and a prostatectomy, and in any case, I realised that in this prudish culture I wasn’t sure of the terminology to properly describe urine, which for the record is pipis, without the risk of causing offence. Duly collected from my abode, off we were to the nearest emergency hospital.
Not taking too much notice of the environment, I walked through a glass door, in front of me a table with five angels dressed all in white, jilbab included. To my right a bruiser of a bloke, big enough by any standard, let alone the quite slightly built Acehnese. Further up a few stretchers and sundry.
My company explained the situation to the multitudes; one of the white angels pointed me to the stretchers but I chose the wrong one as the angel pointed to the opposite. I sat on her chosen one and with no uncertain terms she said sleep!; not the first time I hear that from a woman, but this time I was the one with the headache. What she meant was lay down! That I did and my blood pressure was taken.
During this procedure no words were exchanged and no eye contact either. You see, here eye contact avoidance is a way to evade communication; you know, what the eye doesn’t see, the heart doesn’t grieve kind of thing, and not seen means not grieved for, not need to worry, you’re invisible. If I could bring myself to acts of violence I would like to find the person who came up with this cretinous idiom; creep up behind him and wallop him with a bat. If he regains consciousness, I’d like to ask whether he had any grievances with that despite the fact that he never saw it coming, but I digress.
Next, I was ordered to pathology but warned of a two hour waiting. My company suggested we go home and return later, no point waiting in the hospital for two hours. Wise, so, I headed for the car, before I could find any sort of comfort in my seat, he said we had to go to pathology first. But I thought you said … two hours … never mind.
More white angels, or vampires dressed as angels, as they wanted blood—mine. They looked at the request form and mentioned a figure IDR 295,000. What, in advance? No, no, just a warning that it is the cost of the test. Fine, go ahead.
One of the angels took a syringe full, gently, as I didn’t even register the needle was in and syphoning my life out. Without making any eye contact with me she told my company that it would take half an hour for the result. This time we opted for waiting.
In time the angels, in unison, read the result: Malaria – negative; Dengue – negative; etc. So, what is it? Typhoid. Typhoid, no way? I’ll accept malaria, or even Dengue, but typhoid I’ve been vaccinated against. In fact, due to a number of circumstances around this trip, I’ve had more vaccines than a Greyhound purebred. I asked to examine the result and I couldn’t work out the reference to typhoid. As I enquired, the angels said there wasn’t one, so, how did they come to that conclusion, I asked. Well, what else can it be if it’s not malaria or Dengue?
At this point humour began to return and as I asked for the bill, I also requested that I’d be returned my blood if they wanted the rupiah. I had momentarily forgotten that during official business humour is not tolerated, let alone understood. With no further ado we returned to the emergency with the inconclusive test results flapping in the wind, hoping that a doctor would make sense of the codes and numbers that escaped us common mortals.
The bruiser guy, who was sitting on the right, now wore a white chemise, like a doctor; he was a doctor, the doctor, gentle in his manners and ruggedly handsome. We sat with him and he began to address my company thus giving me no eye contact, making no effort to dispel my preconceived idea that most doctors are aloof, feel superior and are generally disinterested in your plight. I often wonder what inspires them to go through the rigours of medical school, or is it medical school that turns them from humans into androids?
He went to write a script as long as the breakfast menu at Hermes Palace. I looked at the script, he looked at me and in perfect English he said Can you read? Well, kind of, I’m just wondering if the long list comes with an assembly instruction book. It’s a lot of stuff to ingest, being Ramadhan, what of fasting? He turned to my company and almost dejectedly he said, pointing with his thumb Islam? My company laughed. Only my company laughed.
Bruiser … I mean Doc asked me if I wanted the expensive variety of anti-biotic or the cheap version. Hey man, for the first time in my life I have more health insurance than the mosquito who may have given me this, you think I’m going to skimp on this one? But wait a sec, I’ve heard of cheaper brands of pharmaceuticals but I didn’t know that anti-biotic come in the Moet vintage or spumante truck-wash variety? Do they do the same thing? No answer. I guess not. Moet it is this time, but who cures the poor?
We left, all relieved; my company relieved from the responsibility of interpreting the indecipherable, me from my money and blood, but burdened by the weight of the medications, the ignorance of the nature of my ailment and the niggly feeling that I will have to shed some light on the anti-biotic quirk.