Sunday, January 24, 2010

Utterly Hospitable!


A recent hospital stay turns out to be an unexpectedly pleasant experience.

I AM writing this as I have no better way to thank the Universiti Malaya Medical Centre for the fine treatment I received there recently.

It starts with a medical issue, of course – bleeding from the vagina (it’s okay, the word can be mentioned; half the world has one of these, you know).

Post-menopausal bleeding has to be investigated. So, with a referral from my GP, I presented myself at the centre’s Klinik Ginekologi.

Who would have thought a stay at Universiti Hospital would be a pleasant experience? – File photo Left: ‘The devoted sister’ (left) and the ‘Mandarin Cassandra’ are just two of the many interesting people the writer met during her time in UH. – Writer’s photo
I was seen by a fine young doctor, forthright and observant, who took his time to read the notes and “check everything”, then acted with dispatch and arranged for me to be admitted (on a cancellation).

The issues were clarified from the outset, and his “first impression” turned out to be correct.

Later, in the ward, I met a succession of proficient female doctors who had everything in hand.

The nurses do talk a bit, but in the course of constantly reviewing each case over their clipboards. Medicine rounds were unrelenting and I had my blood pressure taken more times in two days than in 10 years of my life.

To my surprise, there was a thick file on me, though I’d appeared at the clinic just once before, briefly; there was some information on the hospital’s intranet as well.

The UH (to give the centre it’s old name, Universiti Hospital) system is, to a sufficient degree, sensitive to its patients. These doctors have ears. They are that most desired thing in doctors – accessible. And they go over the procedure beforehand. They explain, in effect they teach, inform, assure.

And there is communication throughout the system.

A professor walks in surrounded by white-coated students who gather around the bed opposite in which lies a young Indonesian woman.

There’s a Socratic-style dialogue about the signs they observe in the patient, and how from these signs and symptoms they may anticipate the “gynaecologic histopathological findings” in tissue samples taken afterwards....

(I did not get all of the good professor’s words, but arrived at the above after checking with my brother and sister-in-law in Sydney, Australia, who were among the fifth batch of graduates from Universiti Malaya’s Faculty of Medicine.)

“So what do you have to be?”


“Correct and logical!”

At this moment, it dawns on me that the hospital is backed by the full expertise of medical academia in this country. (You may be a dot on that landscape, but you’re in their sights.)

It all goes ticker-tick. Doctors have their rounds, nurses have their rounds, cleaners have theirs. We are four to a room in air-conditioned Ward 10U, with a picture window and an attached bathroom, cleaned, as was the entire floor of the ward, every couple of hours or so by the girl with the little yellow trolley.

That place is alive, it positively hums with life. The bed works. The toilet works. The bell-pull works. Everything works in that constant traffic flow from specialist room to specialist room. The roster works. And the people who make things work, who stay at their stations, the anaesthesiologist, the radiologist – well, they are the salt of the earth.

As for the hoi polloi, that’s the best part of it all. Three of us girls took a walk to find the x-ray room. My two companions were to have hysterectomies. There were sick beds parked in the corridor that was being renovated. I saw neat improvisations: a wooden block pulley to lift an endangered foot a mite off the bed, cloth strings.

I met people who told me stoically, smilingly, their history of illness. You get a sense of how people battle for life. You see the detail that reveals to you something of that life, here in peaceful Malaysia.

The three girls in my room linger in my memory: a lovely Indian girl, a Malay doctor with a devoted sister who slept in a chair all night, a warm-voiced lady married to a Hokkien, who steadfastly refused to admit to Indian ancestry (“I’m Malaysian, no, I’m just a Malaysian”). I hope they have long since recovered.

And how will I ever forget the little lady who came to see me out of the blue? Leaning on a staff (well, an umbrella), her head in a kerchief, she scanned my face and murmured, in the manner of a Mandarin Cassandra, “It is your destiny!”

I thanked her but did not inquire further, since half the fun is in not knowing the plot. But I can tell you that “Cassandra” looked uncharacteristically cheerful about my prospects! (Cassandra was the prophetess daughter of King Priam of ancient Troy.)

What about the food? Well, okay, this isn’t the Hilton, but it’s five-star compared with what most people on Earth have to eat. There’s even a menu.

And as things were, I gave each of the girls a roll of toilet paper as a parting gift (a friend brought me some). And the sanitary pads are archaic, a type not seen since the mid-20th century (the kind that makes you feel humbly grateful you ever reached menopause).

So? So you are glad they are not splashing money about. When you see the bill, you get a pleasant surprise. For consultations, ultrasound scans, ECG, chest x-ray, blood tests, medicines, two nights’ stay with food in the semi-private UH.... What? RM350! Now, where in the world would you get that?

I am not the keenest patient, but UH didn’t let me go until they had given me the full works, including a follow-up appointment for three weeks after and a projected mammogram in March. I had a small op known as “hysteroscopy and D&C” as the last of a string of more serious ops. Two surgeons did it together, one of them a professor. They found a polyp in my uterus which was marched off to the labs to check for cancer and pre-cancer.

And now I am home, with my little problem solved, not to mention with better knowledge than before. And when I look out of the window of my flat on Bukit Kerinchi in KL, I feel that bit happier and more secure when, casting my eyes to the extreme left, I see the plain grey blocks of our excellent Universiti Hospital.

Note: My results were normal. Thank you, UH.

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