Learning how to kill time


PLEASE tell me how to make use of time for something useful. While waiting for the plane to take you somewhere, you can browse in the bookshop at the airport, or admire the branded products from overseas and wish you had extra funds for an item that your wife would love you for, or read a thick novel that doubles as a pillow. Anything at all, to kill time.

But here at the hospital on the seventh floor, how do you spend two hours in a useful manner because you cannot get into the wards, because the security man at the entrance of the ward says you cannot, because you are two hours ahead of the visiting hours?

NO PARKING: Cars squeeze into every available space at the hospital car park.

This was exactly what happened to me on Tuesday last. I was visiting a young relative, who had been involved in a car accident that almost killed him. I could see his mother from outside through the glass door but couldn’t be sure if the boy was recovering at all. My anxiety over the boy’s fate was compounded by how tired I was after that not-so-smart walk up the seven flights of steps.

For some 20 minutes or so I had been looking for a parking space in the Sarawak General Hospital compound. I wished I had kept my privilege as a civil servant provided with a chauffeur-driven car. Those were the good old days at the expense of the taxpayers … I know what you think. On the other hand, if all civil servants and politicians who have anything to do with road transport and planning had to drive their own cars, we would probably have a lot more parking places to go around!

When finally I found a space to squeeze in my car, I was so thankful to the Jaga, who kindly assured me that the safety of my car lay in his hands on condition that I parted away with an RM5 note. He took the trouble to remind me that since he managed the parking area, no theft had taken place. Very thoughtful of him, I just hope none of the ‘watchmen’ are in cahoots with the thieves!

This was a rush hour. The lifts were full with people going up and down the building. I thought I was being smart: I took the steps to fourth floor; no, it was not the floor. I had another three floors to go.

For a septuagenarian, it wasn’t a bad attempt; I congratulated myself when I reached the intended floor without the help of a walking stick.

While waiting for the green light to enter the wards in 60 minutes’ time, a dozen of us in the corridor were killing time in our own way, some on their handphones sending out messages, others just looking at the ceiling. I was reading my newspapers from page to page – including the advertisements, the rubber, pepper, house prices, comics; except attempting the crossword puzzle.

Reading while standing up or leaning against a wall is not conducive to good concentration. Fortunately, that day’s papers were full of good thinking: medical assistants must be given decent pay. To make them work in the rural areas, give them additional perks – more monetary incentives and better living conditions. I was going to say better working environment; that depends on where they are posted to; they will have to adapt according to the conditions as they find them.

A sensible suggestion for the colleges that train the medical assistants is to train young people from the rural communities to meet the shortage of trained personnel in government clinics. To ensure that they return to their own communities, give them more-than-equal treatment in terms of better salaries and more incentives.

As I discovered during my trips to Kapit and Song in 2011, many young people — those who were still around anyway, the rest had gone on bejalai — did not know of the existence of training facilities for AMOs, let alone how to apply for places in the training institutes. The Department of Information activists who conduct seminars in the longhouses and villages talk more about other government policies and grand plans in the distant future, and a little, if at all, about training for more AMOs. What’s that?

The role of paramedics or these trained as medical personnel cannot be over emphasised. In an emergency, they are the first qualified personnel to administer aid. Lucky if there is a Red Crescent volunteer or Scout or a Girl Guide at the scene of an accident. A bomoh may be of help some other time and place, not now. A Rela member is good for company, but not much more than that; he could possibly help prevent a traffic jam of accident-gawkers. A journalist is worse: a scoop! A scoop! Expect all gory details in tomorrow’s paper! But the paramedics are doing a real job to save lives. The doctors, the specialists, will come later.

Oops, the security guard opened the main door to the wards. Reading stopped.

For the past hour, I absorbed much of what was in the papers. Now came the observation. A hotel which enjoys that high rate of occupancy is doing good business; this hospital is doing a good job for the community. The news that a new one is being built is most welcome. That means more nurses and doctors are needed. While I do not look forward to being detained in this or any hospital, more such facilities in other places would make it more convenient for people living in the outskirts of town, and ease the congestion – including the overcrowded car park – at the GH. Two or more public hospitals will not be too many; a quarter of Sarawak’s population lives within the western quarter of the state. There is another hospital for mainly people with heart problems at Samarahan; that in a way has helped with overcrowding at the GH.

Some time ago we heard that there were plans to build a multi-level parking centre at the GH. It didn’t happen … now the news is its ‘on’ again. It will provide space to park our vehicles, putting an end to the frantic round-and-round-and-round chase to find an empty corner somewhere, legal or otherwise.

Till this wonderful high-rise car park is built, however, we will have to go earlier, just to find parking.

My advice:

• Go early.

• Wait downstairs, there’s more fresh air there (advisable).

• Wait upstairs in one of the corridors (shorter sprint to the ward).

• Do not sit on the chairs next to the rubbish store; the smell may be harmful to your health.

• Take lots of reading material; share with other early bird visitors.

• In a serious emergency, recite the 17-times-table to yourself, just don’t get impatient.

• Do whatever is needed to kill time; do not kill the guard who refuses to let you into the wards. He is only doing his job.

And if you’re, let’s say, over 50, don’t try to be a hero and gallop up all these steps. Sure, the GH has all the facilities to deal with heart attacks, but on the whole they prefer visitors who can enter and leave without the help of a stretcher party.