Tuesday, July 14

The art of maintenance and why we’re so bad at it


THE Oxford Dictionary defines maintenance of something as “the act of keeping something in good condition by checking or repairing it regularly”. It can be applied to anything that requires proper maintenance to keep it in proper working condition – be it a piece of property (for instance a house, classroom, office building, or factory); a piece of equipment be it machinery or tool; a system or application; and ultimately your pet dog or cat, or your very own body!

It is a rather appalling state of affairs if I am to tell you that I have personally seen or experienced, or have known of people who actually take better care of the maintenance of their vehicles than their bodies. Similarly, those with excessive adulation for their pets’ welfare in showering their love on them, which far exceeds that which they show their own spouses or children.

Let me start with very simple and basic maintenance, or lack thereof, which we see for ourselves day in and day out if we were to observe the general conditions of the public places and utilities that we use – just common everyday things. Upon leaving the gates of our own homes, the minute we get on to the public road systems, we are confronted with poorly maintained road surfaces, uneven walkways strewn with litter, badly patch-worked edges, and either slippery or broken down concrete surfaces. There seems to be a problem with our road builders, who can’t seem to surface a road properly as even some newly-resurfaced roads are bumpy and uneven to drive over.

Most road signage and directional posts leave a lot to be desired and our public parking spaces are poorly designed and some allocated in very tight spots. The maintenance of our roads can be haphazard sometimes, as we find pooling in even the busiest and so-called protocol roads. Grass cutting and tree trimming exercises have somewhat improved in recent years but still need to be regulated and done on a more regular basis.

Once we enter any public government building, we are in a better situation as the majority of these places have been rather well maintained and are clean and often rather pleasant, and most of the equipment and stuff work. The lifts and elevators are in working condition (except for the perpetual problem faced by the Sarawak General Hospital – that alone warrants a paragraph or two), and most public utilities are in working order.

There are some exceptions at these public places – we can never seem to keep our toilets and the bathrooms and sinks clean or dry no matter how often the cleaners go in and out to clean up. The worst culprits appear to be at the Kuching International Airport – extremely embarrassing and most shameful to greet first-time visitors or to bid farewell to those who had just spent a happy time visiting us to be left with such bad impressions.

Toilets at the majority of the eateries – coffee shops and hawker stalls other than those in the 5-star hotels and the upper end air conditioned outlets – are almost always filthy and unsanitary – and most do not even offer any washing liquid, soap, or toilet paper. They always seem to be both wet and smelly.

However, the most shocking lack of maintenance comes from the public sector of the government.

I have personally witnessed and seen very expensive equipment and machinery being left to rot away and unable to either function or to serve their original purpose although millions of ringgit have been spent procuring them in the first place.

Just go and visit any upcountry, upriver, or remote town, village or kampung along the length and breadth of Sarawak and you will find hundreds of units of a British brand of water filtration and treatment water tank sitting there all forlorn and in disrepair or totally useless – because they have not been maintained. They have either broken down, their filters not available for change, or the users have simply lost interest and stopped using them. I was told that when initially installed, they had cost the then BN government something in the region of RM200 million!

Similar horror stories abound for so many other products, equipment, machinery, and applications – items that had cost the government millions and millions of ringgit from taxpayers had simply gone to waste after an initial usefulness period of roughly one or two years at the most.

There is absolutely no culture in any kind of maintenance of equipment or machinery in our country. If there is any, I’d love to be proven wrong.

When it comes to the personal health sector, I have also found that many patients who had benefitted from our free public healthcare are also rather lackadaisical in their attitude towards their own personal well-being.

Three years ago in November 2016, I was successfully operated upon for a triple bypass CABG procedure at the Sarawak Heart Centre by chief surgeon Mr Jong Yuan Hsun. As part of the after-surgery treatment and recovery programme, I was advised to undergo a three-month intensive rehabilitation course, during which I had to attend a three times weekly three-hour exercise and rehab session at the Sarawak Heart Centre. This rehab was free but it was optional and not compulsory.

I was extremely shocked when I found out later that only a small percentage of those who have had the CABG procedure had actually turned up and taken up the offer of the rehab programme. Many had simply brushed it aside and must have told themselves – I’m now completely healed and my treatment’s complete.

Sad to say I was also told of a few tragic stories of those who didn’t turn up, and of a few who either had relapses, even a heart attack or two, and a number of those who had died not long after their procedures. If only they had gone to rehab.

Maintenance in this case is also an essential and vital part of the healing process, especially after such a major procedure like a CABG or any other surgery which is life threatening. It is very sad that not many patients are aware of this fact of life, or if they were, did not take it seriously enough.

Our maintenance culture, be it in the public arena with public spaces, utilities, and equipment; or be it with our own bodies and our personal health at stake – really needs a revamping and a reboot to ensure that we continue to be able to utilise them, and for our own ticker to continue ticking!

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