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M. Bakri Musa

Seeing Malaysia My Way

My Photo
Location: Morgan Hill, California, United States

Malaysian-born Bakri Musa writes frequently on issues affecting his native land. His essays have appeared in the Far Eastern Economic Review, Asiaweek, International Herald Tribune, Education Quarterly, SIngapore's Straits Times, and The New Straits Times. His commentary has aired on National Public Radio's Marketplace. His regular column Seeing It My Way appears in Malaysiakini. Bakri is also a regular contributor to th eSun (Malaysia). He has previously written "The Malay Dilemma Revisited: Race Dynamics in Modern Malaysia" as well as "Malaysia in the Era of Globalization," "An Education System Worthy of Malaysia," "Seeing Malaysia My Way," and "With Love, From Malaysia." Bakri's day job (and frequently night time too!) is as a surgeon in private practice in Silicon Valley, California. He and his wife Karen live on a ranch in Morgan Hill. This website is updated twice a week on Sundays and Wednesdays at 5 PM California time.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Excerpt #51: Twin Tragedies

Excerpt # 51:  Twin Tragedies

That August, a few months after my arrival in JB and only a few weeks after I had my phone installed in the house, 
Mr. Bhattal phoned me from the hospital. It was a Thursday afternoon, a half day and I was at home. He called from the royal suite asking me to “give him a hand.” A solid experienced surgeon, he was not one easily rattled. He did not intimate what he wanted me for.

         I arrived to a chaotic scene, with officials running around and policemen and police cars all over the place. I knew something terrible had happened. As the hospital elevators were packed, I navigated my way up the stairs to the royal suite on the top floor, identifying myself to the ubiquitous policemen along the way as “one of the doctors” so they would let me through. Even the stairs were filled with officials and policemen. Bhattal spotted me as I entered the floor and took me aside to apprise me of the situation.

         There had been an earlier head-on collision between the Sultan’s car and a timber lorry. The Sultan suffered only minor bruises and a deep gash across his forehead; his consort was unconscious from head injuries and was already intubated. Occupied with the two, he did not have time to evaluate the Sultan’s ADC who had been in the front passenger seat. There was no mention of the drivers, the Sultan’s or the lorry’s. Bhattal asked whether I could take care of the ADC, Othman.

         Othman and I recognized each other right away from my earlier visit with Karen to the palace. My job was to make sure that he did not sustain any immediate life-threatening chest or abdominal injuries. He did not. Bhattal had warned me that being a military men and stoic, Othman would minimize his symptoms; hence to be cautious. Later that evening I checked on him again; he was fine. Instead he was concerned with my checking on him so often. Was there anything I was worried about, he had asked. I assured him that it was just my practice to check on my patients twice daily.

         The Sultanah on the other hand was deteriorating. She was started on steroids to reduce her brain swelling. She would need immediate neurosurgical intervention. The country had only two neurosurgeons then and both were in KL. The earliest one could be flown in was the next day.

         Dr. Arumugasamy was my former colleague at GHKL. He did his training in Minnesota, a top notch program. In GHKL we bonded right away based on our common training system. As he was new to GHJB, I oriented him and assisted at the subsequent surgery on the Sultanah.

         By this time the hospital was swarming with VVIPs. I did not realize that a small country like Malaysia could have so many very important people. I recognized a few of the sultans, and there was Prime Minister Hussein Onn and the state’s Chief Minister Othman Saad. I remembered the Chief Minister from his earlier crusade and visit to the hospital to crop the scalp of young men, including or especially doctors with long hair. I was lucky to be the operating room all day and thus was spared of his scissor-hands. No wonder the roads and affairs of the state were neglected as its chief executive was obsessed with his tonsorial hang-ups.

         Those VVIPS in turn had their retinue of hangers-on. The hospital staff was strained to the limits to cater for these important people and those who considered themselves so. Special foods had to be ordered from the nearby fancy restaurants. I later discovered that the hospital’s funds were exhausted to pay for the caterings alone.

         The hallways and stairs were clogged with assorted princes and princesses, all making a pest of themselves and blocking the traffic. A few of the young princes took the opportunity to hassle my nurses with wolf calls as they reported to the operating suite. That made me angry; those princes were interfering with our preparation for the emergency surgery. I told them to get out of the way. To my utter surprise, they all cowed down. No one defied me. One of those pesky princes whom I had told off is today one of the Sultans.

         There was much ceremony and ritual in transporting the Sultanah to the operating room. Those all came in the way of getting her to the operating suite fast and safe. The anesthesiologist struggled to ventilate the patient underneath the yellow umbrella and in between the embroidered songket cover. I did not know why he didn’t just toss off those obstructing cloths so he could maintain visual assessment of his patient at all times. Then there was a huge retinue trailing her stretcher right into the operating suite. The royal mob had taken over; the professionals had kowtowed to them.

         Things threatened to get out of control with each visitor wanting to kiss the Sultanah’s hand and offer prayers. I was concerned with breaches of sterility. I too believe in the power of prayers, but please do not break our sterile precautions.

Next:  Excerpt #52:  Operating Room Faux Pas

Excerpted from the author’s second memoir, The Son Has Not Returned. A Surgeon In His Native Malaysia, 2018.


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