My Roommates at QMH
By now I have been out of QMH for two weeks. The hospital never told me what caused my fever. I don’t know how many or what tests they have run on my blood samples, but I suppose no news is good news. There is a classic Buddhism teaching which runs like this: when a person is shot by an arrow, the pressing and imminent task is to remove or alleviate the suffering caused by the arrow rather than to find out who shot the arrow or what the colour of the arrow is. My temperature began to stabilize on the second day and by that evening, the fever had almost left, which prompted me to ask the nurses and doctors when I could leave. One orderly said that I could take leave to sleep at home and return the following morning. The Ward Manager said that I probably needed to stay for one more day, but would consider releasing me on the third day if my conditions continued to improve or stabilize. In the meantime, I continued to lie on my back for as long as I could.
It is not easy to sleep long in an open ward. First, the lights are on all the time, up to at least 10:30pm. Secondly, there are always people milling around and about, taking blood pressure, taking temperature, changing nappies and so on and so forth. They would come in, turn on the lights and more often than not would forget to switch off the lights when they left. Then of course, patients made noises.
Meanwhile, Bed No. 2 patient continued to make noises non-stop, while Bed No. 3 patient was always looking for drugs which he claimed had fallen off from the trolley. I learnt that No. 3 was a cancer patient who had a recent relapse which caused very high level of calcium in his system. He had a machine attached to him all the time to monitor his vital functions; and although he had tubes up and down which administered drugs and food and collected his urine, he kept asking to be taken to the toilet and he seemed to have a compulsion to take the drugs which he brought to the hospital, but which the hospital asked him not to because drugs were being fed to him intravenously. He did not appear to be a good patient at all. When his wife visited him, he scolded her loudly and asked him to go away. When he was alone, he took out his cell phone and talked to somebody in a quiet and gentle voice. Apparently, he needed long term institutional care and the staff told him that he would be transferred to a nearby hospital – Fung Yiu King Hospital – for further observation later in the day. Likewise, the many visits by hospital staff from various disciplines to my No. 2 friend failed to come up with any break through. The hospital called up the home for the aged to take him back.
By 3pm in the afternoon, both No. 2 and No. 3 patients had left the ward and for a brief moment, I was the only patient in the side-ward. My first thought was to switch off the lights, but just as I was climbing out of the bed, there were clanging sounds outside typical of a bed being wheeled in. The patient looked very old and dark. He was accompanied by two women who said were his daughters. They said that the old man had a fall in his sleep about a week ago and had complained of pains all over the body since. He had another fall the day before and appeared to have forgotten everything, including where he lived and how many children he had. He had four daughters, but he could only recall one. One of his daughters told me that he was barely 70. The staff put him in Bed No. 2; and the admission ritual followed.
Let me call him New Bed No. 2 or NB2 to distinguish him from the other No. 2 who had left. NB2 appeared very sick and fragile and would cry pain every time he was moved or touched by staff or medics. When asked whether he knew where he was, he said that he was home; and he seemed to have lost most of the reflexes in the limbs. The doctors and nurses came to check on NB2 almost non-stop asking him questions all the time but not getting a lot of responses. Here again, I am reassured that one would get top notched medical attention at QMH. NB2 was an ordinary run of the mill patient, but almost staff from every discipline came to him to try to find out what was wrong with him; from a physiotherapist to a brain surgeon, and from a cardiologist to a orthopedist; and he was chest x-rayed, had ECG, had his eyes, ears and teeth checked and so on. QMH is technically not a teaching hospital, but by agreement or by tradition, the doctors and medical students from HKU could operate there in pursuit of excellence or for whatever humanitarian causes. In the daytime, scores of young medical students, in their third or fourth year, came along and flipped the medical records. They were generally polite and even a bit shy. A few came to my bed and apparently could not make out head or tail of what was wrong with me. I told a few not to waste time on my case; and they moved on.
In the wee hours, lights were turned on with the typical clanging as a bed was wheeled in. The patient was a taxi driver who was about 50 years old, who fainted in his sleep and was taken to the hospital by his wife. He was put in Bed No. 3, and let me call him NB3. Once again, the admission ritual followed; and I saw the familiar Dr Leung who did me when I was admitted. I wondered when he slept. Apparently, NB3 had a convulsion or a feat of epilepsy in his sleep and was unconscious for some 20 minutes. He regained consciousness when he was hauled onto the ambulance and was wide awake since, talking non-stop to the stream of doctors, nurses and medics. After the routine questioning, a senior looking person came and told NB3 that in view of what happened he could not continue to work as a taxi driver until he was given a clean bill of health. The expert said that NB3 was apparently an epileptic and if the condition relapsed, which could happen anytime unannounced, it would potentially endanger his passengers, himself and the public if he was behind the wheel. NB3 was obviously very concerned and upset. He argued that this was probably a one-off incident and it would be unfair to take away his livelihood just like that or until it was proved that he was an epileptic. He was told that it would take time to have his brain scanned and his body checked thoroughly before the hospital could come up with any conclusion, but in the meantime, in the interest of public safety, the hospital would not allow him to drive.
I would sign off here; and next time I would talk about what happened on the third day I was at QMH.