I left off with the news that I was allowed to leave Queen Mary Hospital (QMH) just when I described the circumstances against which I was admitted. Somehow I muddled through another ten days with the last three spent in; surprise, surprise; Kuala Lumpur.
But let me get back to QMH, lest my first and personal experience of hospitalization becomes blurred. Mo Yan has put it rather succinctly: novelists and writers don’t just write from imagination, the better ones write from their experiences, personal experiences in particular. Besides, I had been asked by many friends, some from abroad, what had happened and what was wrong with me.
Dr Leung is conscientious and thorough; his beside manners are more than acceptable; but he probably needs more practice with what I called nursing work: the back of my left hand where he inserted the drip device still aches a bit, ten days after it was removed: but then I would not know what would be normal performance indicators. He turned up later in the ward when another patient was admitted and patiently went through the questioning. I was given drugs, some intravenously and some orally; I was asked to provide urine and sputum samples, if and when available; I had my blood pressure and temperature taken regularly, every two hours, and I had blood taken from me for various tests, many times, yes many times. A nurse or orderly gave me an ice pack to cool me down. Dr Leung said that the hospital policy was not to administer paracetamol to patients who were on antibiotics, lest it would mask their effects.
Someone came to give me a bowl of congee. It was around 7am. It was lukewarm, but I finished it quickly. I had decided to eat as much as I could to conserve my mental and corporeal energies. Apparently, it helped. I fell asleep, but was awoken by a rather pleasant and pretty nurse who said she would run an electrocardiogram on me, which she promptly and very efficiently did by my bed side. Hospital administration has certainly improved a lot in Hong Kong. In the past, patients would need to be carted to special units for ECG or x-rays, but now most operations could be performed in situ, which goes a long way towards improving patient care.
Dr Ngan, who introduced himself as the Ward Manager, meaning he ran the Ward, came to see me and asked me most of the questions that had been asked of me. He did confirm though that my lung was clear and that I had no apparent symptoms, for which reason the hospital would continue to run tests on me. When I asked him about moving to a private ward, he appeared nonplussed, but said he would discuss the matter with his staff. It was clear that Dr Ngan was busy and carrying a rather heavy workload. QMH is a multi-disciplined regional hospital; it is big; it is well equipped; but it is getting old and rather crowded. I counted the number of camp beds in my ward. The number ranged from six to 12 and there were easily eight to ten at any one time. Ward Managers apparently could not decide on who to be admitted. Such decisions were made at the A & E Department, which was why camp beds were such regular features in such wards.
Just before noon, I was asked to moved to a proper bed space – bed 1 – in the same open ward, except that it was placed in a side room with only three beds; beds 1, 2 and 3; and there was even an attached bathroom. When I moved in, only bed 3 was occupied, but in less than half an hour, bed 2 was also taken up by a geriatric patient sent from a home for the aged. Since both patients were incontinent and carried their own urinary devices, I thought initially that I would have exclusive use of the bathroom. I was clearly wrong: patients from the entire ward who were sufficiently mobile regularly used it, as would those who needed assistance for a full bath. In the latter cases, they were helped out by a few orderlies or paramedics; and the operations were generally noisy with moans and groans from the patients.
I have actually great esteem for the medical and nursing staff in the ward, including those operating from other professional units and who would cover other wards. I refer to the physiotherapists; the ECG staff; the x-ray staff; the neurosurgical, renal and cardiac sections and so on. They constantly crisscross between wards, taking up work and talking to patients of varying descriptions, in terms of age, sex, degree of dilapidation, languages and dialects, mental states and illnesses. I generally find them rather cheerful and professional. I noticed that some of them had great difficulties getting any response at all from new patients, but they sojourned on, sometimes talking to themselves. Then there were these hospital assistants, many of them rather young, going about changing nappies regularly, but I never heard them complaining about their unpleasant jobs. Many years ago, from stories of our grandmother days and perpetrated by old and very ancient Cantonese movies in the Fifties, we were told that all medical or paramedical staff, nurses and amahs, particularly the amahs were corrupt, such that no patients would receive any decent service or service at all unless their relatives oiled the palms of the hospital staff. When the Hospital Authority was set up, I recall the then Secretary for Health and Welfare talking to the Hospital Authority Chairman that she hoped no one in future would be deprived of hospital care and services because they could not afford them.
Back to the present, I believe everyone in the hospital tries to do a good job, but problems do exist all the time, and they are not always medical. For example, it only takes one or two difficult patients in a ward to upset the general morale and atmosphere. A typical difficult patient would be one making noises all the time, often unintelligible but always loud and audible. One such patient would for example cry out aloud “Help! Help!” all the time. I actually went to the Nursing Officer in charge and asked whether the patient needed help. I was told politely that the patient was delirious or even could be dementia. The patient next to me from a home for the aged, in Bed 2, for example, looked like over 90, was making noises non stop and speaking in incoherent languages. His responses to the medical and nursing staff on the same questions were never the same. It worked on my morale so much that I had to retire to the lift lobby for some quiet moments, during which a friend came to see me and I almost missed him.
I have not talked a lot about my conditions yet, but I would stop here, lest it becomes too long. I hope to talk to you again soon.