1974 was an eventful year. After getting my MCE results, I went over to JB to continue my Form 6. Then when my studies were cut short by the untimely demise of my brother who was supporting me, I had to pack my bags and return to my hometown. Almost as soon as I returned, Dad fixed me up with the estates to be trained as a Hospital Assistant (HA). In retrospect, I think he probably did it to keep my mind occupied as I had just gone through a traumatic experience of losing a loved one and my life had been turned inside out (that story will be told another day).
And so I reported to Serdang Group Hospital in Kedah, a small hospital that catered to the dwellers from surrounding estates. There were 2 of us scheduled to undergo this 3 years of training, the other was Rao who happened to grow up in the same estate as me and who had once taken tuition classes from my sister. This was comforting as otherwise, I would have been without friends and being fresh out of a tragic experience, it would have been tormenting to spend my time. The hospital was manned by 2 qualified HAs and was serviced by a visiting doctor who came once every week from another group hospital in Kedah where he was based. Observing that I appeared interested and very much involved in the daily chores of providing care to the in-patients, he suggested one day that I should continue the training at the other hospital where there were more trainees. I readily agreed and off I went to Kuala Ketil.
Here, the hospital was situated in a small town and also catered to surrounding estates but these were large estates with a bigger population so we were kept busy with more patients coming in daily. I was put in charge of the female ward together with a midwife and another probationer. The male ward was manned by 2 other probationers. We had another trainee at the dispensary that was managed by 2 qualified HAs. The doctor was stationed here except on his visiting days. The 5 of us who were undergoing training were housed in a hostel that was located within the hospital compound.
With 5 rooms in the hostel for the 5 of us, it was single occupancy much to my delight. Never had such luxury back at home where I had to share rooms with my parents and siblings in my kampong house where we settled down after dad retired.
Kasiappan was the most senior. He was already into his second year. Being senior, he often guided us whenever we consulted him on things we were not sure of especially on prescriptions. He later went on to complete the programme and got a job at a nearby estate.
Ganesan was the quiet type and hailed from Taiping. Being the only son, his mum would pack biscuits and other cookies for him whenever he returned from his visits. Since he always kept his room door locked, I used to climb onto the attic before descending into his room to steal some of those cookies. I was to meet him later in life when he was the HA in Serdang hospital where I had spent the early days of my training. He had converted to Islam and had changed his name to Ghani.
Praba was from Kulim. Left on his own, he was quiet but being a fun loving guy, he stuck with me like a leech and would follow me wherever I went. He was later in life to marry my cousin but the marriage was short-lived and they separated soon after. I recently learnt that he had settled down in Indonesia and had married a local girl there.
Krishnasamy was the last guy. He joined the training when I was already into my third month of training. He was a pious person and had a serious perception of life. Whenever Praba and I came back from one of our ‘exploits’, he would lecture us at length about karma and the harm that would befall us in our later life as the Man up there was supposedly watching our every deed and movement (as if the Man didn’t have anything better to do than watch over us). His intentions could have been noble but at that age, we couldn’t understand a word of what he preached…...or more accurately, we didn’t want to.
At the hospital, in no time I became quite familiar and adept with the various medications as I was put in-charge of patients in the female ward and had to attend to calls at night. Usually night calls would involve someone complaining of some light ailment like stomach ache or vomiting and the likes. Had to just dispense them with some appropriate medication and all would be fine. During my stint I also learnt how to administer injections and had also assisted the doctor in performing some minor surgeries. My daily routine involved taking the patients’ temperature, blood pressure and pulse rates every morning which I religiously carried out without fail. After their breakfast is served, I dispensed them their medication. That is about all there is to it unless some emergency occurs where I have to call in the ‘quaified’ HAs to attend. Otherwise I usually spend my free time on something to read to while away the hours.
I dreaded every day of my life that I spent there. Having grown up in the estates myself where my dad also worked in the hospital, I found life monotonous as the scenes seemed to be repeating. Letters from my classmates in JB helped keep my spirits high. I would especially wait for letters from Helen, Helma, Sigamani (who happened to be my room-mate while I was there), Lincoln, Raymond etc. I would keep myself occupied during the nights by replying to them…..pages and pages of things that were happening to me and projected an impression as if these were the most exciting events that could happen to anyone. In reality, it was just the opposite. Wanted them to think that I was already ‘on my way’ in life, in a ‘high profile’ job. I also kept myself entertained by venturing out to the nearby town just for the kicks with Praba tagging along. And no….we didn’t have to spend on bus-fare as I just had to stand along the road to hitch-hike. On every one of those occasions, some one stopped to give us a lift. Never failed….not once. We returned the same manner by which we went. These are not adventures or events to evoke excitement in any way by today’s standards. But these were events that unfolded in a God forsaken semi-urban laidback territory in the interiors of Kedah in the year 1974……35 years ago to be exact when the parents of many of you who are reading this article had probably not even met……… for you to be even conceived!
I went on to spend another 10 months there while all the time applying for jobs elsewhere. I knew that it was a matter of time before some prospective employer would read my resume and be interested in hiring me. Then one day, my dreams were answered. I received a letter from MAS calling me for an interview. After the interview and medical check-up, I was asked to start in a week’s time. When I broke the news to my colleagues, I could sense a feeling of ‘betrayal’ enveloping them. They felt that I was deserting them halfway through the journey. I was their life-wire….the fun guy, the one who had answers to everything…..the ‘urbanite’ so to speak who created all the excitement. They said it in no uncertain terms that they would miss me once I left. But we promised to keep in touch.
But that was 1974. Unfortunately, the comradeship was not maintained or followed through. Priorities changed. The foundation fragmented and sadly, circumstances dictated the directions we took from then on and we all ended up going our own way.
This memory from my past was revived when I recently ‘bumped’ into another friend who knows Krishnasamy and was told that Krishnasamy now happens to work just about 40km from where I live. I got his contact number and spoke to him over the phone but have not met up yet. During the conversation, we flipped through some pages from our past and vowed to meet up soon. I’m looking forward to the reunion.
I wonder if he is as excited as I am.....?