Wednesday, August 23, 2006

the mile high club

This is not about raunchy escapades on-board a jet plane, neither is this a book review, although it may eventually appear like one, but i have in my possession 2 books written by ex-stewardesses.

the 1st, "single picky girl" is a collection of personal observations & experiences spinned by janice wong, a stewardess-turned-financial-buff whose unique writing style is as refreshing as she is charming - not that i have met her, but her book probably will sell a few extra copies just from that strategically-placed photo of herself....yeah, right smack on the front cover! i have read a few books by local authors but these are essentially serious stuff eg. mahathir's hard-hitting malay dilemma, lee kuan yew's detailed autobiography & karim raslan's political perspectives. so it was a really pleasant surprise to savour janice's collection of literary gems - not exactly a giant leap of faith, given her stint as a columnist for a now-defunct tabloid - spiced up by a wicked sense of humour. she waxes lyrical about life, love & relationships, & asks,"why settle for less than love?". yes, why indeed!!

not so with debutante yvonne lee's "the sky is crazy", a somewhat even-keeled, down-to-earth (??) account of life in the majestic clouds but no less hilarious. believe it or not, i can actually identify with her - "how can that be?", i hear you query. even though our vocations seemed as diagonally opposite as champagne & enema, i didn't realise that a stewardess's life is governed, very much like mine, by that dreaded piece of paper called "duty roster". so, she's also on standby duty, whereby she could be called, at the drop of a hat, to fill in for a sick or missing colleague. & if she's not there when the call comes thru, all hell will break loose. hmm, i can definitely relate to that!

i'm hardly what you'd called a high-flyer; neither am i a frequent -flyer. so when i take a flight, my ticket is invariably marked "Y", which means my seat is located in a row of 7 or 10 & i eat meals off a plastic tray. not so on a trip to amsterdam in 2001. on that flight, a passenger needed medical attention, & being the dedicated medic that i was (& still am, ahem!) , i felt duty- bound to step forward to offer assistance.

the young chap in business class has had abdominal pain since take-off & was in some distress by the time i saw him. an early inflamed appendix, i thought, so i gave him a pain-killer injection - did you know 747s carried a medical bag as well, complete with medication, syringes & stethoscope? - & he rested well after that. i advised the chief steward that the chap should be able to make it to amsterdam safely but he'll need a re-examination & further tests there.

as a gesture of goodwill, i was moved up to business class & sat just across the aisle from my new patient - i suspect this seating arrangement also served the purpose of providing close surveillance on the chap's progress - & everything thing yvonne detailed in her book was true - the plush, semi-reclinable seat, the neat toiletry bag, & free flow of gourmet food & drinks. ah, this is the life! did i mention i was also given a bottle of bubbly to go for my trouble. nah, no trouble at all, buddy!! we reached schiphol without further incident, & the young chap lived another day to share his ordeal.

on a flight to london the previous year, i had also offered medical assistance to an elderly lady with acute severe exacerbation of back & joint pain. yeah, i know what you're thinking - am i jinxed or what, as people start falling ill when i'm on board? i'm beginning to wonder myself.........will i need to give mouth-to-mouth on my next flight?? i believe everyone, & i mean everyone, should learn basic 1st aid & resuscitation (called "basic life support" in medical circles) because it's a simple yet invaluable skill to possess. the next life you save could be a loved one's.

the point of this post is this - there are actually talented writers amongst our midst, only that i am not aware of them & until such time local publishers give them a chance to express themselves, they remain undiscovered. a real pity since these hidden pearls could be future contenders/winners of the whitbread or booker awards.

oh, did i mention that, on impulse, i purchased tash aw's "harmony silk factory" at the neighbourhood popular bookshop at an unbelieveable price of rm17.95? a hardcover at that, too!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

the laptop's back (i think!)

It's true what they say - that you don't know or appreciate what you have till you lose it. i lost the use of my laptop for a week recently but thank goodness, we have an IT dept for advice & dino ( i kid you not, that's his real name) had a look at it when i couldn't get it started. at 1st, he had it re-formatted but when that didn't work, he said it was a hard disc problem & promptly sent it to his friend's shop to have it changed. i now have a spanking new hitachi 40HDD installed which set me back RM380, including labour - & i thought only garages charged for labour! let me know if i have been shortchanged. i'm not sure if things are back to normal because this is the 3rd time i'm trying to post this entry & it came up with texts missing on my previous attempts.

i like doing stuff on the laptop while watching tv on the massage chair & munching crisps - hey, who said guys can't multitask?? so for the past week, i had to work with the desk-top & that's in the study room away from the tv & cookie jar. bah, no wonder i've missed out on "the apprentice" & missing some weight as well. ah, we're back to the subject of "lost" again - the state of missing something, not the tv program or body mass.

what i miss most now is a weekend away from work - away from the untimely phone-calls that invariably came through when you want to be left alone & away from the long list of patients who unforgivingly demand attention. don't get me wrong - i love my job but i lose a bit of myself when i'm attending to the needs of others & when i feel i'm missing too much of myself - when i need to re-discover myself, that's when i yearn for some time-off away with the family. & guess what - i've got a church retreat coming up this weekend where the post of asst camp co-ordinator ( the actual designation is asst camp commandant but i'm just too indisciplined & embarassed to be accorded a military decoration - ha!) was unexpectedly dropped unto my lap. ah, never mind, i shall look forward to some peace, solace & soulful rejuvenation & at the same time hope i don't make a hash of things. but i hear the invited speaker, a formidable canadian pastor, has been known to set church camps on fire - spiritually, that is. hallelujah!

i also have a medical meeting coming up end-august in KL, where i will catch up with some old pals. these are invariably social get-togethers 1st & foremost, & the educational objectives sometimes take a back-seat.

in the meantime, i'm putting my legs up, getting a massage on the mechanical gintell & watching donald trump fire yet another apprentice-wannabe as i blog.

man, i just love my laptop!

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

taxes & death

Whoever said that the only certainties in life are taxes & death deserved the nobel prize for philosophy. how much more candid & poignant can life be defined as a 3-word phrase!?!? let me share my personal experiences.

taxes, i can reasonably deal with - as long as i submit the monthly PCB cheques, fill in & send off the tax returns by march (just to be on the safe side, knowing our postmen sometimes hoard mail) & pray the taxman has a good curry lunch before auditing my file, i can get on with life without the scary image of smiling rotund tan sri zainol dwelling too much on my mind. btw, i just received a refund...yay!!

death is a different ballgame altogether. believe me when i say i'm not averse to dying, partly because i meet with Death ever so often, i might just as well call him "buddy". you see, i know who he likes to include into his close circle of permanent friends - the premature, the critically infirmed, the cancer-stricken, the careless/accident-prone & the suicidal, just to name a few. of course, he has on several visits tried to count me as his own but my Saviour has steadfastly vouched for me, insistent that my time has not come. but sooner or later, we will all come to the end of life's journey, whatever our religious inclination. ad finito, there're no 2 ways about it. Some will defiantly stare Death in the face & taunt,"where, O death, is your victory? where, O death, is your sting?", some will buckle in fear & trepidation at the prospect of burning in eternal flames & others will accept their destiny with quiet submission.

much like an event as commonplace as meeting the postman, i had 2 encounters with the Wily One just last week - very appropriate for the current ghost month, as the chinese would have you believe. this 4yr-old boy who broke his arm weighed in at a massive 42kg. he should only be about 20kg - or 25kg tops - but thanks to lack of dietary temperance, he is as heavy a 12yr old. some might consider puffy cheeks & a protuberant tummy a picture of prosperity, but any medic will tell you he is a walking (lumbering?) time-bomb. true to form, within 15mins into the operation to fix his arm, he developed breathing difficulty akin to an asthmatic attack. in fact, it got so critical at one stage i thought i was going to lose him.
Death was panting so close to me, i could feel his warm acerbic breaths on my neck. a silent prayer & a calm mind plus timely divine intervention eventually got us out of trouble. i mentioned "us" because had he succumbed to respiratory failure, i would have died a little inside myself. but it was THAT close!

this other young girl from indonesia had a humongous thyroid swelling for 10 years but didn't do anything about it until another swelling grew adjacent to it in the neck that caused some discomfort. initial scans revealed the thyroid swelling to be operable but the other nodule has encircled some vital arteries and nerves & may be unresectable without damaging those structures. my 2 surgical colleagues decided, horror of horrors, to take it upon themselves to attempt the unenviable (& certainly cavalier) task of removing both swellings. surgery had to be elaborately planned to cover all possiblities, so we won't get caught with our pants downs, for want of a better phrase. & because we were armed to the tooth in anticipation of likely complications, we avoided the land mines & surgery proceeded without as much fuss as the boy's. Death had been kept at arm's length, but only just. the thyroid was removed after 4 hrs but the other lump proved seemingly impossible to be prised off its adjacent artery & nerves. after a further 5 hrs of deft manoeuvring & careful disentangling, the task was abandoned - seemingly impossible had become impossible. this unfortunate girl is now back in indonesia awaiting further test results on the 2nd lump.

Just as we have evolved methods of avoiding mean, paying less taxes & claiming more reliefs, we also have improvised ways of warding off evil spirits, vampires & beings from the nether world, eg. religious chants, brandishing the crucifix, robed with garlic etc. perhaps those who have something or someone to fall back on, like firm cultural grounding, staunch religious beliefs, a divine deity or God, will weather the fear of death rationally & logically:

"Even though i walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
i fear no evil,
for you are with me."

i remember an episode from x-files where a photojournalist had the knack of being right where a murder was to be committed or where an accident was to occur, & the police wondered how he always got the 1st shots at the victims. turned out that he had been accursed with immortality & was fed-up of living for over a century, although he looked barely a day over 50 - goes to show it's not that great to have too much of a good thing! so he'd there everytime Death came to stake his claim & he tried to enforced a face-to-face encounter with the grim reaper - the only way to end the curse & rest in peace forever.

no such problems for me. in my line of work, Death is never more than a breath away. i may sound nonchalant & cavalier when i say i'm used to that, immuned even, but i must thread carefully lest i step on his toes. my name might be on his list next. in the mean time, i wonder how i shall treat myself with the tax refund? maybe all 6 episodes of star wars on dvd.....& a light sabre.

may the force be with you!