Nine Doctors, One Cup

23rd April 2017

Doctor One is not amused. Neither am I. This is A&E Singapore General Hospital, the largest but also oldest in this technocratic utopia. You’d think they’d have someone replan the space by now so doctors don’t have to brisk walk around different blocks of clinic, triage, waiting room, random wall, calling out for loved ones who are also walking in a daze around clinic, triage, waiting room, random wall and security, to ask after two hours or more what has happened to their sick.

When we are reunited, they tell me he’s been okay for awhile now without apology. But with all the other admitted burping, farting, waiting to be wheeled out into the wards, they have not had time to clean the blood caked on his forehead. I feel justified and purpose-filled, slipping open their drawers of medical supplies, secretly pleased that I get to play nurse now with him. We’re not together yet. We haven’t discussed it. But I told the reception anyway without pause, he’s my boyfriend. He’s had a seizure. Hurry (the fuck) up.

Doctor One asks if we’re Singaporeans because this will affect the class of ward and fees he has to pay. Doctor One doesn’t expect either of us, least of all me to pipe, I am. But he’s not. And when they wheel him down the corridor, I walk with them and feel curiously tender. Spousal.

He is given a ward more corridor than room, with four bed-mates. No doors. One of them has a sign above his head and two bored policemen playing games on their mobile phones, gun and baton slack on their belts. I whisper to him, I saw that guy come in earlier. He opened a car door and collapsed, the triage staff rushing out to collect off the driveway. The policewoman who escorted him here, was also on her phone. Probably texting her boyfriend. It’s another shitty hospital call. Routine. But shitty.

For this ward, which still we should be grateful for (people are dying in Africa after all), my foreign lover will have to pay probably three times as much as what I would. But I’d get room in a ward with a door. Or at least some semblance of an entrance. At least there are curtains. At least, because my lover is a white male, no one in this room will be unfairly treated.

 

26th April 2017

Doctor Two is not my first choice. My regular GP two doors down is out to lunch and the swelling in my throat is unbearable. What difference might there be anyway? This is a middle-class neighbourhood.

I’d woke up in the night crying. Unable to swallow. My lymph nodes look like ping pong balls sticking out of my neck. Doctor Two confirms swelling but decides: No antibiotics. Just fancy panadol and another pain killer. I accept the diagnosis like water after drought. Like a weak man, only threatened with the torture, and giving up.

 

27th April 2017

I am so weak, my parents have to take charge. My regular GP, they say, but he’s not in. So my regular clinic, my semi-regular GP. Doctor Three is a firm and professional sort. But the weather conspires against him.

It has been heat and thunderstorm, heat and thunderstorm for awhile now. I’ve heard that the government is aware the increasing fluctuations and increases in temperature here are definitely having an effect on the elderly, children and those with sensitive constitutions. About a month from now, President Trump of the US will pull out of the Paris Accord. Motherfucker doesn’t think climate change is real. Maybe that’s why he pulled out of APTA too, so he could pretend half the world doesn’t exist.

We have four brief power outages in the course of just my examination because of the thunderstorm. Every time the clinic darkens and Doctor Three rushes out to check the power box with the reception, I think of a zombie apocalypse Singapore style. The merlions with their decaying jaws flopping out of our drain pipes, curiously proficient at covering ground despite their tails-for-legs. I think Doctor Three, who has just left the room again with a smile saying Sorry! to check if the whole block is affected, will not come back. I am ready to grab some needles from the supplies to stab myself. I’ve already decided, in case of zombie merlions, I don’t want to be a hero.

 

3rd May 2017

After a course of antibiotics that seems to work, I wake up again in the night, more swollen than ever. I have never experienced this much pain in my life. It is 4 am. Between hospital and 24-hour clinic, we pick clinic thinking the wait time will be less.

My father and I uber to the closest one in Serangoon North. Doctor Four is a young man in a Barney purple hoodie. Maybe younger than me. Clearly decided he wanted to be a doctor after watching Dr. Turk on Scrubs. He says he’s sorry I’m to be given more pills, a second round of antibiotics on the heels of this first course I’m finishing, that will “hurt like a bitch” when swallowing. Huh. Cool bro.

He also gives me steroids, although even he has doubts. How bad could that be?

 

— May 2017

I am at A&E Singapore General again, this time for myself because the second round of antibiotics has done little. Instagram has released snapchat filters today and I amuse my parents by giving them flower crowns and puppy dog ears.

There is a poster on the wall promoting Oustanding Patient of The Year. Because everyone here is so miserable, I am determined to be outstanding, articulate, good-humoured. I talk openly in the waiting room about housing, alternative lifestyles and sexualities with my mother who is old-fashioned and horrified, but also used to her daughter’s peculiarities. I like to think I’m raising the consciousness of everyone in my vicinity because a few people around me have stopped playing with their phones and there is noticeable listening silence.

When it is finally time for my examination, I can tell Doctor Five needs a cigarette. I want to tell him about the corner I found the last time I was here, but he probably knows it. He and I are what they call ‘racial minorities’ in Singapore. Only he is more obviously Indian and I… well… the computer screen with my records, I am looking at it intently because it states that I am a Chinese woman, and have been for some years. I laugh and point this out to my mother. Doctor Five is quick to tell me he did not key in that information. I assure him I don’t mind. No one ever gets it right. No one ever thinks to ask me what I think anymore. It’s rude somehow to give me a choice.

Outside, an Elderly Indian Man, whose hospital bracelet is green not white like the rest of us, he’s shout-talking. The staff and patients are divided in how they feel about him, even behind the closed door of this examination room. I suspect he’s a regular. Lucky for him, today he’s sitting next to an Elderly Chinese Man and his friend (son?) who are comfortable small-talking loudly with him. Elderly Indian Man tells them which staff are nice and which are lousy. That the constituency he lives in is lousy.

“Prime Minister’s constituency! Lousy!” he yells. “Where?” says Doctor Five from where we are in the next room. “He lives in Ang Mo Kio,” I reply and we exchange a shit-eating grin. Nothing amuses Singaporeans more than hearing other Singaporeans complain.

When it comes down to it though, Doctor Five wants to release me. And I am sick and tired and stand my ground. “I want a blood test,” I say. I’m not asking. We return to the waiting room next to Elderly Indian Man and Friends, who are now discussing which food is damn good and which is lousy. EIM knows his shit. He starts telling them about the best turtle soup he’s ever eaten, a dish which must have been in fashion in the 50s because I’ve never tried it.

“Aiyah! That’s why you sick. That’s why you here. You eat everything one,” laughs Elderly Chinese Man.

 

16th May 2017

Doctor Six is a scheduled appointment. My psychiatrist. I ask him if maybe my lymph nodes have gone crazy because I stopped taking my night meds. Unlikely, he says, but (damnit) we spent so long figuring out the best routine and dosage for you. My psychiatrist is perhaps the only doctor I enjoy being chastised by. Maybe it’s because he was a former member of the party. That party. He knows what it means to have straddled worlds, and what we do and choose to do to survive.

He accesses and examines my records on the government interwebz.

“So I did a blood test, and it’s definitely a physical response. To something bacterial. Not viral.”

Doctor Five had been contrite when the results came out. Yes, the problem was there. Had not gone away. Now please, he seemed to mind-project to me, let me get on to the old ladies out there who sakit in the knees and can end my shift. While I’m here, I’d like to try out being in a wheelchair, I mind-projected back. Coming out, a Caucasian man in the waiting room says the exact same thing I’m thinking out loud to a friend. “He has the right idea,” I tell my mum, and he smirks at me. The fun idea anyway.

“Is this all in my mind? Like stress? Could I will my lymph nodes into acting like this?” I ask Doctor Six.

“No.” he says, writing me a referral, finally, for an ENT (Ear Nose Throat) Specialist.

 

— May 2017

Doctor Seven, you are so pretty. Your Kate Spade handbag is a little luxury-basic, but I don’t mind. By now I’ve finished three courses of antibiotics back-to-back. My stomach feels like it’s been hit by krav maga assassins in my sleep since April. But my lumps are gone, and I tell her.. Well, I’m not sure if you’re going to see anything.

“Maybe not, but let’s do it.”

An endoscopy is when they stick a wire with a camera and light down your orifice (or up) to see what’s inside. If it sounds like a bad sex joke, that’s because it is. Have you heard about the one where the nose virgin gets impregnated by a monster butterfly? I tell myself, I’m going to be the best patient she’s ever had and I don’t move. Lie still and think of England.

I am her best patient and she praises me for my stillness, but finds something that hurts like hell in my right nostril. She says she’s taking pictures and she’ll show me in a bit.

“Please don’t be cancer. Please don’t be cancer. Please don’t be cancer.” I think.

The pictures look pornographic, not medical. It’s a plethora of vagina openings in there and I marvel at the beauty of my internal architecture. “You have beautiful vocal chords,” she murmurs. Thank you, I blush – feeling awkward that my father’s outside in the waiting room.

“This is what I wanted to show you,” she says, “You see this gap here that’s narrower? That’s why there’s pain. But it’s muscle. Trauma-related. Were you ever hit in the face as a child?”

Later I ask my father if anything happened to me that my parents have not told me about. No! he says laughing. But Doctor Seven told me, I was definitely not born with it though. And if I have trouble breathing some day to come back for surgery.

I have sinus the rest of the day and have the foresight to carry a box of tissue with me everywhere, including to see Tango by Joel Tan – a play about gay parents and parenting in Singapore. The show is tightly focused and makes statements as much in the viewpoints it explores as the viewpoints it refuses to. But I am appreciative of the gentle breadth it tackles. When I bought the tickets from a friend I told her, it’d be the first Joel Tan play I’d seen since a table read in university when I’d told him exactly what I thought of the work (it didn’t go down well, but I regret nothing).

“I’m bored and triggered by middle-class liberalism that’s not self-aware,” I explain to her. “But I’m willing to step into a Joel Tan creation now I think. I’m less niao now, I think.”

There are many merits to the work that lots of people have written about, all of which by the end of the play I concur with. So I’d rather mention the implicit point of this play, that is that even as we try to break down barriers, there’s still a pecking order to what we fight for in the effort to make a more inclusive society. And rich gays go first. At the end, the life the lead couple have is both emotionally, financially, and intellectually rich (fraught?). One is not so sure if their options are viable for the other queer and poor characters without such resources and privileges. Basically, when you’re rich, you win in a Joel Tan play. It’s pretty depressing for everyone else.

I walk around with my tissue box like I have the plague but I am thrilled that I’m experiencing the sinus of health. At the end of the night, I hug everybody(!) because I think I’m going to be okay(!) except Joel, preferring to thumbs up from a distance. After all these years, he still looks at me like I might give him cooties or a scolding. Or worse.

 

7th June 2017

Doctor Eight, is my childhood doctor. This day is too emotionally draining to recount, not because of him but because of things that happen on the internet. By now, I’m also back at work, operating through my pain, but mostly I stare at the wall (digital and physical) questioning my behaviour. To have ideals is to be lonely. Nevertheless, I am sent private messages from friends – acquaintances I should say really because I don’t have friends in the traditional sense. Many of them say they wish they’d jumped in before it turned into a thing. Some mourn the loss of a certain openness but also rigour, of sincere engagement, that the internet promised us all when we logged in for the first time.

A few try to tell me (with the best of intentions, which are also sadly worse for it) that I’m asking for it.  I wonder if there’s such a thing as ‘sluttiness of thought’. I try not to smile when I read what people have to say about the meanness, the invisible witch hunt, the self-indulgence the incident reveals. It’s too easy to label free-thinkers, trolls. It reminds me of Joel’s play. They, under the bigots, the uninformed, the uncurious, with their #unpopularopinion. In every generation, there is a silent minority. They aren’t people with likes, but they are people with dreams a little more progressive than the ‘progressives’ we have. But it’s harder to stick to manners, KPIs, relevant language even when those dreams are so far above the #basic.

 

10th June 2017

Doctor Nine is not a doctor. Rather they are a nurse, hygienist, and dentist. Now we’re grasping at straws. Bacteria, Doctor Eight says, enters the bloodstream most often through the gums. A chest x-ray has ruled out TB and lung cancer which is wonderful news. But it still doesn’t tell me why I’m sick. But I do know because of my current conditions, the steroids Dr. Turk (Doctor Four) gave could have killed me because they’d lower my already shitty overreactive immune system and that I’m lucky. This may be useful information for Doctor Ten.

Doctor Eight, who I should write about fully one day because he is so gentle, he says that all we can do is monitor now and hope for no more flare-ups. My lymph node is now a rather mobile marble, rolling around in the deep of my throat.

“Are you sure I couldn’t be willing myself to be sick somehow? Or born with a condition?”

“Well, it’s either that or something auto-immune –”

(‘O’ level Biology flashes in my mind. My body is attacking me from the inside ‘by mistake’. My body is a traitor. Fuck you, body)

“– but I don’t want you to worry about that for now. Let’s just get your teeth cleaned.”

Doctors Nine they clean. I gurgle. I spit. The nurse overfills the little paper cup, but frankly this is the fanciest of all the medical facilities I’ve been to. It even has a TV screen on the ceiling playing nature clips in slow motion to distract you while you’re in the dentist’s chair.

They x-ray.  I have yet another cool picture of my body, but it tells me nothing I don’t already know. I’m asked to come back because I need fillings. We all need fillings, no? Before I leave, the dentist of them asks: Are you happy with your smile?

I haven’t been able to work consistently because of all this health shit so I’m low on cash and my parents are paying for all the bills which makes me very very guilty, since there’s seemingly nothing to show for it. The last expensive thing I bought were those Tango tickets which left me with $30 in the bank. Hah.

“Dude, that’s a loaded question.”

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