Saturday, January 8, 2011

My Mom's Younger Days

It was a Friday night. The citizens of Kuala Lumpur treasure this time of the week for it is where they come back to life, take some loads off their mind, have fun and just relax. On the outskirts of Kuala Lumpur, in a place called Gombak, my sisters and I were up in a room on the second floor of my house. Being nerds, my sisters were studying despite the next day being a holiday.

''I have 72 students in my class, so I have to find a way to stand out!'' she said. Typical of a nerd, or an attention seeker.

I sit in front of the computer, browsing for new guitar chords to play. Then my mom came up and sat on the sofa, exhausted from entertaining her friend’s visit. After minutes of browsing and still having no idea on what to play, I decided to play songs I already knew. Old songs. No, really old songs, 60’s and 70’s old. Songs from that era were always my choice when winding down. So I started playing ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’ by John Denver. Suddenly, my mom started being my backup singer without me hiring. Surprised that she remembers the lyrics well, I turned to other songs just to test her memory. Jambalaya by Hank Williams, she remembers. Yesterday by the Beatle’s, she’s an expert. Wonderful Tonight by Eric Clapton, it’s as if she’s saying ‘Owh come on, that’s all you got?’ I continued with the The Bangle’s Eternal Flame, Carpenter’s We’ve Just Begun, Simon and Garfunkel’s Sound of Silence. She remembered the lyrics of all those songs!

She told me the songs took her back to her younger days back in the 60's and 70's where she and her friends would go camping, gather around a fire, someone plays the guitar and they start singing together. I can imagine such wonderful days. I’ve always wondered, because they don’t have CDs or cassettes back in those days, do they actually wait for their favourite songs to come out on the radio? Mom said ‘yeah, most of the time’ but told me grandpa got a gramophone, the one that played black discs, so she can buy the records. She then asked me and my sisters if we know how to ‘twist’. We told her we had no idea what she’s talking about. Then despite being tired and exhausted, as if her young soul had taken over her again, she stood up and did a twist. It was something like this:

So then we know what a twist is. She said she and grandpa used to do twists together. Back in those days, the girls wear beautiful polka dot dresses and men wear pipe- bottom pants to twist and dance. People in the army were the 'hot' guys back then. But they're always away. So the girls would have to wait for months for their lovers to come back home. In the meantime, they would exchange letters, and wait anxiously for the postman to come. Later in the 70’s come the age of 'flower power'. During that age mom likes to wear hippy clothes and wear a large necklace, the ones like the huge 'peace sign' you see in movies. She even wore my grandfather's shirt coz it's baggy. Flower power. Cool, huh? We asked if she sings the songs along with dad back in those days. She said no, because ayah ‘budak kampung. So all he knows in Amy Search and Black Dog Bone. Haha

I can imagine being in such an age. When I look at the lyrics of songs back in the 70s and 80’s, they’re all about, peace, love, nature, happy lives. Pleasant songs, in short. I tried to compare with the songs we have today. Okay, some are still pleasant, but most of them are downright nonsense. Lady gaga’s full of nonsense. Eminem’s full of hatred, Katy Perry’s full of 18SX. Okay, I do listen to those songs, the beats are fun, but when winding down, relaxing, having a perfect cup of coffee, reflecting on life...nothing beats the 60s and 70s retro hits

I was playing Sound of Silence, looking at the chords on the monitor. Then I realize mom wasn’t singing along anymore. I turned to look at her, she already fell asleep, smiling. I can guess, her dreams took her back into her polka dots in the 60s..good night mom, have a nice dream! =)

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The Last Call

“You, medical student, come here!’’

I was in the wards, as usual exhibiting non-purposeful movements in, out, and around the wards when suddenly that deep voice came from behind. I turned around. The voice belongs to a specialist consultant. ‘Oh shit’, I thought. ‘He either wants to scold me for lying around the wards without purpose or wants me to run somewhere and fetch him some blood’. I came towards him anyway

“You, undergraduate student right? Come here and auscultate (listen to) the patient’s lung. Tell me what you find!’’

Dang, breath sounds. I wasn’t prepared for this, but hoped to get it right this time. The curtain around the patient’s bed was closed. Without hesitation, I went in. Inside, there were nurses around the bed, must be 4 to 5 of them, because I remembered I felt like drowning in there. Judging by the looks, the patient must be in a critical condition. I took out a navy blue stethoscope from my white coat, wrapped one end around my neck, and adjusted the round shaped object we call ‘diaphragm’ at the other end. I put the cheap plastic piece on my ear, the diaphragm on the patient’s chest, and started listening.

Perhaps there was too much noise. The nurses around me were talking loudly to each other. What are they doing here anyway? I got irritated. I couldn’t hear a thing with them in here! I pressed the earpiece harder towards my ear. I listened again. Still, there’s nothing. I rechecked the diaphragm, twisting the cord clock and counter-clock wise again. There’s nothing wrong with it. By that time the nurses had stopped talking and started giggling. I decided to get some hints and ask one of the nurses.

“Uh, nurse, what does this patient have’’ I asked

“What does he have? Hmm…well, I’m not really sure’’. She had a sinister smile, then the other nurses giggled harder.

I was in an awkward situation. Then, the curtains open abruptly. It was the consultant.

“Hear anything?” he said

I had read the patient’s note before. It said that the patient has ‘bibasal crepitations’, crackling breath sounds you hear in your stethoscope when auscultating patients with certain lung disease. I had an impulse to say it, but I decided to be honest, and glad I did:

“I couldn’t really appreciate the sounds, doctor’’. He had a similar sinister smile as the nurse before.

‘’Do you know what’s a last call?’’

‘’Last call?’’ I asked

‘’Yes, last call, you know how to do it?’’

Then it came into my mind. Last call. I heard of it in TV series. That was when everything fell into place. The noisy nurses, the inaudible breath sounds, the eerily silent chest, the closed curtain. How couldn’t I realize earlier, that there was a resuscitation cart next to the bed? How couldn’t I notice the chest wasn’t moving? Or there’s not a heart sound along with the breath sound? No wonder the nurses were all over. Perhaps I was too nervous by the specialist suddenly asking me to examine the patient, or perhaps his instructions to ‘hear the patient’s lung’ confused me, or the nurses overwhelmed me. Of course I couldn’t hear the breath sounds...

I was auscultating a dead patient!

Having understood the specialist was playing tricks on me to make me learn a valuable lesson, I confirmed the patient’s unresponsive pupil with my pen-torch, confirmed the pulseless carotid on the neck, confirmed the inaudible breath had heart sounds, and made the last call. It sounds something like this:

‘This patient, Mr Y, announced dead at 3.45 PM, 23rd of December, 2010”

I learned a great lesson that day. Do you know that in the midst of the stormy disaster, the most tranquil place to be is in the eye of the hurricane? That's where I want to be in the midst of a disaster. To remain calm, controlled, careful, focused and observant, even when the world is in a storm.

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