Monday, October 31, 2005

43. TB

Photo of Jakarta by Kevin Aurell at Wikipedia

Next evening I returned to the Dipo Hospital to find that the life support system for little Nur had been turned off and that Nur's body had been transferred to the hospital morgue. Nur's mum, who had been waiting for me in the hospital's cavernous reception area, brought me up to date with events. She exhibited that disturbing cheerfulness that some Indonesians display at times of bereavement.

"The bill has to be paid before Nur can be taken home for burial," said Nur's mum, with a polite smile.

"Please, you ask at the cash desk," I said morosely. "I don't want to deal with these people." I was afraid I might lose my temper.

She made enquiries and returned with a bill for me to examine. The stay of several months in the third class ward was cheap. The main items of expenditure were for treatment in intensive care after the child had become brain-dead. They seemed to have added as many extras as they could think of. We were talking of many millions of rupiahs. "It looks much too expensive," I said. "Why should I pay for treatment after the boy was dead? Tell them I won't pay for those final bits."

Nur's mum negotiated with the pebbly-faced cashiers and then returned with a second bit of paper. "They won't let us take Nur home until we've paid," she said. "But if we don't need a receipt, we only have to pay half."

"If there's no receipt, they'll pocket the money," I said bitterly. "The third class ward needs a bit of money. Tell them I must have a receipt."

Having paid the full amount, and having got a receipt, I went in search of a doctor to ask why we had had to pay so much for treatment after the failed attempt at an operation. The only doctor I could find was a miserably thin young man with a scowl. He looked more like a poor Moslem than a rich Chinese. As we stood in a gloomy corridor near the third class children's ward, I explained the problem.

"The operation was a major one. That's why it cost a lot," said the doctor, who seemed impatient to get away from me.

"But I don't think the boy had the operation. He had the anaesthetic only. And most of the expensive bits are dated after the child's death."

"I don't know anything about that," he said, glaring at me.

"Look at this hospital," I said, my voice rising. "Paint peeling from walls, old furniture dumped in corridors, water dripping through ceilings, children not getting any medicine, cashiers who suggest you don't need a receipt."

"You have no right to criticise," said the doctor, almost spitting. "Remember this is the Third World."

"Singapore was a Third World country," I shouted. "But its hospitals are clean and well equipped. They don't have oil wealth or mineral wealth like you. Malaysia has good hospitals."

As I made my exit I slammed the corridor door so hard I thought the walls might come tumbling down. The doctor reopened the door, came towards me in a menacing way, but then thought the better of it. He turned back towards the children's ward.

I had to pay for an ambulance to take away Nur's body. That seemed to be another rip-off. While we waited near the morgue for things to be organised I watched various bodies being brought into the hospital. One bulky man, face completely crimson in colour, had a knife stuck in his chest.