Tuesday, November 01, 2005

How is Nur?

I found Nur had been transferred to the Dipo's private wing. He was still unwashed and still not on a drip but the ward was clean, well equipped, and full of light and colour. There were lots of nurses, although most had the same tough expressions on their faces as elsewhere in the hospital. There was even a doctor: a man with an expensive suit, a balding head, and a round face that seemed brim full of upper-middle-class self-confidence.

"We need to operate on Nur tomorrow," said the doctor, after being introduced.

"Why has he had to wait all these months without treatment?" I asked.

"The mother has a low income." The doctor sounded irritated by my un-Indonesian bluntness.

"He looks very weak, very thin," I said. "He's not been on a drip and looks dehydrated. Shouldn't we wait until he's stronger before giving an operation?"

"He needs to have the operation urgently. The mother agrees," said the doctor.

"Why is he not on a drip?" I said.

"Ask the nurse." He swept off.

"Nur looks very weak," I said to his mum. "Are you sure you want the operation tomorrow? Wouldn't it be better to wait?"

"No. Tomorrow for the operation."

I turned to a nurse. "Why is Nur still not on a drip?" I asked.

"He doesn't need to be on one all the time," she said.

"Was he on a drip earlier on?"

"I've just arrived. I don't know." Off she went.

Next evening, when I returned to the Dipo Hospital, Nur was no longer in the private ward.

"Where's Nur?" I asked his mum, who was standing next the nurses' desk.

"They've moved him," she said, for once not smiling.

I turned to one of the nurses. "Is he still in the private wing?"

"No. He's back in the other part of the hospital," she said, looking up, then returning to her paperwork.

"But I've paid for him to be in the private wing," I pointed out.

"He's in intensive care," said the nurse. "The private wing doesn't have a separate intensive care unit."

"Has he had his operation?" I asked.

"He was taken to the operating theatre this morning," said the nurse.

"Did they operate?"

"He had his anaesthetic," said Nur's mum. In her plastic flip-flops she was looking very out of place.

"What happened then?"

"He was moved to intensive care," said the nurse.

"Did they operate?"

"You'll need to ask in intensive care," said the nurse, head down, busy writing.

Nur's mum and I set off along gloomy corridors and up endless cobwebbed stairs until we reached the intensive care ward. We were back to the colourless, dimly lit part of the hospital. Water dripped from a damp patch on the ceiling. There were what looked like blood stains on a wall. A TV was showing a violent American movie and the sound was turned up full volume.

"Where's Nur?" I asked a nurse seated at a table.

"The bed in the middle." She pointed to a shaven-headed body attached to various tubes. The little boy looked lifeless.

"How is he?" I said.

"Very serious," said the nurse, being unusually frank.

"Has he had the operation?"

"I don't know. I think so."

"Can I see a doctor?"

"He's praying."

"I'll wait."

I looked around at the various patients, none of them moving. I listened to the screams and bad language coming from the TV. We waited and waited.

Eventually a boyish-faced doctor emerged from a side room.

"Sorry to keep you," he said, grinning widely. "I was having a sleep."

"How is Nur?"

"It's not good," he said. "His brain is, how do you say, damaged."

"Did he have the operation?"

"He had the anaesthetic and became very ill," said the doctor.

"So he didn't have the operation?"

"Maybe not. You'll need to ask the surgeon."

"Can I speak to the surgeon?"

"He's not at the hospital."


"Maybe next week. I don't know. He works at many hospitals."

"So what happens now to Nur?"

"We'll have to consult the neurologist."

"And then?"

"Nur is brain dead," said the doctor, speaking very quietly.

The words did not quite sink in. I hoped I had misheard. "What do you mean?"

"We'll wait for further checks and then maybe have to switch off the life-support."

Anger shot through my system. "I'm going to see the director of the hospital," I stuttered.

I strode out of the ward, down the cobwebbed stairs, along several corridors, and then up more stairs to the area where the senior manager had his office. The wood panelled walls and the comfortable chairs reminded me of the plushest of five star hotels.

"Can I speak to the director?" I asked a secretary seated at a large desk.

"He's not here," she said.

"The deputy director? Somebody in charge?"

"Not here."

"Will they be here tomorrow?"


"When will they be here?"

"Don't know."

"Where are they?"

"Gone off on the Haj pilgrimage."