Thursday, November 03, 2005

Nur in the Dipo Hospital

A house in Jakarta

On the evening I returned to Jakarta, I hurried to see Min, whose Teluk Gong home was minutes from the airport. He was now almost as tall as his big brother, Wardi.

"How's Min?" I asked Wati, as I stood near the door of their hot little front room. I could see that Min looked as if he had been through a rough couple of weeks. His eyes suggested bad dreams.

"He didn't speak some of the time you were away," said Wati, with a slight grin.

I wished Indonesians could avoid smiling when delivering bad news.

"Has his friend Mustapha been taking him for walks?" I asked.

"Sometimes," said Wati, avoiding looking at me.

"I've paid Mustapha in advance, so he should be," I pointed out.

"Mr Kent," said Wardi, sounding very concerned, "there's a little boy called Nur who's sick in hospital. Something to do with his brain."

"Which hospital?" I asked.

"The Dipo. A government hospital," said Wardi.

"How long has he been in?"

"Months, Mr Kent."

"Months! You should have told me before I went on holiday." I was feeling jet-lagged and not in the best of humours.

"I didn't know until recently that Nur was ill," said Wardi, sounding indignant.

"Where does his family live?" I asked.

"Near our house, just down the road."

"And you didn't know he was ill?" I was sceptical. There are few secrets in a small community where everyone is in and out of each others' houses.

"They only just told us," said Wardi.

"Let's go to the Dipo Hospital straight away. We'll take Min." In Jakarta it was evening, but my body clock was working on British time, so I was not yet ready for sleep.

The third class ward for children was a dark, high-ceilinged, pre-Florence-Nightingale place, full of pale, emaciated little children. It looked as if no money had been spent on decoration or improvement for a hundred years. It was like a workhouse after the funds had been cut off. It made me think of cemeteries and gulags.

We were not far from the luxury mansions of the politicians, the diplomats, the timber and oil barons, the generals and the administrators. No doubt top officials of United Nations institutions were dining in nearby five star hotels.

Nur, aged about ten or twelve, was lying naked on a bare bed. He was seriously malnourished and unwashed. He was not attached to a drip.

Strangely, his plump mother, who sat by his bedside, had a smile on her face. Perhaps it was a smile of welcome, or embarrassment, or submission.

Min was very subdued.

"Is there a nurse?" I asked.

Nur's mother shook her head.

I glanced over at the next bed, where a small girl was having difficulty breathing.

"What's wrong with your little girl?" I asked the child's sad-faced father, who was seated by the bedside.

"TB," said the thin ragged man.

"Is she getting any treatment?"

"We have no money."

"Doesn't this hospital give free treatment to very poor people?" I asked.

The man smiled. The girl was struggling for breath.

I hurried down the ward to try to find a doctor and in a side room found a small elderly nurse reading a comic. I asked her to come quickly to the ward. Making a sour face she got up and came to have a look.

"Her lungs are permanently damaged," said the nurse.

"Can't you do something?" I asked.

"Nothing we can do," said the nurse. The girl was in fact now breathing more easily.

"What about Nur? What's wrong with him?" I asked the nurse.

"It's an abscess on the brain," she said.

She went on to explain that Nur had been in hospital for four months, that he urgently needed an operation, but that the mother could not possibly afford to pay for such a thing.

I looked at Nur's tiny unclad skeletal body. "Why isn't he on a drip?" I asked.

"The mother already has a large bill to pay. She has no money left," said the nurse.

"Can we move Nur to first class?"

"There's a private wing," said the nurse, without enthusiasm. "You can pay for him to move there. But the doctors and nurses in the private wing are just the same as here."

I turned to Nur's mother. "Would you like to move Nur to the Teluk Gong Hospital? They did a good job with a patient called John." I was aware that the Teluk Gong Hospital was run by Christians and that Nur was a Moslem.

"No," said Nur's mother, quietly but firmly. "I prefer the Dipo Hospital."

"What about the private wing here?"

"Yes," she said.

~~~