Wednesday, December 14, 2005



After the several days involving packing up and moving, I called in on Min. It was afternoon and Aldi was not long home from school. He was lying on the settee.

"Aldi’s very ill," said Wardi, sounding unusually nervous. "He came home from school and he was like this."

"What do you think is wrong?" I asked. I could see that Aldi was in pain.

"His neck’s sore," said Wardi. "He doesn’t want to get up. His neck feels stiff."

"We’d better get him to the Pertama Hospital," I said, referring to the large tower-block hospital a few miles distant. I felt angry that Aldi’s family had let him go to school that day. I felt guilty that I had not visited Min’s house a few days earlier. I felt worried that it was me who had argued in favour of Aldi moving from their old house in North Jakarta to this new one near Min’s school.

In the emergency ward, the doctor examined the patient, did some tests and came to a swift conclusion.

"Tetanus," he said.

Aldi, who was being attached to various tubes, was moaning and weeping.

I was relieved that we had got him admitted to the hospital and that he was now getting treatment. I did not know much about tetanus but I assumed that the same sorts of antibiotics which had cured the blue baby in Bogor would now also deal with Aldi’s problem.

"Don’t worry," I said to him, smiling, "you’re going to be all right now." Although Aldi was terrified and in pain, I felt there was something reassuring about the nurses and the tubes.

After leaving Min’s home I had a late dinner at The Meridien. I felt more relaxed, even pleased with myself.

After work next day I hurried to the Pertama Hospital where I met Aldi’s hollow-cheeked father who looked stressed and worn out. Aldi was alone in an isolation room which could be looked into through a glass screen. My heart began to pound when I saw the little boy was having huge and violent muscle spasms which made his whole body writhe. These intensely painful-looking spasms were rapid and continual. It just went on and on and on. It was as if he was being electrocuted for hours on end. I could not cope with this nightmarish scene and asked a nurse to fetch a doctor. A tall, unsmiling man arrived.

"What can be done about these spasms?" I asked. "Surely he should be getting some attention from a nurse or someone?"

"He’s got tetanus," said the doctor. There was a hint of irritability in his voice.

"But what’s being done for him? Is the medicine working?"

"He’s getting treatment for tetanus."

I wanted some detailed information and some sympathy but I was not going to get it from this particular doctor.

"What about the spasms?" I asked.

"You get that with tetanus," said the doctor, who then walked away.

I looked at Aldi’s father. The poor man looked near to tears.

That evening I could not relax. I lay down in bed but could not get to sleep. I sat up and looked at my watch. Thirteen minutes past eleven. Next time I looked it was twenty six minutes past eleven and thirteen seconds.