The Stage is Set
Gasp! Daniel sprung up from his mattress breathless, drenched top to bottom. His throat was dry and he wasn’t even sure what the nightmare was. Was it a nightmare though? Did she actually jump? She didn’t right? Did she?
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Daniel turned to his alarm clock and pushed the ‘snooze’. He pushed heavily to gets his arms and legs off the bed. The memory was coming back. ‘Oh my God! That wasn’t a nightmare.’
It was high noon under the sun of the blazing equinox. The tropics were a paradise but not during this time of the year. The crowds flooded the waiting room of Puchong Hospital Emergency Unit as you would only see in a concert or a festival. Triage doctors were swamped tagging patients, attending to the cries and complaints of weary patients. The EMTs wheeled in ever increasingly pale and shrivelled civilians from all identifiable groups and nationalities. Distraught visitors set up camp outside the waiting area both in the lounge and even outside by the parking lot. And where there’s a crowd, there will be opportunists; promoters and food vendors who slip past the guards and hand out pamphlets or straight up sell merchandise. Through the thick windowed walls, the nurses of the 1st floor stared horrifically outside. They had their work cut out for them today and none were too pleased about it.
A nurse mumbled prayers under her nose as she walked into the lobby to start her shift. She held her latte with both hands and paced hastily while watching the crowd in heavy scrutiny. Eyepatches? Arm slings? Crutches? O2 masks? She hurried for the elevator and quickly pressed repeatedly. There were three others inside watching her frenetically trying to get the door to shut; two of them nurses like her heading up to their stationed floors, tired but still holding it together. One of them, easily 7 months pregnant in her maternity uniform asked out loud, ‘Ending your shifts?’ To which the others obliged by pleasantly nodding.
To the corner was a woman dressed in business wear just coming up from underground parking. Her hair out; bangs, her jewellery; subtle and she said nothing but watch the numbers rise on the panel. As soon as the doors opened she was the first to get out while the others moved aside paving a way for her. She burst out with authority but forced to stop, her eyes wide open.
This woman was Dr Siti Rahman, Director of Hospital Puchong, and she was forced to take a pause, move back and scan the perimeter of the hospital lobby from the 3rd floor balcony before she decided to head down to the ER herself. ‘Everytime,’ she mumbled under her nose as she navigated her way past a multitude of restless visitors loitering the scene. She scanned her access card and walked in through the back entrance right into the observation bay.
She furled up her sleeves and furrowed her brows. An ER Medical Officer in brown scrubs walked right up to her stunned by her untimely presence.
‘Director! I didn’t know they brought the whole calvary down here,’ he said jokingly.
Unamused by his remark she lifted up one of the charts and started flipping pages. ‘Not the calvary, just me,’ she continued, ‘are all these patients just in here for heat stroke?’
The Medical Officer nodded while he moved back and sat next to a patient, flicking on her arm veins fervently, readying it for a venepuncture.
‘Datuk?’ another came forward. Siti turned to offer him her immediate attention. ‘Dr Ros!’ She exclaimed as the department head approached her shaking his head in apparent discontent. ‘I told you before and I’m telling you again, I needed more staff in here yesterday,’
Siti sneered back and almost chuckled a little. ‘I understand you’re swamped but this isn’t why I am here,’
Ros attentively listened and so did the young medical officer.
‘There’s been a situation which calls for an emergency meeting,’ Siti said.
‘You didnt have to come down here to tell me that,’
‘No, but now you’ll have to come,’ she turned to walk out before she stopped to remember something, ‘Oh and I need a list of all the house officers working today,’
‘This is about her isn’t it?’ the Medical Officer interjected. Siti glared at him before turning back to Dr Ros and they both nodded. Siti was done here and trotted off; her loud brass heels clattering away against the floor tiling. It was a sensously impressive the display of power.
Dr. Ros sighed placing both hands into the wide pockets of his white coat. ‘I’ll be in Yellow if you need me.’ He spoke to the doctor still flicking the arm, brusing it, while his patient struggled to keep a straight face.
Dr Siti’s next spot was the paediatric wing where she would meet Dr James Wong, the only certified neonatologist in the hospital. Another distraction stopped her in her tracks, this time a phone call. She stared at the screen for a good two seconds before sliding right. She kept her pace, with the phone to her ear. ‘What is it? Is he not eating? Is he pooping too hard? What is it this time?’ Her poor helpless spouse was indeed having a tough time managing things at home. They had a 2-year-old who kept screaming the whole night asking for his mother.
‘He just can’t handle the change, just leave him be,’ she retorted. ‘There should be enough milk in the fridge. Daddy is the new mommy for now or at least till Wani comes back.’
She had finally reached the reception counter of the NICU. A young lad in blue scrubs sat at the computer as the two nurses around him stood up to greet authority. ‘Doctor,’ one of them whispered from the side of her lip, ‘the Director is here,’
‘So what if the bitc…’ his face stunned to see her smiling at him. ‘May i know where Dr James is?’ She shot, straight to her point. The young house officer, whose name per his ID read Muhammad Daniel, got up and immediately ran in an excuse to fetch his boss.
The boy scurried around until he reached one of the cubicles, each one filled to the doorway with neonates in cots. ‘God, how many went into labor yesterday?’ He mumbled. ‘Excuse me?’ A shrill voice creeped from behind. Stunned to be caught twice in the same day for saying the wrong thing, ‘Doctor James, boss, sir,’ he fumbled.
‘Speak up boy, we don’t have all day. I have yet completed my morning rounds.’
‘Yes, exactly. What is it you want? We are busy,’ whinned a fretful looking junior doctor standing right next to the specialist. ‘The director is here to see you,’ replied Daniel.
‘No the shoot is not till next week,’ Dr James replied perplexed. He craned his neck to peer at the end of the narrow hallway and Siti waved back as he smiled. ‘You meant “hospital director” didn’t you?’ he replied abashed.
Dr James walked steadily toward the reception counter, his stance steady and on each stride as his scrubs hugged his chizled physique.
‘A meeting? Sure I will be available. Do you need Daniel?’ They both looked over to the young house officer standing awkwardly; pale, stuporous, and stupid.
‘Yes, him too. Most definitely,’ she replied with a stern expression. Daniel pretended to look puzzled but deep down he had a good guess on what this was about.
After the rounds, Daniel finally managed to find 10 minutes to himself. He walked into the pantry and his eye immediately caught the dining table. The snacks had been devoured and all that was left was empty plates by the sink. By the corner, in an airtight translucent tupperware was a microwaveable ‘Chicken cordon bleu’. He salivated just looking at the it. ‘You’re not seriously thinking of taking that are you?’ A gentle voice approached him. Jenny, a fellow house officer walked in. She was a sweet petite little woman with a full dye of golden brown hair, thin framed glasses and thin lips. Her skin was a soft Orient blessed with that signature Malaysian tan.
‘No lah, why the hell would I? To add another excuse for them to fuck me over?’ Daniel replied.
Jenny washed her face, and took a long look at the mirror. Her stomach audibly called out to food as well, but she was better at ignoring it. ‘I heard about the meeting,’ she exclaimed. She removed a small case from a bag and flipped open a little make-up set. She added some blush to her cheeks and re-applied her lipstick.
‘Why would you wash your face and reapply all of that?’
‘Because it’s been 8 hours’
‘The lengths you go through to freshen up,’
‘Shut up Daniel,’ she smiled. She smacked her lips when satisfied, and returned the case. Before she left she gave Daniel a tender glance. ‘All the best, i mean seriously,’
The evening was radiant and the skies, red and purple, scarred after being scorched themselves in the afterglow of the sun. It was almost 4pm and meeting was just about to start.
I’m sorry I am a bit tardy. Traffic,’ said Mr Jamal, the head of Surgery. Present at the table were the heads of departments, each from their respective fields; Internal Medicine, Obstetrics and Gynaecology, Pediatrics, Orthopedics, Emergency Medicine and General Surgery. Siti was pleased that everyone showed up, all but one. She sat next to her laptop waiting patiently.
Finally barging in, Dr Satya Segaran, Head of Psychiatry found his chair and sat down patiently, quiet, oblivious to all the eyes on him.
‘So?’ Dr Siti exploded in excitement.
‘We talked and I think he is ready,’ he answered.
‘So will he testify?’
‘I didn’t coerce him to…’
‘Of course you didn’t Doctor and I would never expect you to do such a thing but i just have to know. Will he be on our side of the story?’
‘He will be heard and he will have his own story.’
Prior to the council of the Heads, Daniel was called to see Dr Satya for a preliminary meeting of their own. The boy had to hand over all his remaining tasks and see to it that he made himself available. He quickly changed into his formal wear while alone in the changing room.
The girl from earlier barged right in. ‘Jenny this is the boys…’ and she launched at him kissing his lips shut.
‘You can do this,’ Jenny straightened his tie at his collar, a tad tight. She dusted his shoulders, wiped the evidence off his lips a gave him a wide reassuring smile. ‘Thank you,’ Daniel replied as he walked out of the NICU feeling slightly better.
The anxious house officer walked past the bustling lobby while avoiding the crowd. The few that noticed him having a labcoat on immediately rushed to harras him about their loved ones. ‘Im a pharmacist, please ask the doctor’ he kept repeating to deter them and had one last look of the horde before the elevator doors shut after him.
‘So my boy, I’m guessing you know why you are here,’ Dr Satya had a very warm yet hardened paternal voice. His demeanour was calm as he gestured the house officer to sit.
‘I think this is about her,’ Daniel replied while he caught the doctor surreptitiously nod, ‘and why she killed herself. Isn’t it?’
‘And more importantly, Daniel, how are you connected to all of this?’