(Adam: Eh relek la brudder. What's your problem?)
We Malaysians are such a relaxed people. Nothing ever seems to faze us. Much. The word emergency does not seem to exist in our vocabulary or it is a word that conjures up a totally different reaction from any other people in the world. Emergency ah? Wait ah. Minum dulu ya?
Saturday 21 July, 2006. Bukit Antarabangsa. City of Ampang in the recently declared developed state of Selangor.
Around 2 o’clock in the afternoon Bukit Antarabangsa was assailed by hurricane force winds. A fairly common occurrence in the area. As expected this caused a fair amount of tree damage. Along Jalan Wangsa 1 leading up the hill to the housing area are decades old pine trees which are rotted and probably termite infested. With winds of that force I expected some of the trees to lose branches and maybe even be totally felled. At 3.15 p.m. I drove along Jalan Wangsa 1 and sure enough there I saw debris strewn along the whole stretch of road. Big branches broken off. And smaller twigs blown off by the winds littered the road right down to Jalan Ulu Klang. About 1 km below. Halfway down one of the trees had lost a huge branch which lay across the road one end on one side of the road and the other precariously hanging from a fork in the tree trunk on the other side. Traffic had to navigate across the opposing lane and under this heavy branch. Dangerous situation, no? A passing car could be badly damaged. An unsuspecting motorcyclist could be killed if the tree fell on him. An emergency situation surely.
I called 911. A lady answered. I told her the about the situation. She listened patiently, asked for my name which she insisted on pronouncing as “At trick”, and then said that she was going to connect me to the Ampang Fire Department. Less than 30 seconds later a man answered identifying himself as Balai Bomba Ampang. I explained the whole situation again. His tone of voice when he reacted to my story told me that he was a little less than interested. He then asked for my phone number and my name which when I told him he insisted on pronouncing as “At Trick”. I shall never again think of my given name as common.
Bomba: Okay la. I will call and inform the Ampang Jaya Municipal Council.
Me: Call the MPAJ? But this is an emergency. The tree could fall and kill somebody.
Bomba: Ya? Oh you mean the tree is hanging across the road ah?
Bomba: Okay la we call MPAJ and see how.
Me: But this is an emergency and you are an emergency service, right?
Bomba: Ya la. But we call first. If MPAJ knows about it then we don’t have to come out la. But if they are not there then we will come out.
Me: (Resigned) Okay la. Terima kasih.
Come out? We’re talking about taking a leisurely stroll are we? But that’s the way Bolehland works. No problem, beb.
This incident reminded me sadly of what happened when my father died in a private hospital in Ipoh. My father was terminally ill in the Intensive Care Unit of this private hospital well-known among Ipoh folks for being very expensive. (I should have known then that in Bolehland high prices do not buy you high quality services.)
When I saw that my father was having great difficulty breathing I went to the ICU nurse’s station and asked if there was anything that she could do to make him feel more comfortable. She never looked up from the file she was working on and casually asked if I wanted her to call his personal doctor? When I offered that she should have a look at him and decide professionally if he needed the doctor’s assistance her reply shocked me into a stunned silence.
“We only call for the hospital doctor when it is an emergency.”
“What???!!! My father could be dying. If that is not an emergency what do you term an emergency?”
“When the patient stops breathing”, was her nonchalant reply.
Of course less than 10 minutes later my father’s breathing stopped. Then all hell broke loose. Pandemonium. Bells and sirens actually went off in the ICU! At a volume loud enough to have caused several more fatalities in that Intensive Care Unit of that very expensive private hospital in Ipoh.
My father died that night as a result of our radically different interpretation of an emergency.
At the apartment where we live the fire and smoke alarms have gone off on numerous occasions. Each time my family and I are the only ones who have left our unit, walked down the emergency stairs to the ground to await resolution of whatever caused the alarms to go off. Others stayed home. Watching football on TV, having their dinner or simply shrugging their shoulders.
Emergency? Jangan risau (worry) beb. Kita call dulu (we call first) then we come out.