A short lesson in cold spells

Friday 30 November 2012, 5.09pm HKT

12.51am local time
18°C (64°F)

WE’VE SEEN a sudden drop in temperature these couple of days in Hong Kong (plus a sudden rise today). That got a friend and I ruminating about how people handle weather changes that in turn led to another thought about the old, the sick and the homeless.

Weather-wise, I’ve grown up or lived in some really interesting countries before, so I’m highly aware of how people react to weather changes.

Yeah, I wrote about the old, the ignored and the homeless suffering through cold spells several times before [such as this post]. The saddest part (and angriest for me) isn’t a lack of facilities from the government — that’s another story for another day.

What kicked off the other thought between my friend and I is that the UK and Hong Kong have nearly the same ‘direction’ of temperature change. Obviously the two places have different temperature ranges. Like Hong Kong, water surrounds the UK on all sides, so temperatures keep bobbing up and down all the time. The UK hardly stays cold longer than 14–21 days. Hong Kong usually doesn’t stay cold longer than seven days. People in both places fall ill all the time, which is one reason why the UK invented free universal healthcare (the National Health Service, or NHS). Hong Kong still hasn’t got that yet because the government is afraid to spend money. Yet the truth is, Hong Kong did have near-universal healthcare once.

That got my friend, Lily C., to say this:—


I THINK the healthcare system in Hong Kong is not bad overall. But the HKSAR government needs to ensure the quality of our nurses and doctors [can cut the ice]. For this, I have a story to share.

An old relative of mine has been in hospital four times these past few years. The first three times have been for heart problems. The most recent was for pneumonia.

Every time I visited her in hospital, I got to see a lot about our doctors and nurses. I got to see as well the suffering, sorrow and despair on the faces of patients, many whose bodies have various tubes sticking out of them — the very picture of helplessness of an individual hanging on to dear life.

Hospitals are sad places. From what I’ve seen, I’ve come to some conclusions.

Our doctors are missing the point of their calling

Because of the pressure and expectations put on our public hospitals, many of our more experienced doctors in their 40s and 50s have left to start their own clinics in the private sector. Those that remain in public hospitals are mostly fresh graduates with little or no working experience. Absent the role models of the more experienced doctors, many of the fresh doctors are mindful about earning money more than about the philosophy underpinning their vocation. That earnings-oriented attitude in turn tends to cause fresh doctors to suspend their awareness of the needs and wants of patients and their families.

In my relative’s case, one doctor was always pushing for heart surgery. My relative refused point blank out of natural fear, which is understandable. The rest of us also rejected the idea too, seeing that surgery on the balance of probability might possibly be quite dangerous for a 70-something person with a weak heart.

When we tried to ask about our relative’s general medical status, the doctor turned away and brushed us off. It’s hospital policy, the doctor told us in chilling terms, that he will disclose no medical details to any of us (regardless of our status as family members) now that our relative — his patient — wasn’t agreeing to surgery. If (and only if) our relative agreed to have surgery could he tell us more — excusing his response on some moral conscientiousness of being a doctor!

Nurses: patients’ predicaments left by the wayside

Then there’s the way our nurses apparently treat patients in general.

Nurses here come in two colours: those decked out in all-white uniforms, and those in dark-blue tops and white slacks. Also coming in two are their varieties and never the twain shall they meet: the friendly, amicable type vs. the apathetic, callous type with a noticeable propensity to ignore the predicaments and sensitivities of patients in their care.

http://article.wn.com/view/2012/04/16/Nursing_Homes_Disaster_Plans_Big_Gaps_Found_In_Emergency_Pre/In truth, some of the nurses I’ve seen are wholly lacking in adroitness even from a layperson’s standpoint.

In the case of my ageing relative the last time she was in hospital, she first contracted the flu, which then turned into pneumonia. Because of that, she needed daily flu shots to boost her immune system. In nearly every single instance, my relative came away with a red, swollen, bleeding wound because of how the shots were administered. For a 70-something year old, that’s quite an ordeal.

Clumsiness is curable through practice and experience; callousness is not.

Indeed, I was in near-fury at the sight of one nurse feeding an old woman in my relative’s ward. That old woman had trouble chewing food and feeding herself generally, so she got served congee [porridge] for breakfast but then just milk for lunch and supper. On the day I was there, a nurse had to feed the old lady by the spoonful.

http://www.smh.com.au/sport/horseracing/lightning-pace-sets-up-hometown-record-tilt-20120211-1sydo.htmlFeeding by the spoonful wasn’t the problem. It was the lightning pace of it all that infuriated me.

Scarcely had that old lady downed one spoonful then the next one was shoved in her face.

Predictably, the old lady coughed and choked, and nearly vomited over herself. It was a terrible sight to see anyone being treated like that.

Here’s what I had learnt from those and other sights and experiences of mine at hospitals.

Lesson One: We have to stay fit and healthy at all times. Be conscious about what makes our diet, such as reducing fat intake, cholesterol and stuff like that.

Lesson Two: Treasure your time in the here and now, and live every day as happily as you can humanly manage.

Lesson Three: The Hong Kong healthcare system needs serious improvement, not just in the quality and qualifications of the personnel, but improvement in the whole ambit of whys and wherefores of providing care for the sick and incapacitated. I think the road is longer than how our hospital authorities think they see it.


Lily C. is a university graduate in Hong Kong with a major in English.

* * *

Please leave a comment for my friend Lily to make her day.— Editor



© The Naked Listener’s Weblog, 2012. (B12432)

Images: Hong Kong taxi via About.com | Doctor and money via c4c | Emergency vs. Disaster adapted via World News Inc. | Horseracing by Vince Caligiuri via the Sydney Morning Herald.

4 Responses to “A short lesson in cold spells”

  1. Guus said

    I got to know a good friend of mine during business studies. He had successfully completed his first year of medical studies. Not a small feat. And then decided to change to business.

    He felt there was no humanity in the way it was being taught. Once, the professor was standing around a patient in hospital, and went out explaining all about the medical details, without any regard for the person.

    My friend asked: “What is her name?”

    When he switched to business, his medical professors remarked that he might not be able to stand the tough business world.

    Turns out (according to him) that business is a lot more about people than the medical field.


    • That is very true about the medicine being less about people than business. Both fields are dog-eat-dog anyway (well, what isn’t?) though the swell-heads in business at least could have their egotism reduced by the mere sight of money!

      I long knew since a young age that medicos tend to be an unfeeling lot, but my first-ever job as a hospital labtech really rammed it home for me. A doctor sticking a tube into a patient causing the patient to scream his lungs out could ever be described as ‘causing some discomfort’ isn’t exactly how any sane person would describe things.

      At the end of the day, it’s not very wise to challenge doctors because sooner or later we all have to depend on them. However, I do make it a point to get some sort of second opinion (even if it’s a second opinion from my own self) so that I won’t have to go 100% reliance on these types of people.


  2. Ed Hurst said

    Even in the VA hospitals I find it rare to be treated poorly in that sense. The worst thing happening here at the VA is simply doing nothing for you, but never callously.


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