SINGAPORE- In a medical sense, my lung was punctured. But I wanted to grab your attention.
The Changi General Hospital nurse certainly stabbed mine when she told me I had a punctured lung and required immediate surgery.
Being a working class kid from a poor housing estate, my thought process was as follows:
A punctured lung? People die from it, right?
How much will the surgery cost? The only thing free at Changi Hospital is the public toilet.
If I died without my wife's permission, she would kill me.
All these thoughts flashed through my mind and the drama queen in me was already planning my funeral arrangements.
For my farewell song, I was considering Dick Lee's Home to prove that I was a bona fide adopted Singaporean or David Bowie's Ashes to Ashes to prove that death hadn't robbed me of a sense of humour.
And to think the day had started innocuously enough. An early morning physio session had eased a nagging back pain. But every time I inhaled afterwards, there was a sharp sensation that suggested Jack The Ripper was using my chest for target practice.
Now, I can be a hypochondriac in such situations. When it comes to being wayang, I make a Channel 8 drama look like Schindler's List. So, I assumed I was having a heart attack at the bus stop in front of the Fullerton Hotel.
This really worried me. I didn't want my final image in this life to be the Merlion.
Knowing my situation was dire and the prognosis grim, I realised I needed urgent medical attention. So I flagged the nearest bus (even the Grim Reaper couldn't force me to pay a taxi's ERP charges).
My GP agreed that I had some disturbing abnormalities. Then she examined my medical complaint.
There were breathing irregularities. I had the symptoms of a pneumo-thorax - an abnormal collection of gas in the space that separates the lung from the chest wall. I sheepishly pointed out that it wouldn't be the first time I was guilty of harbouring an abnormal collection of gas.
I eat lots of North Indian curries, I explained, and all those lentils, beans and paneer chunks can sometimes... she interrupted me. It wasn't that kind of gas. It was air that can spread across the lung and possibly lead to the organ's eventual collapse.
The condition was potentially serious. A specialist examination was critical. I had to get to Changi General Hospital immediately.
So I took another bus.
By the time I reached the A&E department, Edward Scissorhands appeared to be shearing my chest into a sculpture. The pain intensified, particularly when I heard the admission fee.
"It's $100," the receptionist smiled.
"But that includes everything."
For $100, it should include a king-sized bed and a full continental breakfast.
"Don't you think $100 is expensive in a country where many people earn less than the average salary of $3,000 a month," I asked, still thinking about others even though I was dying.
"But that figure includes consultations, X-rays and most medications," she replied.
I suggested: "It should include shares in the hospital."
But the Changi nurses and doctors were all angels in surgical gowns and masks (though for $100, they should probably be wearing ski masks and holding shotguns).
They informed me that I had a 3cm lung tear, according to the X-ray (included in the price, I asked for five sets to be put on key rings, calendars and a pair of commemorative mugs).
The doctor outlined my medical options. "Since you are tall, the lung tear is borderline. Anyone else, I'd stick a tube in and drain the air, but a small tear on lungs as big as yours could heal without treatment," he said.
"So the choice is yours. By the way, the nurse didn't know who you were, so I filled her in about your books and columns. How do you think West Ham will do this year?"
At that moment - and I swear this is true - the nurse leaned towards me and muttered: "Yes, I'm sorry I didn't recognise you." At that moment, I wouldn't have cared if my wife hadn't recognised me.
After much discussion, I decided to opt out of surgery and rely on my long, lanky lung to heal itself (and it's coming along quite nicely). The decision was an easy one in the end.
It wasn't the fact that there was a risk factor involved in shoving a tube through my ribs and into an already damaged lung.
Nor was it because my phone was dead and I couldn't contact my wife and daughter. It was much more serious than that.
The surgery wasn't included in the $100 fee.
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