Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Kalau sakit itu membasmi dosa, no wonder my toothache hurt like a bitch

I am now in my mid 20’s. The last time I went to see the dentist for anything major was when I was in primary school. I don’t remember exactly when that was, but since that, I only go to the dentist for the small stuff such as for scaling, or those dentist check ups in secondary school that everybody has to go through. I haven’t had a toothache for almost two decades I guess and I intend to keep the number of my visit to the dentist at lower than one. Moreso when you take into account the fact that my visits to the dentist as a child always ended in blood (a little) and tears (a lot), and that I’ve always been scared of pointy and sharp objects. So, having a guy in a surgical mask poke around the inside of my mouth with sharp utensils is not very high on the list of ways I want to spend my weekend, even as an adult.

However, fate of course has a sneaky way of creeping up on you to screw you when you’re least expecting it to. I woke up that particular Thursday (last working day of the week in Kelantan, by the way) with a sore feeling at the right lower back of my mouth and my throat. No biggie, I’ve always had sensitive teeth near that area. The only problem was that my family was visiting that weekend and I was supposed to pick them up from the PC airport that day (for more info read this entry). “Hey, maybe a two-hour drive will take my mind off this definitely temporary pain” I thought to myself. How naive of me. If a two-hour drive cures anything, doctors would have prescribed it to patients, healthcare cost would be cheaper and petrol price in Malaysia would now be RM10 per litre.

So I got to the airport, picked up my family and drove straight back to Jeli. However it was Thursday evening (last working day, you city folks with your fancy normal working days) and the traffic going out of town was a bit heavy. Stopping the car made the pain obvious, and lord knows how hard I tried to stop myself from audibly cursing with my mother seated next to me in the car; I should probably get a medal or something. And to make it worse, my father was unusually inquisitive that day; asking questions about the places we were passing by; which I admittedly knew very little of, and asking me questions that I found to be annoying. Annoying questions X toothache = murderous rage. Enjoyable slasher movies have been made on lesser premises. However, my mother’s question was one that suited my predicament better; “Why don’t you go get that looked at?” I mumbled that I could still handle the pain and that was that for the day. We got to my house, I chatted a little with them before turning in for the night. I thought maybe the pain would have subsided when I woke up the next morning. But honestly, I didn’t want to get it looked at because it was still a week to pay day (I had to spend a lot of money on the house), and that I did not want to disrupt my family’s plan by having to rest and recuperate.

But of course, of mice and men and all that nonsense. On our way back to KB the next morning, the pain got really unbearable. Only then I found out that my employer’s healthcare benefit does not cover dentalcare (WTF? Don’t I work for the government?), and I decided to stop at the first private dentist that we came upon in Kok Lanas. The doctor, a guy who looked to be around my age, told me that a wisdom tooth had chosen the most unsuitable time to try to grow out of my gum. And in the most violent manner too. Since it had not come out of my gum, he had to cut my gum open and extract it because I did not have any space for an extra tooth to grow and flourish on; and afterwards sew the gum back together. It was in essence a minor operation. I said yes, do what you have to do (at that point I would have said yes to him removing my penis and reattaching it to my forehead if it meant alleviating the pain). Fastforward two hours later, the surgery was over. I asked him; “No MC? My work involves a lot of speaking and there’s no way I'm speaking with four stitches in my mouth”. He pooh-pooh-ed it and said it would be fine within “one day”. Guy skimped on the meds and painkillers, too. Motherfucker, you’re billing me RM400 (my mother footed the bill) for the surgery and you’re shoving me back into the world with just a few measly pills and no MC?

No bother, I had a family that wanted to visit KB and Pasar Siti Khadijah and I was dead set on getting them to the Pasar; sick or dead. God knows how I got to the place, but in my grogginess and pain, the first thing I did was get myself an A&W float while my family was at the Pasar; happily shopping. I didn’t feel like going into the Pasar; so I shuffled aimlessly around it, almost circling it even. What a sight I must’ve been that day. Feverish, gaping mouth (couldn’t close it shut), slurred speech, feet dragging, and eyes staring into the distance. I must’ve looked like a drug addict. Afterwards we checked into a hotel and rested which made feel a lot better that I could even take them to check out Pantai Cinta Berahi (screw political and religious correctness) and to this great Thai restaurant Keng Som for dinner. I even risked eating seafood, their food is that good.

I woke up the next day realising what a big mistake it had been giving in to the temptation, as I woke up with a swelling of the century on my right cheek; and the bleeding had not stopped at all. After sending off my family at the airport, I drove straight back to the dentist to ask his opinion; whether he still thought that it would heal in a day. Guy duly cleaned the blood, gave me some more shots and a three day medical leave (FOC this time). I went home, curled up in a ball, and sobbed like a little bitch. (Don’t judge me, okay? Falling sick does weird things to my emotions, I honestly don’t know why.)

Around two days later, I had to go out to have lunch. The thing is, I live in Jeli. It’s not like there are many diners or stalls you can choose from, so whether you like it or not, you will run into someone you know whenever you eat out. Not good for me, as I didn’t feel much like walking around town while looking like the Elephant Man of Jeli. I got to the place, got my food, and as I was starting to struggle with chewing (might as well be Olympics gymnastics at that time), some people I work with arrived for their lunch at the table across from where I was sitting, and they immediately saw me. 

“How are you feeling?” A girl asked. (Really? That’s the most suitable question you can think of?)
I gesticulated “Meh”

“Oh my, you do look terrible!” Chirped another girl. (Ring-a-ding-ding! Winner!)

Wanting to stop receiving anymore obvious remarks, I lobbed my own small talk their way. “Why are you guys here? Don’t you always eat closer to the office?”

“We’re celebrating you not being at work of course” (Ooooohhhh, a comedian.)

“Should I die instead? That should make it more convenient for you” (My joke’s better)

The coming punchline however wasn’t verbal. Immediately after our not-so-friendly banter, they changed tables to one where they didn’t directly face me. It might be due to the fact that with my chewing difficulty, I look like a paralysed-person trying to eat (no offense); dribbling and drooling. In short, worst lunch partner ever. But it did make me wonder whether I really looked bad eating while nursing a toothache. They won, although I think unintentionally. I would have gone straight home and cried like a baby for the second time in a week for the probably unintentional dissing, if not for the fact that I wasn’t feeling as poorly and I really wanted that lunch.

So I’ve learnt a few things from this experience. Firstly, always make sure your employment health benefits cover your dental care. My current employer doesn’t and when signing up I thought “Meh, whatever” and now I’m paying for it through the teeth, just two months after signing up. Secondly, save up your money for emergencies. There’s nothing as uncool as being a full-fledged adult who can’t pay your own hospital bills, and having to ask your parents to do it, especially if you have a father who’s perpetually disappointed at your life choices as mine is. Finally, if you have an operation/illness/condition, don’t go around explaining it in full detail to everybody and their mother. You’ll look like an attention-seeking, whiny bitch. Oh, and if you have to go see a dentist, try and get older-looking dentists to attend to you (yeah whatever, I'm bad at coming up with lists). They are more experienced. And by the way, I'm completely healed already, just went to get the stitches removed this morning. Snip snip, and off I went on my merry way. Hospital Jeli; the doctor was experienced, the treatment brief, although the wait was a bit long. Will go there (when sick) again 9/10.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

My father; the kampung boy

So I’ve been in Jeli for almost a month now. The place is alright, if a bit too quiet for my liking. Now if you know Jeli, until a few years back it was one of the poorest and most rural places in Malaysia. Things are alright now, my house has TNB electricity, although the water in my house is supplied by a well which is situated right in my house (there’s an electric pump, of course). But I find it amusing when one of the office people who are from KB (I stayed in KB for almost two months initially) said; “you Klang Valley people are not gonna mind having to live Jeli that much, since you already find KB boring and quiet, the difference between KB and Jeli will not be too prominent. It’s us KB people who are gonna have a tough time relocating there”. Errr, thanks?

My parents decided to come visit me unexpectedly last week since it was the school holiday and stayed with me for a night in Jeli. Hey, no problem. I had the house all to myself (suck on that, you Klang Valley residents with your expensive rents!) and there was a lot of space to spare. But I told them to not expect the Shangri La, not even the Sri Malaysia treatment. I’d just moved in, didn’t have enough money for furniture and didn’t even have my own bed yet. I also mentioned the well, naturally. They told me it wouldn’t be a problem, they would make do and bring their own comforters. So when they flew in from KLIA to the Pengkalan Chepa airport, I went all the way (~110km) from Jeli to fetch them and to take them to my house (total distance: ~220km). We even stopped by Rantau Panjang which borders Golok to do some shopping. Protip: go shopping there between 6 – 7 pm. That’s near the shops’ closing time and by that time, the traders will be more eager to lower the prices when you haggle, just so you get the hell out of their faces and they get to close shop and go home quickly. But I digress. Heading to Jeli from Rantau Panjang was when the fun started.

Now to give you a bit of background, my father is the typical oh-you-kids-nowadays-have-it-easy-I-had-to-cycle-10km-from-school-when-I-grew-up kind of father who took pride growing up in the rural area of Rembau (back then). It was starting to get dark from Rantau Panjang when my father started asking questions like; “so, is it hard for you to get your meals there? Are there any diners?” “How far is your house from the nearest neighbor?”. I get it, he’s my father, he was just trying to show that he’s concerned about my well-being. But my car running a bit low on petrol at the time as there were few petrol stations along the way. He started panicking a little. “You sure we can make it to the next petrol station?”, and seeing the darknened roadside, he started fidgeting a little. Making things worse, I developed a toothache that day (a different story. Not fun). The trip took a little while, and coupled with having to tail behind slow-travelling vehicles, it took some time and my father was beginning to get restless. The last straw (his) was when he asked me:

“Are we taking this road again to go to KB tomorrow?”

I answered in the affirmative.

What he said next was so out of character for the supposed kampong-boy.

I’m laughing again just typing this. It sounded like something an impatient 10 year old boy would say. My mother agreed, we laughed at his outburst and I had to ask; “Abah aren’t you a kampong boy who’s used to this kind of places?” He sat sulking in complete silence, not unlike a 10 year old. And he seemed like he was almost panicking when we got to my neighbourhood later (the streetlights chose a perfect time to not work that night).

So there it is. I find it amusing that in a way I’ve bested my father in something. Me, the pampered Klang Valley boy actually doing ok living in a rural area, while my father the hardworking, kampung-bred man was complaining about the place throughout the journey. No so tough now, eh? But I am able to end this entry on a brighter mood because when we went out the next morning, he saw that my neighbourhood was not actually in the middle of nowhere. It was just that the streetlights had not been working the previous night, and there are grocery stores, a school and a police station just nearby, and that made him feel better; relieved even.

The asylum

I’ve been in Kelantan for a little over three months today. A city boy (okay, suburban boy) uprooting his life to ply his trade in a state whose original residents migrate for the trappings of Klang Valley and all that comes with it. The way I see it, I’m just evening things out. Hey, if there are many of them in my state, I might as well go to their state and pick up some slack for them.

Anyway, I find it odd that while driving in the city centre of Kota Bharu during my visits, I see a lot of people who appear to be mentally off by the roadside. Around every other day. There’s this guy in his baju melayu without the sampin shuffling back and forth between the exact two points near Wakaf Che Yeh, a scruffy middle aged man in shirts and slacks meandering at the Jalan Pengkalan Chepa heading into Jalan Dusun Raja traffic light, and just a few days ago I saw a clean looking mid-30’s man performing a dikir barat at the CIMB – Maybank – Bank Islam traffic light; to the amusement of the motorists stopping at red. And it is not just in the city area, since I live around 8km from my workplace in Jeli, sometimes I see these mentally challenged people by the roadside going god knows where. Maybe they are not out and out crazy as the people I described above, but you can see that the sparks you see in the eyes of mentally healthy, ordinary people that show their awareness of the surroundings and of other people, the drive to go do everyday activities such as grocery shopping, sending your children to school, and thinking of what to have for lunch, are gone and they are just shuffling along listlessly, without any purpose nor anywhere to go to.

And that is just those that I have seen in Kota Bharu and Jeli. I haven’t been in other jajahans yet, and if the law of probability can be trusted, what you see is usually the tip of iceberg; so there should be more of them.
Now to be fair, I haven’t lived in any other states that much, and one tends to drive in Klang Valley at a faster speed due to the many highways; thus eliminating the possibility of casually observing the goings on by the roadside, but it has sufficiently piqued my curiosity to warrant writing about it. Maybe it’s just that I haven’t been to other places that much, I don’t know. But I’ll definitely make a point to learn more about this and expand this entry some more. What is the cause of the seemingly numerous number of these mentally unsound people in Kelantan, and why does it seem like there is a bigger ratio of crazy people to normal people in this state as there is in other states.

Finally, needless to say, I’m not writing this to insult or make fun of these people and the residents of Kelantan. I’m not doing this to judge them. I write as I see. You draw your own conclusion. If you are offended or insulted by this, regardless of whether you are a Kelantanese or not, maybe it’s you who should re-evaluate your own prejudices and of course, your own reading comprehension skills.