One of my old secondary school classmates -- he visited me in hospital last week when I was just beginning to recuperate from an excessive loss of blood owing to a condition known as diverticulosis -- was very curious.
Being a doctor, he asked why I had chosen to come to the Lohguanlye Specialist Hospital in Penang when there were so many other private hospitals on the island. "Why Lohguanlye?" he was so curious to know.
I'll tell him why here. You see, the name has long been ingrained into my memory. This has been the one private hospital that I have been familiar with since 1976. It was in that year that my dear mother was sent here for an operation. For a long time, she had been seeking treatment from the Penang General Hospital for a pain in her abdomen but nothing much were being done by the doctors there. And in the meantime, her abdomen was getting more and more distended.
It reached a point where her condition grew so critical that my father and my maternal grandmother decided that the only option left was to admit her to a private hospital and have her operated on. There weren't many private hospitals in Penang then, and the Specialist Centre (as Lohguanlye was known then) was the closest to our home in Seang Tek Road.
So he admitted my mother and she was operated on almost immediately by the hospital's gynaecologist, Mr Loh Hun Yu, who was Dr Loh Guan Lye's son. It was really a matter of life and death, and there was little choice. If he had not opened her up, she could have died. There was really nothing to lose by operating and he removed a huge growth from my mother. When it was shown to us, I was visibly shocked to see that a Milo tin was just big enough to hold it. That was how big it had grown. Since then, my confidence in the public health system took a big dip.
My mother survived another nine years. During this time, we had moved from Seang Tek Road to Lorong Zoo Tiga in Ayer Itam and finally, to the Siakap area of Seberang Jaya on the mainland in 1980.
By 1983, my mother's health began failing again and she grew thinner. No amount of modern medication or faith healing could help. We knew that we were losing her slowly. In April 1985, her condition had worsened. One day we saw that she was barely conscious. Alarmed and very worried, I tried to carry her to the car by myself, and I failed this very basic test. Then a very helpful neighbour came over and with almost complete ease, alone carried her into the car. I drove all the way to the ferry terminal -- at that time, there was still no Penang Bridge -- and thence to the Specialist Centre.
My mother was warded immediately in very critical condition. Her blood pressure had fallen dangerously low and she was put on drip, half-conscious. I stayed overnight at the hospital but I cannot remember how long I was there in the room before my father arrived to relieve me in the morning. Not long after I arrived home, we received a telephone call from him to say that my mother had breathed her last in the hospital. I was numb but I remember my aunt bawling away.
That was how my mother had passed away at the Specialist Centre. We appreciated the great job by the hospital and their staff to care for her on both occasions. So do you see why Lohguanlye's hospital was so firmly ingrained in my mind until it was the automatic choice when I had to go for treatment myself? You just can't think of any other when you are in a crisis mode.