The Health System Has Collapsed

By Michelle Ng

I write this having only slept at 7.45am in the morning.

The day before at about 10.30pm, I got an urgent call from a resident who lives in one of Subang’s low cost flat.

“YB. Maaf ganggu. Minta bantu. Ada seorang penduduk sesak nafas, muntah-muntah. Kata nak mati. Tak tahu nak buat apa. Dah tunggu ambulans dari 999 sejak 6 petang masih tak muncul. Tolong. 999 mintakan kami hantar sendiri. 999 pun kata mereka lumpuh dan kes ini bukan satu-satunya kes sesak nafas. Katanya kes dari pagi masih belum selesai lagi dan masih ada 7 orang tunggu dalam senarai.”

She went on about how she is living alone, that her employer chucked her in Shah Alam Hospital and pretended to not know her, how she fell into the drain on her way home because she was just too weak, how they went to her flat dressed in PPE to give her some medication, how she is illiterate and does not know how to type, let alone use MySejahtera to update her Covid status or Selangkah to register herself to be admitted to the Covid Assessment Centre in Stadium Melawati.

“Kak, saya faham kak. Maaf kak saya perlu letak telefon. Kalau kak tak bagi I letak telefon saya tak boleh hubung orang bantu. Saya tak boleh janji apa-apa tapi saya akan cuba.”

I rang SJ Beacon, Subang Jaya’s emergency ambulance. I knew that it was way past their operating hours, and I was trying my luck. In a turn of events, I was informed that one of their paramedics was not feeling well, and that they too do not know if they will be operational tomorrow.

With a lump in my throat, I said “Well if the patient is still alive and you are operational tomorrow, could you consider sending her to the hospital?”

“We will try, but they’re likely to send us on a merry go round. There are just not enough beds”. We hung up.

My mind churned. I remembered a list of private ambulance services which a doctor friend sent. I immediately called my Assistant, Henry, and woke him up. I asked him to put in another word with 999 and asked him to work on the list.

Meanwhile, I rang St John’s in the hopes that we’d be able to get some headway.

“We only take cases from 999. And as it is now all 6 of our ambulances are on the road and they all have a waiting list of 3 cases each. I am so sorry.”

I was angry. I was angry that they had to say sorry, that men and women who gave their lives to do no harm had to choose who should live and die.

Upon hanging up, I clicked on the Whatsapp conversation with Henry. He said that 999 has channelled the request to the nearest hospital, but it is up to the hospital to decide whether or not to respond. He gave his number, and the hospital was supposed to feedback. As I write this, it has been 16 hours since that call, and there has been no feedback.

He went on to feedback from the private list “Ambulance A is uncontactable. Ambulance B is charging RM850. Ambulance C and D are uncontactable. Ambulance E is charging RM1209. Ambulance F is charging a base rate of RM700 and RM200 additional for every hospital that they have to go to. There is no guarantee that the hospital they go to has a bed, and so they might have to visit a few.”

Okay, let’s do the homework for them then, I said. Let’s check which hospital has beds. He called HTAR – no answer.

I called Shah Alam – they said that they no longer take Covid cases and that Hospital Ampang, Selayang and Serdang might have beds.

Henry feedback – Selayang isn’t picking up calls.

I called Serdang – they said that they are full but that Putrajaya might have a bed.

When I rang Putrajaya – the operator said that they would only take cases from 999. I begged her – we have waited 4 hours, and 999 asked us to look for our own hospital, ‘Do you have a bed?’ ‘That is weird for 999 to say such a thing’, she remarked, ‘But. You can try’, she said.

With that glimmer of hope, I rang Henry back and asked to ring the said Ambulance service to pick up the patient and go to Putrajaya. ‘Worst case scenario – if there are no beds at all, at least her vitals are checked and she gets some oxygen’, I said.

“Boss, I have to let you know – this ambulance service informed that their earlier case racked up a bill of RM1700 as they went from one hospital to another. There were just no beds. I can follow them and decide when too much is too much. The hospital also said that they tried Putrajaya this morning and there were no beds. They advised that since the patient has only done a home test, that Selayang would not accept. Only HKL would be able to do a PCR test for the purposes of admission.”

“Okay. Proceed.” I said.

At about 2am, Henry texted to inform that the ambulance has arrived, and updated that her BP is soaring. They had to give her oxygen as she had difficulty breathing after walking down the stairs.

At 2.52am, Henry informed that they have reached HKL, and that they are waiting for the doctor.

At 3.51am, he updates, “She is still waiting under the tent outside the door.”

At 7.43am, another update “She is in the decompression room now. There are 7 other people before her waiting for a bed. At least she is inside.”

Subangites, we are far from the clear. Our system has collapsed. This virus is ravaging families.

Just this week alone community leaders have informed me of 4 Covid related deaths. I am pleading with you – please take this seriously. Get vaccinated, have conversations with the people around you who are worried about the vaccine, do not go out if you do not need to, double mask, carry a sanitiser with you wherever you go, ventilate your premises.

We must get through this, and we cannot do it unless we are all in this together.