03 April 2013

Known Unknowns

Tucked in yesterday's post—my climbing on my desk and shouting in my own passive-aggressive way, I'm not going to take it anymore—was the story that really mattered:
Yoko calls: Mei has cut her hand, should I go to the hospital? And I am now that person I always feared I would be: Can we afford to pay for it out of pocket and wait to be reimbursed sometime in the future?
I wrote this as it happened: Mei had cut her finger trying to open a jelly desert–badly enough that she needed to go to the hospital. I had expected some accident to happen eventually, a Rumsfeldian 'Known Unknown', and had investigated our options, all the hospitals nearby and covered by our insurance plan. But in the course of a day, a whole series of events unfolded, all representing different struggles about life here and resulting in the problem becoming more and more debilitating as the day wore on... It came to a head at 4:16 when I had to duck out of class on the mobile phone with the coverage breaking up: Mei having still not been to the hospital in four hours, and me trying to explain to Yoko where she needed to go over Mia screaming in the background.

Mei was, of course, fine, more-or-less. She's always more-or-less fine. She needed stitches, but she had stopped bleeding and was comfortable enough. Mei is the daughter I can tell to stop crying and she stops.

But still, more problems: the university doesn't give you insurance cards so you have to pay out of pocket and be reimbursed, but because Yoko can't have a bank account she can't have a bank card, and usually doesn't have that much cash. She had RM300 yesterday by a fluke, but I had no idea if that would be enough to be seen. You only know what you've heard: I had heard they ask for a thousand Ringgit deposit. The panel hospital I had sent Yoko to, it turned out, was having a blackout and not treating anyway. This is, after all, Malaysia. The receptionist Yoko spoke to suggested she head to Cheras, another 40 minutes away in traffic, but when Yoko called me, the whole thing sounded like a massive miscommunication. I told her to just go to the public government hospital: try that before going all the way to Cheras.

This was happening while I was in class, but my phone died and everything went dark. There's nothing I could do anyway. Class ended, and I got on the bus headed to the hospital, wrapped up in all the thoughts again. Man made troubles: fat white man troubles. All of these puzzles, this confusion, is a tangled web of my own life choices. Knowing the reason for them doesn't make their solutions easier or harder to find, but I always note this when it's hard. We are choosing this. All of it.

The bus arrived and I burst into the emergency room, sweating and out of place (mat salleh!?) and a Chinese man, seeing my confusion, held up three fingers, quizzically. How did I know what he meant: Yes, I said. He pointed to a door. I opened it and a doctor was sitting there. I'm looking for my wife and daughters. Mei Pihlaja? Yes. She's fine, you can wait outside.

So I waited, watching the people come in and out of exam rooms, listening to the numbers being called, and feeling abruptly, surprisingly at ease, a strange, serendipitous whiplash Malaysia gives at times: there are places where everything is controlled by people who are genuinely empathetic. Behind the glass of the reception counter, I suddenly saw Yoko and the kids, all three with candy and smiling. They came out and Mei jumped into my arms and I held her and held her. It was okay, it was all okay. Just like that, they glued the cut up. The supervisor looked, all the nurses: like always we were the main attraction for the day. That's it? RM50 and we're done. Let's go to the night market.

Pangkor Island Trip, March 2013
Mei, you can always trump your father if, when I'm scolding you or angry with you, you ask me, But didn't you do the same thing when you were my age? I did. This is karma.
Yoko says staying only a year is a waste: she's right. You fight through things and you make progress and you take workarounds and you don't let it get you down. Yoko is the master of this: nothing phases her. I fall into deep depression, analysing and thinking and reassessing, but she is happy to have the moment, take pictures of the new food and chat with the neighbours about the flowers. Maybe that's the lesson learned from another problem overcome: my marriage is my grace. My children are my grace.