Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Buying and Selling of Blood in Sibu

In the early sixties, an operation in the hospital was a dirty and deadly affair. Any one admitting into the hospital was facing certain death. There were a few famous doctors, Dr. Watts, Dr. Xavier(the first Indian doctor in Sibu), Dr. Chee Chew, Dr. Wong Mook Foo and later Dr. Wong Soon Kai (now with long titles due to his political successes)but they could not do very much about the death rate. (People died prematurely, untimely on the operation table.However I must say here that it was not their fault at all. Medical knowledge was just not advance enough. General medicine was good enough or us at that time.)Incidentally, we also had a famous Foochow doctor called Three PhDs. (San Bok Shii). He could cure almost any ailment for the Foochows. Doctors were actually regarded as gods at that time!!

The Lau King Howe Hospital (another blog posting) was very solidly built and the management was really quite good, with lots of strict nursing sisters and matrons from England,and very senior Chinese and Malay nurses from Sarawak. The beds were the strong colonial wrought iron ones which we can stillcatch glimpses of in European movies. In the movie The English Patient, one could see the exact setting of a hospital run by the British and Lau King Howe Hospital that I remember is more or less the same one.

If any one had wanted a location for an English movie, the Lau King Howe Hospital would have been perfect its architecture, its rooms, its windows and even the verandah would provide the right ambiance for a 1940 setting. It is indeed a pity that some crazy progressive people want to demolish any thing of historical value. We have learned enough of history that we must preseve by all means what our forefathers have constructed. Paris has billions of visitors - because of its wonderful history. We are not leaving much history to our future generations!! We have become so much part of the tissue paper culture - use and throw, or use and dispose culture. So much so that children often wish that they can dispose of their parents too whenever they like!!

Several thoughts come to mind of that time.

The trishaw drivers would be waiting outside the Emergency Room to sell their blood!! It was going for 700 dollars per pint. And the Hospital attendent would probably get a cut. So I remember my trishaw driver friends, Kassim, Ibrahim and others would be ever ready to sell their blood.

Soldiers were often called in to donate blood, and they would be wearing their uniforms. Unofficially, they would come in and sell blood in the evenings when there was an emergency. Communication was not easy because we were still using the black heavy telephones. So when an emergency arose, a dispatch would be sent out by a very energetic volunteer, who would often be a nice kampong boy, on a bicycle, to call for one of his relatives or friends to come and sell blood.

This trading in human blood came as a result of the Chinese who were not willing to give blood (they thought that their health would deterioriate) even to their very own kith and kin. And the very generous ones would be willing to buy blood. Other wise, death awaited the person who required the blood but had no money to buy. I believe there was no free blood available.

I remember one British nurse willing to give her blood to a baby and the family after that claimed that their child had "English blood".

And here I would like to pay tribute to two of my greatest people in my life : Mr and Mrs.Wiltshire who came to Sibu in 1963 and must have donated countless pints of their blood. Mrs. Wilsthire gave a lot of blood for a total blood transfusion to save the life of a new born baby. When we were in Upper Sixth Form, in 1968, Mr. Wiltshire, the Principal of Methodist Secondary School, made all of us who were over 18,to donate blood as an act of community service. I would never forget that . He had instilled in us the importance of saving lives.

Most missionaries, Catholic priests and foreigners were very willing to give blood to save lives.

My mother required two pints of blood in 1972 for her operation. She had to buy one pint at 700 ringgit and the other was given to her because a relative,my 9th Uncle, Henry Lim, was a blood donor and he vouched for her operation.

It has taken more than 70-80 years for the Foochows in Sibu to realise that giving blood means saving lives. But ironically, it has been the other races which have been donating blood or even selling blood, to save lives before the Chinese realise this. Perhaps these acts of mercies have not really been appreciated. On the other hand,Chinese traditional beliefs ,like human beings should not let blood ,are not easily forgotten even in our days of science and technology.

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