When I first saw the two paramedics, they were walking towards me with sure steps and a stretcher in hand. Covered in PPE, they looked like they were born to whisk off sick people.
It was only 2 pm then. I later found out that it was their 4th ambulance run of the day.
After a little bureaucracy and a lot of assuring words, I followed them out of the building and to the waiting ambulance.
I gingerly stepped into the ambulance full of sophisticated equipment and took a seat. There were some pushing and pulling and clicking and clanging. Then…
Bang! The door slammed shut.
I put on my seatbelt and lean back in my seat, trying to relax.
I saw one of the paramedics, who was also the designated driver, tap on his phone and the Waze app appeared. “20 minutes,” he announced to his colleague who was sitting next to me.
The ambulance pulled out of the parking spot and joined the main road. Next, I heard a siren pierce through the air.
The paramedic next to me pulled out his own phone. He rattled off a series of information to the voice on the other end of the line. Oxygen level, heart rate, blood pressure, etc… Much like a pilot’s position report over a waypoint.
Not long after, we pulled into the Federal Highway, speeding down the right lane.
After a moment of silence, the paramedic spoke. We talked about the events leading to this particular moment.
“It’s best not to get sick now,” he told me. “There are no more empty hospitals. They are converting hospital after hospital into covid centres.”
“Even private hospitals are rejecting patients.”
He told me about the times he and his partner had to drive in circles, hunting for a hospital that would take the medical emergency in their vehicle.
“Bagi duit pon diaorg tak nak (even if you pay, they don’t want your business),” he explained. “In the end, we always end up at a government hospital.”
“Aren’t those full to the brim?” I asked. I read the news. I know our healthcare system has been bursting at the seams. Correction: exploded beyond the seams.
“Betul. Memang takde tempat (true, they are full),” he replied. “But they would always try their best to take whoever needs help.”
“That’s why you see patients lying everywhere on the floor in the hospital.” He shook his head sadly.
“Whenever we go there, we try to help the nurses out as much as we can. They are so overworked. Sooo overworked.” The weight of his words hung in the air.
“Then the doctors choose who to save.” I knew this. But hearing it from the mouth of a man who has seen things is different from reading about it on Facebook.
“Itu realiti sekarang (that’s the reality now),” he told me with a pregnant shrug. I wondered how a single shrug like that could speak a thousand words.
Then he cracked a smile. I mean, he was wearing a mask and a face shield, so I can’t say for sure, but I could hear his smile. “But don’t worry. You’re lucky.”
We pulled into the small compound of an old yet well-maintained building.
I didn’t use to believe in random luck, good or bad, but maybe now I do. Just a little bit. The alternative is to trust in a cognitive puppeteer choosing who lives and who dies.