In order to practise medicine, I joined the Florentine Hospital. They hired Samantha for me and they placed her at the reception counter just in front of my room. Yes, I have a room, and it was equipped with a desk, three chairs and a patient bed. I was also given a computer as well as a telephone. The telephone was old fashioned and came with a shrill ringing tone.
We were a small hospital and the grounds were not as wide as other hospitals. But we were interior designed. The floor was marble, imitation it might have been, and our toilets were wallpapered. You could find plants along the path as you walked from the entrance to my office.
My job was a boring one. As a doctor you met with people who were either sneezing, coughing or running a temperature. Patients have nothing to tell you except that they were feeling wretched.
Of course I was always at the receiving end.
But the outside was full of people. The entire area was bubbling with activity. You could see that the patients who came to this hospital were fairly well-to-do. The only thing that troubled me was that I wasn’t sure if Samantha was doing her work properly. She seemed to be distracted with something.
In order to break the monotony of things, I arrived at the Caramel Café regularly twice a day. This café is our in-house canteen where tea was always piping hot.
Laura always had some complaint whenever she came in to see me. Naturally, I was a physician. People came in to tell me what was wrong with them, and I made a diagnosis and dispense some medicine for cure. My medicine usually worked, and maybe that was why Laura came back to me every time, apart from my other two hundred and ninety-nine patients.
This morning my clinic door burst open with Laura walking in. She has her hair tied in a ponytail, but you could still see that it was very unkempt. In fact, the whole impression she gave me was very unruly, as though she had just got up from bed and had not cleaned up before she came. But that did not distract me from her black cat.
“Good morning, Dr. Nicholas,” she greeted me.
My name was not Nicholas. But I let it pass. She has seen me before, surely she should know my name by now?
Laura took time to unload herself, placing her bag on the chair meant for the patient. Instead she sat on the chair meant for the caregiver. I knew straight away that something was amiss. Nonetheless, I continued to act normal.
And I wrote the words on the case sheet: patient refused to conform. I knew very well that I could not record sitting on the wrong chair as an illness.
“Sit down,” I said.
She refused, and she began.
“I think you know what had happened to me,”
As a matter of fact, I didn’t.
But I said, “Yes of course I know,” pretending that I understood.
My job was to do doctoring not counseling even though I also took a subject in psychiatry. If she were ill I could dispense some medicine for her.
And then she began.
I know that it is in your hands,”
“What is?” I opened my palms to show that I had no idea what she was talking about.
“My husband is waiting for you to save him,” the woman dropped a bomb shell.
“How am I to do that? Certainly I will save him,” I said.
“He has been waiting long enough,” Laura complained.
“Waiting for what?” Innocently I asked.
“Several of your patients are in the ICU, and many are pronounced brain dead.”
I think I knew what she was getting at. So I quickly tried to stop her,
“Hey woman, this is not the place to discuss these issues.”
“You know that it is morally wrong,” “to keep a dead person alive.” Laura was getting intense.
And I was also getting fed up.
“How could you say this?!” my voice was rising a little.
“My husband needs the liver.” Laura hit the bottom line.
So she was related to the caller who had been ringing me regularly these days.
I pretended that I didn’t know that it was Simon.
“The decision lies with the hospital, not me.” I became bureaucratic. I had no other way to deal with this.
Laura looked at me and smiled, saying, “I never said that you were in-charge. I was merely letting you know of my predicament.”
I looked at the woman, and I looked at the digital clock on my desk. Consultation time was up. We chatted eight minutes, and I was supposed to make diagnosis and give a prescription.
I had no diagnosis on Laura. She came here to see me about her spouse. What could I say?
Bored with no patients I went outside up to Samantha and asked her who told Laura that I was Dr. Nicholas. Samantha was always the most reliable source of information and I liked her very much.
“No, Dr. Goh, I didn’t tell her anything. And she went back to her computer.
I stood there for another five minutes and then I decided to go to Caramel Café for my tea again.
One of my hobbies was to play the piano at the Candlelight Lounge at the Royal Park.
I often dropped by the lounge in the evenings to play some of my favourite tunes like Chopin’s Etudes. Chopin was a difficult composer to master. That was why they accepted me on my first interview. Of course I hadn’t told them that I was also a doctor.
I was not supposed to be holding two professions at the same time, like in a marriage contract, you were not allowed two wives. But the lounge was not paying me, so the hospital could not dismiss me on the ground that I was moonlighting. Of course it was stupid to give up the prestigious hospital job for piano playing at a hotel lounge.
But I needed the relaxation and I particularly liked the appreciation that came from the audience - they liked my pieces. Even if I only had that few pieces. My repertoire was narrow. I didn’t know how to play jazz or pop.
In the lounge I actually used the name Nicholas. Was it pure coincidence that Laura called me “Dr. Nicholas”?
And then since my services was all for free, I got a warm beer and a red wine as consideration. Come to think of it, I never knew what brand of beer and wine I was offered. It must have been a Tiger. I liked Tiger. The red wine I would think was a house wine.
As I was playing this evening, a black cat jumped out of nowhere and sat on top of my piano. I was shocked, but kept my cool. I continued playing and the feline just sat there on top of the piano and stared at me. She was all black and her eyes shimmering green. I was almost afraid of her. I could see her black fur shinning and reflecting the light that came from the ceiling, like she was challenging me, telling me I had better stop playing.
Her fat tail was swinging about like a metronome. I was severely distracted, yet I couldn’t tell her to move away.
I ended the piece on a wrong note. And then I quickly stood up and bowed, signally that I was going to pause for the day. If this cat didn’t go away I would end the night after my beer.
I grabbed my beer and I went to the gents to take a rest.