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Mr Kassim (not his true name) was transferred to us from Hospital Kuala Lumpur Oncology Unit. Boss told us that he is fairly independent, but he has no place to stay as his family would not take care of him.
He was unfortunate to have had a terrible nasopharyngeal carcinoma (cancer of the nose and throat) which has eaten up his nose, the sides of his nose, the bones around one of his eyes, and his upper jaw as well. Because of radiotherapy, his face was even more scarred and he could not open his mouth to eat. He could only feed himself through an opening where his front teeth has dropped.
There were many nodules on his face, which would swell and cause severe pain to him. They would one day rupture and his pain would subside. When they rupture, they would discharge foul smelling pus and sometimes blood. It happened again and again throughout his stay with us.
The cancer is probably not the most unfortunate thing that happened to him.
He is married and has a few grown up kids. His wife would come in bright red blouse and scarve, scrawny and sulky, asking for money. She doesn’t come everyday. If she comes, she’d pull the chair towards the end of the bed and looked at him with disgust.
He’d struggle around looking for his ATM card. She’d bring him down to the ATM machine, withdraw his money and go home happy. He’ll be left alone for another few days.
We rarely see his children.
One day his wife came to the ward, asking us to write some letters to the bank saying that Mr Kassim is too ill to go to the bank, so that she could withdraw his money easier. Thing is, if he was lying on the bed, to weak to walk, we would have written that letter. However, he could still walk around, go to the toilet himself, feed himself. In fact, he could actually be discharged and they could go to the bank together. So we did not write the letter for her.
One weekend when I was on call, my nurses called me to his room, telling me that his face was bleeding. A lot. When I went into the room, he was standing in front of the mirror, tissues on his face, he was trying to stop the bleeding himself. His son was there in the room. When he saw that it took us some time to settle him and make him go back to his bed, the son came near, Mr Kassim’s ATM card in his hand, and shouted, “What’s the PIN number? What’s the PIN number?? Where did you put it??”
I was so shocked that I didn’t have anything to say. My nurses and I just went on and helped him with his bleeding tumour nodules.
Another day came, his wife walked into the ward, angry, because the bank no longer let her withdraw any money from his account, because apparently the bank officer called our ward and asked about his condition. She had a huge fight with him, and he ran out of the ward. We came out from our meeting to see what’s the commotion all about.
The wife was furious and let is go on Astrid. She said, “This is ALL your fault! You never helped me with his money and now the bank doesn’t trust me anymore!!” Astrid, having seen this for so long, told her off, “Well, you seldom come, and if you do, you only come for his money!! THAT’S why we don’t trust you!” The wife started mumbling and walked out of the ward, looking for Mr Kassim. In the end she got what she wanted.
There was one day, he complained that he was hungry. We all know that he couldn’t open his mouth. But what did his children do? Buy him some cream buns, put them in front of him.
I was so sad, I bought him baby nestum that’s so fine so that he could mix them and put them through his teeth.
He became weaker within Ramadhan. He often stumbled when he walks, so we had to put him near our counter instead of his room.
One day after iftar (breaking fast), my nurse went to check on him.
He was lying there, quiet, his soul has left his miserable body.
He passed away without anyone near him.
We cried at his state, but we know that he’s in a better place now.