Sunday, December 4, 2011

A special tribute to Tung Shin Hospital, Kuala Lumpur

Tung Shin Hospital celebrates its 130th anniversary today! 

 A lot of people drive by this unassuming private hospital every day but not many are familiar with its humble origins as a traditional medicine dispensary and hospice called Pooi Shin Thong - established in 1881 by Kapitan Cina Yap Kwan Seng and funded by public donations.

It was located on Sultan Street, in the heart of Chinatown, and catered mainly for the Chinese migrant community. By 1894 Pooi Shin Thong had grown into a full-service medical facility managed by a non-profit organization. Renamed Tung Shin Hospital, it relocated to its present premises on Jalan Pudu.

Western Medicine Department of Tung Shin Hospital

The Western Medical Department was completed in 1989 and has a bed capacity of 250. Adjacent to it is a 10-storey building dedicated to Traditional Chinese Medicine. As you approach the entrance you are greeted by the comforting aroma of Chinese herbal remedies brewed on the premises.

Traditional Chinese Medicine wing of Tung Shin

Why should I be inspired to write about Tung Shin Hospital, you might ask. On the historic date of 9 July 2011, tens of thousands defied the police and rallied on the streets of Kuala Lumpur demanding free and fair elections. Tung Shin Hospital made the headlines when police fired tear gas and water cannons into the compound of its maternity wing and even trespassed into hospital grounds in their zeal to arrest protesters.

But that isn’t what prompted me to pay tribute to Tung Shin Hospital. Blame it on my old schoolchum, John Arif, who suggested acupuncture as a possible treatment for my backache. He told me he had been going regularly for sessions with a Dr Zhou from China and that he found acupuncture really efficacious. John suggested I get some X-rays done, so I did.

I was at that point undecided about whether to consult a chiropractor or acupuncturist. A chiropractor I contacted was based in Subang Jaya – an area I find almost impossible to navigate; and from what I had heard, chiropractors charge between RM150-300 per session. John said he only pays RM22 per acupuncture session at Tung Shin. That more or less clinched it for me, apart from the fact that Tung Shin is far easier to access by public transport.

27 October 2011 (the last day of linear time, according to the Mayan calendar) was a significant day for me: first I delivered my laptop to HP for repair (they replaced the hard disk under warranty and I was impressed by their courteous and efficient service); then I registered myself at Tung Shin’s TCM wing for a first session with Dr Zhou.

I arrived during the lunch break, so decided to check out the Tung Shin cafeteria. The food was edible and reasonably priced – a very good sign. As I walked along the corridors I sensed the presence of Kwanyin, goddess of compassion. That was a surprise, for sure. I would imagine Kwanyin would be on duty at every healing place on earth – but this was the first time I felt her benevolent presence so vividly in any hospital, not that I often visit hospitals.

 I showed Dr Zhou the X-rays and he pointed at a spot between two vertebrae. “This is quite serious,” he said, quite seriously. He understands English but speaks it haltingly and my Mandarin is limited to “Ni hao ma,” “tui ler” and “chai chian.” He wrote a prescription for a week’s supply of medicinal herbs and recommended 14 acupuncture sessions. What, every single day for two weeks? I asked, aghast. I couldn’t imagine making a daily commute to KL – that sounded more like punishment than cure.

The nurse said they were closed Sundays and for an additional RM2 service charge the hospital kitchen would be happy to brew the herbs for me. It entailed a fair amount of work: soaking the mixture of roots, bark, leaves and twigs for half-an-hour before boiling it, distilling the thick potion; then adding water and boiling again till almost dry, then blending the first and second brews. One bowl in the morning and one bowl at night for 7 consecutive days. I paid RM76 for the herbs, RM22 for the acupuncture, and RM3 for registration. Entirely reasonable, I felt.

Spine is an anagram of penis: do I have
an overactive sex chakra?
I’ve asked myself repeatedly why I was experiencing this spasmodic pain in my lower back which first occurred on 21 March 2011 when I awoke with a dry cough and felt a sharp electrical jolt as a sciatic nerve got pinched between two vertebrae. It hurt to even stand straight and I found my body pulled to the left.

Initially, I assumed it was a physical manifestation of emotional stress. However, six months later the pain of losing somebody I believed to be my twin flame had receded – but the spinal problem persisted. I had heard about friends my age having to go for spinal surgery and didn’t wish to go down that road if I could avoid it.

Gradually, it dawned on me that the lower back pains may have been triggered by the violent cough, which was probably a symptom of emotional distress, but there was a physiological basis to the problem.

Just before my 19th birthday I had been involved in a freak motorbike accident where I flew through the air and landed on my back on the grass verge. I recall springing to my feet instantly to check on my 4-months-pregnant wife (thank heaven she was uninjured and our first daughter Moonlake arrived safely 5 months later). After the accident I noticed two raw spots the size of 5-cent coins right over my lower spine. The scars are still visible four decades later, although I felt absolutely no discomfort then or over the intervening years.

Swimming across the octagonal pool after
jumping from the Mother Fall (M. Hughes)
On 4 August 1992 I did a death-defying leap of faith from near the top of a 170-foot (about 50 meters) waterfall on the Chiling River. I landed at an angle, hitting my lower back and neck, which was stiff for nearly two weeks.

What prompted me to do such a crazy stunt? Well, at the time it didn’t seem at all crazy – it seemed like a gesture of total surrender to my destiny, to my chosen vocation as the ceremonial guardian of Magick River. I was prepared to consecrate my life to guarding this sacred spot, resplendent with mysteries and forgotten myths – and it was a shamanic initiation of sorts.

Indeed, I regarded this spectacular waterfall as the embodiment of the Mother Goddess and the home of rainbows; the 40-foot fall above her I named the Cathedral Fall, a space inspiring spontaneous awe and reverence.

Much more robust in 1992
Anyway, I was in my early 40s then and supremely robust. And in those days there was no internet, so I spent much more time engaged in physical activity.

Fast forward to June 2010 or thereabouts: there’s a high bridge just by the entrance to Pertak Village spanning a finger of the man-made Selangor Dam Lake. On 19 May an acrobatic 23-year-old Swiss guy named Jens had inaugurated the Bridge Jump (click to watch 8-minute video). With a stone attached to a ball of string Jens had ascertained that it was approximately 115 feet (35 meters) from bridge railing to lake surface. Jens executed a series of daredevil somersaults and survived - only to suffer from mushroom poisoning later the same day (luckily it wasn’t lethal; he recovered after I got him to drink some saline solution).

After Jens and his buddy Dominik did the Bridge Jump, everybody who showed up wanted to try it too. I had been contemplating the feat myself for several years but advancing age had made me wiser – to a certain extent, at least - because I didn’t want to attempt the jump without others around to help out in case of problems. So off the bridge I jumped, again landing at a slight angle and whacking my neck and backside. The jump also broke my dental plate in two – but that’s another story.

Chinese voodoo: note the tiny scars 
from 1968 along my lower spine
Considering I had traumatized the same spot in my lower back three times in my life, it’s no surprise the X-rays showed a widening of the gap between two vertebrae.

Anyway, after the first couple of acupuncture treatments I could feel the tissue around my lower spine regaining some electrical flow. Those who fear needles will, of course, shy away from the idea of having needles stuck in various parts of their bodies. Let me assure you that if you relax your muscles sufficiently you won’t feel a thing. However, it takes a while to get used to the DC current pulsing through the needles (some acupuncturists don’t use electrical aids, but I suppose it accelerates the natural healing process).

Assoc. Prof. Zhou Wenyuan
My acupuncturist Dr Zhou Wenyuan is a man of few words but he certainly knows his stuff, intuitively positioning the needles and doing so in mere seconds. Then he leaves it to the nurses to attach the electrodes and turn on the infrared lamp. Within 15 minutes the session is over.

If it weren’t for the long commute (some days consuming 5 hours to and fro on KTM Komuter, because of the ridiculously long wait for the hourly Rawang-Tanjong Malim train), I’d be quite happy to do a dozen more acupuncture sessions. After only 10, I no longer feel the need to go for daily treatment – but the procedure at Tung Shin Hospital’s TCM center is so smooth and painless, I almost miss going.

This is exactly how a hospital ought to be run – efficient, affordable, friendly, competent – and even the parking fees are minimal.

Friendly nurses, Ms Choo 
and Ms Mutupieria

My heartiest congratulations to Tung Shin Hospital for 130 years of exemplary community service. 

May Kwanyin continue to assist in your noble mission of healing and succoring. And thanks, John Arif, for alerting me to the wonders of acupuncture :-)

The acupuncture clinic is on the first floor of the TCM wing
Register and pay at the outpatient counter (if only the staff were this efficient in government offices!)