Postponing a party
Kim Tin would see us again in a week, just before our return to Australia. He was purifying himself through fasting and meditation. He spent his days and nights on a small, roofed platform close to the shrines and family temples which sprouted like mushrooms to the rear of his dwelling. He was dressed in white sarong and shirt.
Members of his family worked in adjoining shelters, weaving small baskets for the offerings which were heaped near the temples. All celebrated and gave thanks for his recent honour. Kim Tin had been given the freedom of the temples of Bali. He could enter the most sacred, the most holy areas.David’s continuing ill-health, suddenly became alarming.
In Ubud we had arranged a farewell party, inviting friends and the people we had hoped to meet. It was a Balinese farewell feast with smoked duck, port and chicken sates, yellow rice, other things and rice wine. I hope it was a success. We were not present. Somehow I liked the idea of throwing a party and being absent. I hope we were talked about at least.
On the morning of the party I became ill with asthma. The village nurse was called and she gave me an injection, but this was effective for a few hours only. During the afternoon I was fighting for breath, straining, supporting myself with my arms gripping a table. The rain came straight down. Sweat dripped from my hair, my clothes were soaked. Betty found the nurse who gave me a larger injection but this did not have much effect. A taxi was found at some cost and in pouring rain; we abandoned our party and drove slowly to Denpasar.
In the hospital outpatients department I was given another injection. `I think your heart is strong, but I advise you to pray to your God’, said the admitting doctor and he linked me to a oxygen cylinder. I learned much later that the drug I was being given could cause heart arrest and I had been given huge doses. I needed all the celestial help available.
I was very worried about David whose condition had deteriorated since our visit to Jogjakarta. His weight had steadily dropped and he was never free of a cough or wheeze. He was often exhausted. Several times his spasms had required urgent medical attention but now he was not responding to medication.
The Doctor urged me to stay at the hospital. Several times nurses said I might share his bed but I declined. The small room already had two patients and an enormous cylinder of oxygen was positioned at David’s side. Later I was given a room across the corridor especially reserved for government guests. I climbed up on the high bed, said a prayer and fell asleep. I left the hospital early in the morning but already wives, family and friends of patients were arriving with baskets of food, enough for breakfast and the rest of the day. When I returned in the afternoon bearing my own basket, many of the family groups still picnicked together. Outside David’s room was a large tree. We watched visitors, staff and patients place offerings under it and pause in prayer. In his room, offerings were placed in the corners and at the window sills.
Like trains, hospitals in Bali have three classes, first, second and third. There is also a V.I.P. room, but that is something different and as expensive as a good hotel. The doctor was very much against my staying in the third class section. `Dirty’, he said, `very dirty’. He did convince me that I should move, upgrade; but then he found that the first and second class parts of the hospital were quite full, so I had no choice. Anyway, when I had been for a while in the third class room I had no wish to be upgraded; I was where I belonged. I shared with a nice, quiet man from Klungkung whose wife came with baskets of food for him and brought along a little extra for me.
`Food is very bad in third class’, the doctor had said. True enough it was very plain and consisted mostly of little bowls of cold bean cakes and bean shoots and larger bowls of rice. The bathrooms were dark concrete cells with just a square cistern for water and a hole in the floor in one corner of the room, which did as a lavatory. That was all ok by me; but the mould and dankness of the room did not help my breathing,
The ceiling and upper part of the walls of my room were off-white, the lower walls institutional green and rather stained. But I liked the stains. I was able to amuse myself by making images – like Bemelmans’s ‘Madeline‘ when she was in hospital: `On the ceiling was a crack that had a habit, of looking like a rabbit’.
Australian hospitals have efficient sisters and nurses who bustle about in sensible shoes. They wake you up like sergeants for sponges and other indignities. Efficiency of that kind has not come to the Balinese hospitals. The nurses were nicely plump and looked like like smiling pillows in their short dresses of dazzling white, they moved quietly in tennis shoes. Theywere much too shy to touch my body. I was considered ill enough for oxygen and cortisone and other drugs, but nobody offered to wash me and I lay in my clothes. I had to wait ’till I was sufficiently well to make my way slowly to a wet, mildewed hole of a bathroom where I splashed myself from the cistern and tottered, gasping for air, back to my bed. Cortisone every eight hours, other drugs every six. Some young doctors were gentle as whispers with the needle and some were strong and a little abrupt.
I lay on a simple over sheet of grey stripes. A framed, coloured print of a Balinese garden hung on the wall. At about six o’clock my partner’s wife, who was visiting with eggs, firmly closed windows and doors. Perhaps because of mosquitoes, perhaps because of demons. The room was very hot as a result. I did not feel that I should open them, mainly because of demons. Again, I was gasping.
I left hospital a day before we were to leave Indonesia. In the hospital foyer, as I sat with Betty waiting for medicine to arrive from the pharmacy, a young man hurried to me, took hold of my shoulder, gazed into my eyes and spoke urgently to me. He spoke in Balinese, so I did not recognise one word. He repeated, even more urgently, what he had said. I could not understand. He rolled his eyes. Obviously he was saying something terribly important. I asked him would he speak in Indonesian; but the same words came to me. I was very concerned. Two other men came and led the poor man away. `Crazy’, they said to me and screwed their forefingers into their temples.