THEY WILL ASK thee as to what they should spend on others. Say: "Whatever of your wealth you spend shall [first] be for your parents, and for the near of kin, and the orphans, and the needy, and the wayfarer; and whatever good you do, verily, God has full knowledge thereof." - Al-Baqarah (2:215)

Monday, 29 August 2011

Wishing all Muslims...

Selamat Hari Raya Aidil Fitri
Maaf Zahir & Batin.

To all Malaysians...

Selamat Menyambut Hari Kemerdekaan.

HAPPY HOLIDAYS!

Thursday, 25 August 2011

Last rounds before Raya

With Raya coming soon and lots of things to do at home, I wanted to make sure I settled all my visits and deliveries by this week. Went to visit Sofie on Tuesday, then yesterday I was on clinic duty. I still had diapers, milk and raya cookies in my car and I still had 2 pairs of baju raya with me, donated by a friend, to be given to Laila (the orphan) and her grandma. I was determined to settle everything by today.

So yes, this morning my first destination was Laila’s house. I knew the girl wouldn’t be home because she should be in school, but I was hoping to see the grandma and hand over the things to her. But when I got to the house, the door was closed, and it was rather quiet. I gave the salam – initially there was no answer and I was about to walk back to my car when I heard some voices inside. So I gave the salam again, and this time a young lady opened the door. I asked for Laila’s grandma but was told she wasn’t in. I then decided to leave the package with the young lady (Laila’s aunt).

Leaving Laila’s house, I called up Wan, the orang asli lady who stays in a kampong not reachable by car but in the same town. I was thinking if I could get hold of her, I could get her to come meet me halfway (she usually comes to town on her brother’s motorbike). But nope, she didn’t answer my call.

Next destination – Zalia’s house. The supply of diapers & milk for her daughter is due next week, but it will be Raya next week and I figured I might as well send her the diapers/milk this week. I tried to call, but my call couldn’t get through. Her house is reachable by car though, so I still went ahead to her house, or rather, her mother’s house.

Zalia’s mother came out upon seeing my car. I was told that Zalia no longer lives there and she was back staying with her mak angkat. And this time she brought her daughter along with her. Since they stay in another town, I wasn’t about to go to that town to visit, not without proper planning at least. So what about the diapers and milk powder?? Since the mother said Zalia promised to come back for Raya, I decided to leave the diapers/milk with her mother. Haiyah, these people… when they need help, they call me. Then after I get help for them, they don’t even bother to tell me when they move.

I also gave a paper bag with 3 jars of Raya cookies to Zalia’s mother who was so happy to receive them.

I still had another paper bag of Raya cookies in the car – which would have been given to Wan had she answered my call earlier, but since it wasn’t meant to be Wan’s rezeki, I decided to go to Fuzi’s house. I did visit her 2 weeks ago to deliver some groceries, but at that time I had not got the Raya cookies yet. Since she has 5 children, I suppose her children would appreciate the cookies more. This time I didn’t warn Fuzi I was coming. I figured she should be home because I knew her hospital appointment was just about 2 weeks ago.

As I got to her house, I didn’t have to honk. Fuzi was outside hanging some clothes. And when I opened my car door, I heard the voices of some children shouting, “Acik Fizah! Acik Fizah!” I turned around and saw Ijam and Iwan running towards my car. Ijam was waiting for his school bus to come pick him up in front of a neighbour’s house, while his younger brother waited with him to see him off. I didn’t see them earlier, but when they saw my car they ran back home.

I didn’t stay long though. I just gave the bag of goodies to Fuzi, plus some duit raya (donated by friends) for her to use. And when I left, only Ijam went back to wait for the bus, Iwan went in with his mom as he was more interested in the jars of cookies in the bag…

Later in the afternoon, I received a text message from Laila’s aunt. Her mother (Laila’s grandma) told her to tell me how much they appreciate the baju raya. Laila too was very happy with the present. Alhamdulillah.

So that was it for today – covered 98kms and 3 houses in 2 hours. No more goodies in my car to be delivered. I hereby declare that my cuti raya has begun!

It’s time for me to mow my lawn! (cuti  indeed, huh?)

Tuesday, 23 August 2011

Sofie’s ex is back?

I’ve only got a few days left to settle my Ramadhan visits. So yesterday I went to the hypermarket (again!) – this time to buy groceries for Sofie’s family, and also milk powder and diapers for Zalia’s daughter.

So this morning off I went heading to Sofie’s house. I had already told her last week (after I got the letter from the doctor as requested by Sofie earlier) that I’d be coming on Tuesday, so I didn’t bother to remind her again this morning.

But as I got to her house this morning, the house was quiet. The windows were closed, the wooden door (which doesn’t have a knob or handle – just a a rafia string) was closed but not fully shut, and the grill door was locked, with the keys at the door! From the door I could see Sofie’s 2nd son, Azman, sound asleep. I knocked on the door and gave the salam a few times, but nope, he didn’t budge. Sofie was nowhere to be seen either. So I decided to give Sofie a call. She was at the nearby district hospital to take some medication for her asthma. When I told her I was already at her house, she said she should be back in 10 minutes.

I decided to try wake Azman up again while waiting for Sofie to come back. Finally, he got up… looking a bit blur but when he saw me he immediately opened the door for me. And knowing that usually during my visits I’d bring along some groceries, he came out of the house and followed me to my car to help unload the groceries. This time other than the usual groceries, I also brought along some raya cookies.

Tak sekolah ke?” I asked Azman.

Hari ni betul-betul tak larat la makcik,” came the reply.

Apparently to get some extra income for himself, during the month of Ramadhan he helps out one guy staying in a nearby kampong to bake raya cookies to be sold and the guy would pay him some money on daily basis. Now that Raya is approaching very very soon, baking of the cookies is in full swing to fulfil orders and so on Monday night, they went on to work until 4 am before the guy sent Azman home. I told Azman he shouldn’t be working so late especially on a school day! As a result, he skipped school. And he will be sitting for his PMR this year! (but somehow Azman didn’t seem to be too bothered with his PMR)

Anyway, after  a while Sofie got home. I passed her the letter from the doctor, and also some money being zakat given by some friends through me to be passed to deserving families, and Sofie certainly deserved it. She had been working hard to earn some income. For this year’s Ramadhan she had been making and supplying kuih to a canteen (but not really much because the supply was mainly for the non-Muslims) and from time to time she’d be helping out at one of the stalls at the nearby pasar Ramadhan whenever the stall owner needed an extra pair of hands at the stall.

With the income she had got so far, she has bought baju raya for her 2 younger children. Now she’s trying to get more money to buy baju raya for the older 2. I asked if she’d be going back to her hometown for Raya (she hails from somewhere up north). She said she wouldn’t be able to afford it – there’d be 5 tickets to buy if they were to balik kampong. When I asked if she’d be going to her mother-in-law’s house nearby, she said probably she’d just let her children go while she’d just stay home.

I got curious. I knew for a fact Sofie had been going to her MIL’s house quite regularly despite things not working out between her and her estranged ex-hubby, so why is she avoiding the MIL’s house now?

For the uninitiated, Sofie filed for divorce after her hubby stopped coming home for quite some time. He never even went back to his own mother’s house. Even when they were still married, the guy, a known Romeo, seldom came home. So what’s the whole point of marriage huh? The children had learnt to grow up without him.

Apparently, his family did try to search for him and one of them found him in KL. A whole lot thinner than before. And now his mother and his siblings are trying to bring him and Sofie back together again. Huh? After all that he had done… leaving her with nothing (but HIV)? Now that he is getting weaker his family wants him and Sofie to get back together? What on earth for? To add more burden on Sofie’s shoulders?!

Ahh, no wonder Sofie doesn’t want to spend Raya at her MIL’s house although it is not that far. She said she’d just let her children go over, and if they give the “line clear” indicating that their father is not there, then she may drop by for a while. If they say he’s there, she’d just stay home.

Kalau dia yang datang sini macam mana?” I asked.

Ahh, saya tutup tingkap, kunci pintu semua, dok diam-diam dalam rumah!” she replied.

Can’t blame her, really. I’d probably do the same if I were her…

Sunday, 21 August 2011

Activities over the weekend

One more weekend before Hari Raya. By this coming weekend, I’ll be busy with own family matters at home, and so I’ll be taking time off from my voluntary work. I’d probably still get all those text messages from clients to wish me Selamat Hari Raya, but that’s about all involving my clients, I think…

So this past weekend I spent time doing matters related to my voluntary work.

On Saturday I went to visit Zainab at her new rented home. I had wanted to visit earlier during one of the weekdays, but Zainab had to work and I didn’t want to visit with just her hubby, Zaki, at home. When she told me Saturday was her off-day (she works on shift), I decided to visit the family on Saturday morning, after my pasar tani routine. After given the address by Zainab, I set the address in my GPS – although Zainab stays in Ipoh, the place she stays is not too familiar to me.

It wasn’t too much of a problem finding her house with the help of my GPS. Just as I was looking out for the house number, I saw Zaki about to come out of the house. Zaki went back in to wake Zainab up. You see, Zainab was on night shift the day before and so she slept in the morning, thinking I wouldn’t be there too early.

The house they’re staying now seems more comfortable then the previous house. However, they are sharing the house with another couple. The other couple found the rental of RM250 per month a bit too high for them and so they offered Zainab and Zaki to share the rent with them. The house has 3 rooms.

Zaki however, is still not working. He can give 1001 reasons why he had to quit almost every job he landed up with. Now he plans to stay at his mother’s house in another town as nobody is staying there now after his mother passed away 2 weeks ago. Zainab, however, cannot move together with her husband as that would mean quitting her job. What will the family survive on?

Not sure yet how the plan will work, or if the children will be following their father. We’ll just have to wait and see…

On Sunday, I had to attend the following function…

kurnia

Yep, Buddies of Ipoh was again chosen as one of the recipients of funds granted by Yayasan Sultan Azlan Shah. The last one given was 2 years ago. At that time over 70 organisations were chosen to receive RM20K each. This time there were only 65 organisations receiving funds of the same amount. The Pemangku Raja himself presented the cheques to representatives of the organisations and so we had to be there an hour early for the briefing and rehearsal.

They ended up just explaining what to do and say, but only rehearsed for the first 2 rows of recipients. I was somewhere at the back row, and so the emcee didn’t get to announce The Buddies Society of Ipoh during the rehearsal. Knowing the high possibility of the emcees announcing our name as Buddhist instead of Buddies, I got up and approached the 2 emcees.

Saya nak pastikan sebutan betul ya. Orang suka sebut Buddhist, padahalnya Buddies. Kang sebut Buddhist terkejut pulak orang tengok saya yang mengadap,” I said. The guy then responded, “Ha’ah ek, nanti apa pulak orang ingat.”

So yeah, this time they announced the name correctly… and I went home a happy mak aji with a RM20K cheque for my NGO.

Friday, 19 August 2011

To the hospital – twice in 2 days…

As I was sitting at my work table on Wednesday, a call came in on my hand phone with the Mission Impossible ring-tone. That ring-tone indicated that the call came from one of my PLHIV clients. I tend to get a bit worried whenever I hear that ring-tone. More often that not, it would mean one of my clients was in some kind of trouble and needed help.

This time the call was from Sofie, and it wasn’t really too much of a problem. Apparently she had registered for a programme which helps the poor, and an officer from the said programme called her up to ask for details and what kind of help she was seeking. Sofie, being the type who prefers to be independent but still unable to, asked if they could help out with whatever equipments needed for her to set up a stall selling kuih near her house. The officer then said they’d be coming to visit one of these days and told her to get whatever supporting documents including a supporting letter from the doctor.

And since yesterday was a public holiday in Perak, Sofie called me and asked if I could arrange to get the letter from the doctor. I told Sofie she should call the clinic herself, and speak to the staff nurse, explaining why she needed the letter. Knowing SN, she’d usually want the patients themselves to call her personally if they needed anything from the clinic. I told Soife that I’d also follow up with SN, and I don’t mind getting the letter and send it to Sofie when the letter is ready.

Later the same day, Wani called me up. Wani is the one who works for a friend during Ramadhan every year, making a few types of cookies, to be sold for Raya. For the past 2 years, Wani had sought my help to get orders for her. I had given her the orders last week, and since she was coming for her appointment on Thursday, she said she’d bring along the cookies with her to the hospital.

So yep, although I wasn’t on clinic duty yesterday, I still went to the hospital. The day before being a public holiday, yesterday there were sooooo many people! I had to go 4 rounds just to get a parking space quite a distance from the hospital.

When I got to the doctor’s room and asked the nurses if Wani had come, together they said, “Ha, ni mesti nak ambik kuih raya ni!” Ah, they too had ordered some cookies from Wani…

SN also mentioned about Sofie wanting a letter from the doctor, which meant Sofie had already called her. The other nurse said, “Dia nak surat mintak doktor kata dia tak boleh buat kerja berat. Nak surat buat apa? Tengok rupa dia pun tau dah!” Oh well, the officer who called her had not seen her yet. But since the officer had already asked for the letter, might as well get the letter ready before they come visiting.

As I was talking to the nurses, Wani came to the room and then we went to get the cookies which were kept in another room, courtesy of the nurse. With my car parked quite a distance, I was supposed to carry all these?

cookies

Wani offered to carry the box to my car, but instead I told her to wait near the staircase downstairs with the box while I went to get my car. It was much easier that way. Nobody would have to carry the box that far. The moment I got there with my car, Wani was ready to put the box into the car.

This morning, as I was getting ready to go out and deliver the cookies to my former office-mates who ordered them, a text message came in from SN, telling me that the letter for Sofie was ready.

So yes, after delivering some of the cookies to my former office-mates, off to the hospital again for the 2nd time in 2 days, despite not being on clinic duty on either day. I guess the hospital has become some sort of office for me. Thankfully, today, finding a parking wasn’t too bad. All I wanted to take was just the letter… in just about a minute or so, I was out of there. It took me longer to walk from the car to the clinic.

I immediately informed Sofie that the letter was already with me and that I plan to visit her family next week to deliver some groceries and so I’d pass her the letter then.

Meanwhile, tomorrow I plan to visit Zainab. She has moved to another house (the former landlord wanted the old house back for her own family’s use) and had given me the new address. Tomorrow my friend Mrs G (for GPS) will have to show me the way to Zainab’s new place…

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Maria’s dilemma

When I got home after my clinic duty last week, Maria called me up. I did meet her earlier at the hospital, but she had not seen the doctor yet then. So while we did have a short chat, there was nothing new she had to tell me.

By the time she was done with her appointment with the doctor, I had already gone home. So she called, saying that the doctor had given her a referral letter for an appointment at the psychiatric clinic. Maria got a bit nervous and told me she was afraid to go there alone. Well yes, she’s got a husband, but as far as possible, he avoids going to the hospital with her. The only times I ever met him were one during the initial stage when Maria was diagnosed +ve (he was called to get tested as well) and the other time was after Maria delivered.

I promised Maria I’d accompany her for her first appointment at the psychiatric clinic. That was supposed to be yesterday afternoon. On Monday I sent her a text message to confirm if I got the right date and time. Maria told me she’d have to reconfirm with me. Not that she got confused with the dates, but because she wasn’t sure if she would be able to come.

You see, Maria works as an assistant at a private kindergarten. Not wanting anyone to know she has HIV, every time she has to come to Ipoh for her appointments, she’d take annual leave without telling her boss that she needed to go to the hospital, to avoid questions being asked on why she needed to do so. Her appointment at the HIV clinic was last week. Which means she already took a day off last week. Having to go to the psychiatric clinic this week would mean she’d need to take another day off. She doesn’t want to tell her boss that she needs to go to a psychiatric clinic either!

Gurubesar saya dah bisinglah kak, banyak sangat ambil cuti bulan ni.”

Yesterday morning, the day of the appointment, Maria sent me another text message to inform me that her leave was not approved. She then asked me if she should postpone or simply cancel her appointment. “Akak tengok saya macam mana? Perlu pergi ke?”

Woah! She was asking my opinion on her and if I think she really needs to see a psychiatrist? Alamak, I’d better be careful in answering her question. Both yes and no would have implications. Luckily she asked via SMS so I had time to think. And while I was thinking of what to tell her, another text message came in from her, asking if I knew the psychiatric clinic’s phone number. She wanted to call them to arrange for a postponement. Phew! Saved me from having to answer her question.

Anyway, some people may say Maria should discuss the matter with her boss so that the boss may understand her situation better and empathise. But we must also remember that another possibility is, if told that Maria has to go to the HIV clinic, and now psychiatric clinic, her boss may just tell her to quit the job! And the news about her being HIV positive and needing to see a psychiatrist too may just be made known to others as well. Maria didn’t want to take that risk.

So looks like Maria’s appointment has to be postponed. I hope she managed to get that postponement without much hassle. Poor thing… it’s such an awkward situation for her. She’s probably getting even more depressed trying to get that leave without telling anyone why she needs it.

Friday, 12 August 2011

Visiting a new client

Having delivered groceries to 2 families on Tuesday, and having a hectic day at the clinic on Wednesday, yesterday I was planning to go out shopping again to stock up on the groceries to be delivered to the other needy families. As I was getting ready, a text message came in from a young chap, Vincent.

Vincent had emailed me earlier from Singapore, seeking my help on how he should go about to set up an appointment at the HIV clinic at Ipoh GH. I told him I could help him out if need be and so I gave him my number. I didn’t expect him to contact me so soon though. Just the day before he was emailing from Singapore and the very next morning he texted me saying he was already at the Ipoh GH.

Just as I was about to call him, another call came in on my hand phone. It was from the HIV clinic. The nurse had just called Hasnah, a PLHIV who was supposed to come for her appointment on Wednesday but did not turn up. The nurse was concerned because Hasnah had been on HAART for some time and missing her appointment would mean her supply of ARV was running out as well. When asked why, Hasnah started crying saying she didn’t have any money to come to Ipoh (her place is more than an hour’s drive away). She even went to the extent of saying, “Saya rasa macam nak bunuh diri.”

The nurse got rather concerned. She asked if Hasnah had ever met anyone from Buddies and when Hasnah said no, the nurse immediately told her, “OK takpe, jangan susah hati. Nanti saya telefon Kak Afizah bagitau.”  Indeed, immediately the nurse called me up. Since I was going to the hospital anyway to meet up with Vincent, I told the nurse, I’d drop by the clinic to get all her particulars.

So yes, off to the hospital I went. I had promised Vincent I’d call him once I got there and so that was the first thing I did, asking him where he was exactly. He was at the main building where the wards were, not at the specialist clinic where he was supposed to go. So I told him to meet me halfway. But we didn’t know how each other looked like so I just told him I was wearing green and he said he was wearing white…. (as though lah nobody else would be wearing green and white kaaan?)

Oh well, we did manage to find each other. It wasn’t really so difficult… there was this lady in green looking as though she was looking out for a guy in white. And there was this young chap in white looking as though he was looking for a lady in green. *chuckle*

I then got him to follow me to the specialist clinic, told him to wait in front of the registration counter while I went in to see the nurses at the doctor’s room.

I handed over Vincent’s referral letter to the nurses and they handed over Hasnah’s file to me so I could take down her particulars. I immediately called Hasnah, asked if I could visit her the next day, and she agreed. So the nurses gave me a month’s supply of ARV to be given to Hasnah. SN even gave me some condoms to be passed over to Hasnah. You see, Hasnah got HIV from her first husband who, after 3 kids, left her just like that after he married another woman 13 years ago. Their youngest child then was only a year old. They got divorced but the ex never bothered to pay her any alimony nor did he bother about his 3 children anymore.

2 years ago Hasnah remarried. The husband, despite knowing that Hasnah was HIV+, went on to marry her, and even got her pregnant. Their daughter is now a year old, and the husband, so far, still tested negative for HIV. But he doesn’t have a fixed income – doing odd jobs at the kampong where they stay. Sometimes he gets more, sometimes he gets less, sometimes he gets nothing at all. I suppose this time he hasn’t got enough to enable his wife to come to Ipoh for her appointment.

So this morning off I went to visit Hasnah. Since her kampong is not listed in my Papago GPS, neither could I find it in Google map, I had no choice but to depend on my own internal GPS – Guna Pertimbangan Sendiri. I did still use my Papago GPS though, set to the nearest school. Once I passed the school, I called Hasnah to get further directions to get to her house. She told me to just drive straight in until I got to a row of houses and to call her again once I got there.

I had to drive another 6 or 7 kilometres in before passing the row of houses and then I called her again.

Me: “Akak dah sampai simpang tiga ni.”

Hasnah: “Akak jalan terus lagi.”

Me: “Errrr… terus?? Kalau terus akak masuk parit…”

Hasnah: “Eh, jap, jap! Saya tanya sepupu saya…. ohhhh…. akak belok kanan pastu teruuuuuus je sampai naik bukit, nanti nampak jalan xxx.”

Boy, they sure love to use the word TERUS when giving road directions, don’t they?

That was the only hiccup though. I did manage to find her house. The house looked pretty nice and quite big I must say. One look and you may think she’s not poor. But she is, really.

You see, all the while after her divorce, Hasnah was supported by her mother, who, as a first generation Felda settler, got some fixed monthly income. Hasnah never really had a problem when her mother was around. But her mother unexpectedly passed away early last year at the age of 62. Just before she died, she got the house renovated by getting a loan. After her death, the monthly income from Felda had to be used to repay the loan. There was a small extension at the back of the house, which the mother made specifically for Hasnah, telling the rest of the siblings, who stay elsewhere, that should anything happen to her (the mother), the extension is for Hasnah’s family.

As for the main house, for the moment Hasnah looks after the house, and would move to her own extension unit when her other siblings comes home for Raya or any family gatherings. Hasnah doesn’t have to pay rent, but she still has to pay for utilities. Ever since her mother died, there were already a few times when either their water or electricity supply were about to get cut off. Hasnah really really felt the hardship since slightly more than a year ago. Her eldest brother does give her about RM200 a month, but now with a toddler in the house, that amount is not even enough for the toddler alone.

Her 3 older children are all in secondary school now, one will be sitting for his SPM this year. Hasnah has yet to pay for her eldest son’s necessary fees. I told Hasnah we should have no problem helping out with her children’s educational needs.

I then took out the load of groceries from my car and before I left, I gave her some cash, courtesy of friends who read my FB status update about Hasnah.

Alhamdulillah, murah rezeki saya hari ni. Terima kasih kak.”

To the donors, the terima kasih is meant for you too.

 

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

A hectic day at the clinic

Usually during any of our clinic duties, we’d get at the most 3 or 4 cases each time, with maybe only one or two problematic ones… sometimes none at all. So when I went for my clinic duty today, I had expected the same thing.

I had brought along with me a few of the “Positive Living” booklets. SN called me on Monday to ask if I had any of the Malay and Tamil version of the booklets as she had run out of those. I didn’t have any Tamil ones, but there were a few more of the Malay version at our centre, and so I brought those for SN.

The moment I got into the doctor’s room, SN immediately told me about the case of one guy whom we sent to a shelter home in Penang less than 2 months ago. The guy apparently ran away from the home and is now back in Ipoh, homeless. He felt the home was too strict with regulations. Likewise there was another guy whom I had sent to a shelter home in Selangor, who also decided to leave the place and is now back in Ipoh. I remember buying t-shirts and trackbottom for the guy as otherwise I would have to bring him in hospital clothes because he didn’t have any other clothes. This guy left the home because he wasn’t in good terms with another occupant of the home.

Aiyoh!! As the doctor said, they don’t want to stay in shelter homes, they want to stay in hotels where they don’t have to pay! Susah… susah… tolong susah, tak tolong pun susah…

Anyway, after about a 15 minute chat with SN (about the above cases, about Shila’s death, about another PLHIV who seemed interested to join Buddies etc), she told me there was a new case they wanted to refer to me. So off I went to the counselling room, getting ready to meet up with the new cases to be referred.

The first case referred was a guy in his 50’s, married to a young wife, and they have a 5 year old daughter. He works as a carpenter, not earning much, while his wife doesn’t work. While I did manage to get some info from him, when I started getting into more details, he couldn’t understand me. Luckily the pharmacist in the same room, upon hearing our conversation, helped me out to speak to the guy in Chinese. Knowing that his child may need help with schooling necessities when she goes to kindergarten next year, I told the guy I’d assign him one of our Chinese volunteers so it will easier for him to communicate with us.

Next up, one lady was brought in by the nurse. Her husband had just been diagnosed +ve this year, and recent tests confirmed that the lady, Shanti, too was positive. Today was her first appointment with the doctor. Shanti’s husband just started work recently as a lorry driver. They have a 6 year old daughter who is already in kindergarten and will start schooling next year. Another case needing assistance from our Children Education Fund (CEF). A buddy will need to be assigned.

Next case brought in was a prison case. The PLHIV came handcuffed to a policeman, with another policeman escorting as well. Not much for me to say except to explain to him particularly on the do’s and don’ts.

Then, the nurse came in and said to me, “Ni ada satu lagi pregnant case.” The lady brought in looked somewhat matured, so initially I thought it was a married case. Another lady came in with her – whom I thought to be the mother or older sister. Only when I looked at her file did I realise that it was another of those unwed pregnancy cases. The lady, 30, hails from another state and is only in Perak to be placed at the shelter home for problematic young women, temporarily. The home is full to the brim and so for unwed pregnancy cases, they’d only allow shelter until 2 weeks after delivery. Frankly, I didn’t expect a 30 year old to be placed there. Usually they take only problematic teenagers.

I didn’t assign any buddies for this case. She’s due to deliver in October and when I asked what her plans were when she has to leave the shelter, she looked at me with that amused look and said, “Balik rumahlah, ke mana lagi?” Duh! Silly me huh? She probably never heard of those cases where the unwed mothers had no “home” to go back to.

Next up, another lady, Aiza, who is in her late 20’s. She had just been diagnosed this year when her husband was hospitalised. Her husband died this year. Aiza stays in a kampong I’ve never heard of, and when I asked if she has a job, she told me she’s a rubber tapper. Wow… she must be the most rugged rubber tapper I’ve ever met! :-) Aiza has no children, so I don’t have to worry about children education, but she sounded interested in the activities that we organise, so I told her I’d be calling her from time to time.

Just when I thought there were no more cases for the day, the nurse said there was another new case. Well, not really a new case…. but a new case at the Ipoh ID clinic. You see, the guy had been in UK for the past 2 years and just came back recently. He had already started his ARV medication when he was in the UK. When the nurse asked the guy and his brother who came along with him if they could speak  Malay, they both said, “Aiyo, ta boleh la…” “Sikit-sikit?” “Sikit-sikit boleh la…”

So yes, they came in and I had to speak to them in the most broken Malay I could attempt. Then I remembered, hey, this guy just came back from the UK, so I tried speaking to him in English. Gosh, his English was even worse than his Malay. How on earth did he survive in the UK?? I did manage to get them to understand that I’d be assigning one of our Chinese volunteers as his buddy. The guy said, “Chinese man hokeh. I donno how to speak Malayu.” (And in my head I was thinking…. Engrish oso you cannot speak lor…)

That was it – the 6 new cases I met today. A record for me. 4 of them assigned buddies. I did get to see 2 of my old clients… Maria and Lin, but since I was busy with the new cases, I didn’t get to chat much with them, although I did manage to inform them about Shila’s death. They both knew and had met Shila before.

When I got home, Maria called me up asking if I was still at the hospital. When I told her I was already at home, she asked if I could help her out next week.

Kak, doktor refer saya ke clinic psychiatric pulak minggu depan. Saya tak berani la pergi sorang-sorang.”

Oh dear, psychiatric? Has she been having depression? I know she was very depressed initially when she was first diagnosed +ve 5 years ago, but I thought she had gotten over it. Wonder what’s going on now…

I promised to accompany her on her appointment day. Good chance for me to have a long chat with her and to find out what’s going on in her life…

Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Helping the living…

When Shila died about 10 days ago, my main concern then was to ensure her daughter, Laila, would continue to get our support, especially pertaining to her education. So, while I had not planned any visits last week, I did visit Laila on Saturday, not only to discuss about Laila’s needs, but also to hand over the donations I managed to collect from friends.

This week, it’s back to my normal routine of home and clinic visits. It’s the living ones that I have to help, not much I can do for the dead except to doa for them.

When I told Faridah’s sis-in-law last week that the shelter home in KL had agreed to take in Faridah under their care, she agreed to meet up with me during Faridah’s appointment at the hospital on Monday. So yesterday morning, I went over to the hospital, not for clinic duty, but specifically to meet up with Faridah and her SIL. And unlike usual, yesterday I was rather lucky when a car got out of a parking lot right beside the specialist clinic building as I was passing there, and yes, I got myself the nearest parking possible! Such luck – it doesn’t happen often!

It was about 9.30 am then, and Faridah’s SIL told me last week that they should be there around 10 am. But when I went up to the doctor’s room, the nurses told me that Faridah and her SIL had just left. And their appointment wasn’t supposed to be yesterday either… it was supposed to be this morning! The SIL wrongly looked at the date.

Since they had just left, chances were they were still at the hospital. I immediately called the SIL to ask where they were and true enough, they were still at the hospital. The SIL promised to come back up to the clinic to meet me.

Actually they (or more of the SIL, since Faridah herself simply follows whatever people tell her to do) had gone to the clinic this time to ask for a referral letter so that Faridah’s case could be transferred to KL. The intention was that once they got the letter they could immediately send Faridah over to KL. The problem was, they had not informed the clinic of their intention earlier, and so the clinic couldn’t issue the letter there and then. Even the doctor wasn’t in yet.

The nurses promised to call once the letter is done. And although I did tell the SIL to inform me once they decide when exactly they are sending Faridah, so I could alert the person in charge at the shelter home, the SIL thought she’d inform me on the day itself. Aiyo, susahlah like that… what if the people at the shelter home has other programmes on the day? This time when I asked, she said very likely they will send Faridah this week, as soon as they could get the referral letter. So I immediately called up the person in charge at the shelter home to inform her that Faridah would be coming some time this week, without specifying the exact day.

Today I continued with my house visits and delivery groceries. As usual, I’d get more donations during Ramadhan, and so I could buy more groceries and help out more families. I had bought the groceries last week and left them at our centre so this morning I didn’t have to go buy anything, I just went straight to the centre and loaded all the stuff into my car.

First destination was Fuzi’s house. Before I left the centre, I called her first to make sure she was in. She’s not really the type who often goes out anywhere, but I didn’t want to end up going to her house when she’s in Ipoh for her hospital appointment. Apparently she was in Ipoh yesterday for her appointment and so she’s home today. Perfect timing.

When I got to her house, her 3 boys were playing outside while her 2 girls were at school. The 2 boys’ school bus would usually come and fetch them around 11 am, while the youngest, Iwan, is only 5 years old. I got Hafiz and Ijam, 2 older boys to help carry the groceries from my car. Didn’t give anything to Iwan although he offered to help… all the stuff were too heavy for him to carry.

When I told Fuzi about Shila’s death, she was shocked. “Kan masa hari keluarga hari tu, dia elok saja kak? Dia meninggal kerna HIV ya kak?” she asked in her still strong Indonesian accent. I told her Shila’s death had nothing to do with HIV. She had heart problems. The next question Fuzi asked was whether Shila’s body was bathed by people from the hospital although Shila died at home. She thought since Shila had HIV, nobody else would dare bathe the body. Her jaw almost dropped when I told her I handled everything.

Habis tu, kakak pakai segala tutup mulut, apron semua itu?” she asked again.

I told her there was nothing for me to be afraid of as HIV doesn’t get transmitted so easily, to which she responded, “Itulah yang saya hairan kak. Doktor bagitau saya tak mengapa kongsi makanan, pinggan gelas apa bagai, tapi waktu si Ijam masuk hospital seminggu kena denggi hari tu, sakit hati saya kak… semuanya diasingkan untuk Ijam. Makanan pun diberi makanan bungkus bukan dalam tray seperti orang lain. Sampai ada orang tanya saya kenapa begitu.”

Well yes, she’s got a point there. The stigma still exists amongst the hospital staff themselves and naturally other people would think the hospital people should know better than people like me…

Anyway, after leaving Fuzi’s house, I called up Aini. The last time I visited her was at the hospital when she was hospitalised right before our Family Day. And yes, she was home. Her hospital appointment will only be some time middle of this month. I prefer to visit her when her children are at school so we could freely talk about her HIV. None of her children or any other family members know about her HIV.

There was a child with Aini in the house when I got there – the boy Aini babysits. The only source of income for Aini other than the monthly welfare aid of RM300. But the boy knows nothing and Aini herself freely talked about her HIV, the problem with her early ARV etc. I guess it’s not easy having to keep everything to herself, when she got the chance to freely talk about it, she did!

Aini too, when told about Shila’s death, was quite surprised. But she knew that Shila had heart problems.

Saya harap kalau saya mati nanti biarlah kat hospital. Mandi kapan semua kat hospital, tak kecoh sangat kat rumah.”

Both Fuzi and Aini had seen how kecoh it can be when people from the health dept comes to visit at home. And both of them hope when their time comes, they will die at the hospital, not at home; so that all the necessary arrangements can be done at the hospital without any hoo-hahs at home.

But hey, Shila died at home. No hoo-hah for her as nobody from the health department came. I think it would have been a different story if they did.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Visiting the orphan

Exactly a week after Shila passed away, today I decided to pay her family a visit. Her daughter Laila is under our education sponsorship programme, and since it wasn’t the right time to discuss the matter during Shila’s funeral last week, I figured today would be the right time to pay them a visit. Besides, Shila’s main buddy was overseas last week and was not able to attend her funeral, and so when I asked if she’d like to join me for the visit, she immediately agreed.

Before I left the house last week, I told Shila’s mother and sis-in-law to make sure Shila’s handphone is kept on to make it easier for me to contact them. I had promised Shila’s mother that we’d still continue to help out with Laila’s schooling needs. So yesterday when I sent a text message to Shila’s number, saying I’d be coming to visit today, her SIL replied using her own number. I guess Shila’s number ran out of credit to reply my message.

We got to the house at about 11 am as promised. Initially we only saw Shila’s sisters-in-law and the small children. After a while Laila came out with her grandma. The girl looked okay, I think for the moment she is coping quite well without her mother. According to the grandma, the girl’s paternal family did come and visit last week during the funeral, although they were a bit late as they came all the way from another state. Apparently Laila’s paternal grandma did offer to take care of Laila but that would mean a total change of environment for Laila as not only would she have to move to another state, she’d have to change school and she’d be staying with people she’s not quite used to. That girl would probably miss her mother even more!

At least if she continues to stay with her maternal grandma, the only thing she’d have to adjust to is to live without her mother by her side. So the maternal grandma just told the other grandma that they could come take the girl during school holidays. They would have to come and fetch her though…

Anyway, all the while, the monthly pocket money for Laila under the sponsorship programme goes direct into Laila’s own bank account. So we don’t have to worry about changing the standing instructions to the bank. Today we just wanted to make it clear to Laila’s grandma that anything to do with the girl’s schooling needs is covered by the funds, but they’d have to tell us if there are any expenses needed out of the ordinary because we wouldn’t know unless we’re told.

I asked how Laila goes to school. I know previously Shila herself used to send her daughter to school on a motorbike. However according to the grandma, ever since Shila became unwell of late, she sought the help of a relative to send Laila to school. The relative isn’t so well-to-do either, so she gives RM30 per month to the relative to send the girl to school and fetch her after school. Looks like beginning this month I will have to add another RM30 to the bank’s monthly standing instructions to cover for transport.

When Shila was alive, she used to get a financial aid of RM250 per month from Baitulmal. The amount went into her bank account every month. Hopefully Baitulmal will now consider giving the aid for Laila instead, under the grandma’s name. The grandma has yet to go to the Baitulmal office, according to her she plans to go this coming week. Hopefully her plea will be considered. But that, even if approved, may take some time to be processed. They need money, especially with Raya coming soon.

Before we left, I passed an envelope containing some cash to the grandma. The money had been donated by my friends who banked in the amount into my account, meant to cover for Laila’s needs. I think the grandma didn’t expect to get the cash – she seemed quite surprised. Earlier on I only mentioned about wanting to discuss Laila’s schooling needs, nothing else. The amount should be enough to cover their Raya expenses. My colleague then mentioned to Laila about our Family Day and that she’s welcomed to join us for our future Family Day events. Laila had always looked forward to our Family Day when she gets to enjoy herself. At this point, I could see tears dwelling in the grandma’s eyes.

“Memang dia seronok sangat yang pergi hari tu,” said the grandma. That was probably the last time Shila and Laila had their photo taken together. I passed them the photo when I brought the two for makan-makan in Ipoh about a month ago. I bet Laila will treasure that photo forever…

 

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

Facing the deaths of my clients

Having been a volunteer with Buddies for more than 7 years now, and being the one assigned with the most clients, having to face the deaths of my clients is something I have to go through, like it or not. And before you misunderstand me and start thinking that those diagnosed HIV+ don’t have much time to live, please bear in mind that many of these clients had been diagnosed many years ago… or for some, by the time they were tested, their condition were already bad. And there were a few too, who succumbed to other diseases, not HIV-related.

So far 11 of the clients whom I knew and had personally met, had passed on, while another one, Makcik Minah, to whom I was assigned to but never got the chance to meet as she never answered my calls, died a lonely death, at the age of 74.

Out of the 11 whom I had met, I attended the funerals of 5 of them. The other 6, either I wasn’t around on the day of their funeral, or I was only told about them later.

The first of my client’s death I had to face was that of Rose. Although she had been a client of Buddies since way back in 1999, I was only assigned as her buddy in 2006. Before that Buddies didn’t have a single Malay volunteer, and so when I got in, and the other volunteers managed to track Rose (after going missing for some time), I was immediately assigned as her buddy. By then she had been diagnosed with CA of the cervix, and her cancer had spread. I only got to know her for about 2 1/2 months, but grew rather close to her as I was always helping her with her hospital appointments etc. She was poor and weak, I simply didn’t have the heart to let her go to the hospital on her own by taking a bus. Besides, I think if she had no choice but to take a bus, she’d probably skip her appointments altogether. Rose died at the Palliative Care Unit at the hospital, and the very same morning, her sister called me up to inform me of her death, as Rose had specifically told her sister to inform me should anything happened to her. I did go to the house to help out the family, but Rose’s body was bathed and prepared at the hospital and so there wasn’t really much to do at home.

The next client was Azman, Yah’s husband. At that time, Yah, still a very strong determined lady, had problems with her in-laws. Azman, other than HIV, had mental problems as well, and about one week before his death, I had to help bring Azman home from the hospital as none of his siblings were willing – giving all sorts of excuses. I did go to visit when Yah called to inform me of Azman’s death. Since he died at home, the family called the hospital people to help manage his body. The Health Dept people who came, not only made their presence obvious, they also dug a hole outside the house, obvious to everyone, poured Clorox into the hole and then buried Azman’s clothes inside it. Needless to say, the neighbours became suspicious, and within the day, the whole neighbourhood knew Azman had HIV.

Then there was Lily, whom I didn’t get to know too long either. She too, like Yah, had problems with her in-laws. As a matter of fact, when her late husband was diagnosed HIV+, her in-laws simply took him to stay with them in another state and nobody bothered to tell her about his HIV. She only found out about it when she got her husband’s death cert, and when she & her children went for blood tests, she and her youngest child, were tested +ve. But Lily died from dengue, not HIV. I did attend Lily’s funeral, in fact I followed the family from the hospital’s mortuary to her father’s kampong where she was buried.

Another client, Rashid, died on the 3rd day of Raya. It being Raya week, I made sure I took a break from voluntary work so I could spend time with my own family members. It wasn’t easy though. What with Hana (Rashid’s wife) texting me to say she needed me as she didn’t know what to do, I did feel somewhat restless with the situation. But I had promised to go elsewhere with a few of my family members on that particular day, and my policy had always been, family comes first. However, I did entertain Hana’s calls, and taught her through the phone on how to go about doing things at the hospital before bringing Rashid’s body home for the funeral. And by the end of the day, I did call her again to make sure everything was settled.

2 days after Rashid died, came Rina’s turn. Yes, both within the first week of Raya. But by the time I got the call from Rina’s brother informing me that Rina had passed on, my siblings had gone back to their respective homes, and so I did make it a point to visit, not only to pay my last respects, but also to give moral support to her family, especially her mother whom I had met a few times. At first I went to her mother’s house, but nobody seemed to be there. Then I called the brother, who told me that they were making all the necessary arrangements at the hospital, and then from the hospital straight to the grave. So I just went to the mortuary, and met her mother there.

Next on the list was Rose’s brother. Yes, he too was HIV+ although how they got infected had nothing to do with each other. Rose, through her husband, while her brother, through IDU. Rose’s death didn’t stop her family members, particularly her sisters from keeping in touch with me (even now they still send me text messages from time to time), and I was the one they consulted to help arrange for a hospital appointment for their brother. I did help out, but the brother only went once, and defaulted after that. When his condition worsened, the sisters called me again to ask what they should do. So I just told them to bring him to the hospital. Not much could be done by then, but at least they could help reduce the pain. He died within the same week after the sisters called me. But I didn’t attend his funeral as I already had prior engagements.

Then there was AJ. I was never in touch with AJ (although I did meet him once), but had been liaising with his wife (who had been spared from the virus, alhamdulillah) who had sought moral and emotional support from me. AJ himself seemed to have given up on his life the moment he was diagnosed +ve, and so he didn’t fight it. When AJ died, I was in KL and so I didn’t visit. I did however, followed up with his wife and children when I came back to Ipoh to assess the family’s needs.

Another client, Hamidah, whom I met at the hospital during my clinic duty, died that very same night. With all the problems that she had, I was still trying to figure out how I could help her when a nurse from the district hospital where she was hospitalised called me to inform me of her death. I had actually told them I may visit her, and so they quickly called me up the next morning to save me the trouble from visiting.

Another client I had met once was Roslan. He wasn’t keen on the idea of us visiting him at home as he didn’t want his neighbours to get suspicious. So yes, we met him outside, and to help arrange for financial assistance for his family, we promised to meet up again so he could pass us all the necessary supporting documents. But our calls after that were never answered and text messages were never replied, leading us to think that he didn’t want us to get involved. Later, I managed to get hold of his wife, and found out that he had died. And so much for not wanting us to visit to avoid suspicions by the neighbours, when he died, the Health Dept people went to visit and supervised the pengurusan jenazah at home, and gave clear instructions asking the family to use Clorox etc. The whole neighbourhood found out he had HIV.

Jeff was another client whom I had met, and in fact visited at his mother’s house. But he had long decided that he didn’t want to go for follow-up visits to the hospital and since he didn’t go for his appointments, neither did his wife, Faridah, who was also confirmed +ve. I lost touch with them after that visit… until recently when Faridah was brought to the hospital by her sister-in-law who just found out about the couple’s HIV status.  Jeff had passed on about 10 days earlier at home, and like in Roslan’s case, with the obvious presence of the Health Dept people (and whatever else that they did when they were there), those who were present found out.

The last (so far) of my clients’ death I had to face was that of Shila, who died just recently… the first case that I was fully involved in the pengurusan jenazah. I made sure I didn’t do anything to cause any suspicion amongst those present. It wasn’t necessary at all. There was nothing to worry about, I know for a fact HIV doesn’t spread that easily and while I did take precautions, nothing I did was really out of the ordinary to cause any suspicions.

I know Shila’s death won’t be the last I have to face (unless of course, my turn comes before anybody else’s) and since death is something I have learnt to accept, I believe I am capable of facing them calmly. It doesn’t matter if some people think that I have no feelings…

Monday, 1 August 2011

Arranging for a shelter home…

When I texted SN on Saturday to inform her of Shila’s passing, despite it being her off day, SN immediately called me back as she too, like the rest of us, was shocked with the news.

And since she was already on the line with me, SN took the opportunity to ask about Faridah (see my earlier posting here). I told SN I had not called the shelter home to ask if they’d accept Faridah, because when I spoke to Faridah’s sister-in-law last week, I was made to understand that both sides of the family agreed that even if Faridah were to leave her MIL’s home, it should be after her iddah is over.

When I told SN that they wanted to wait until Faridah’s iddah is over, and that would be in another 4 months time, SN got worried. Due to Faridah’s condition (she had defaulted her appointments before this and her CD4 had gone down) the doctor wants her to start her antiretroviral (ARV) soonest. However, if she continues to stay with her MIL, we can be very sure she will not be compliant in taking her ARV.

You can teach Faridah that she’s supposed to take her medication, say at 10 am for example, but Faridah isn’t even able to tell the time. Seriously! And since her MIL is also unwell, we can’t depend on her MIL to be reminding her either. And nobody else stays there with them. In other words, for as long as Faridah continues to stay with her MIL, there is no point letting her start her ARV. Her side of the family, as mentioned in my earlier posting, is not willing to take her to stay with them, which was why they wanted her to go to a shelter home.

I had earlier agreed to help them find a place for Faridah after her iddah is over – at that time I had not discussed with SN or the doctor about her condition. But after listening to SN, I must agree that the sooner Faridah gets proper care, the better.

So this morning I called up the person in charge at a shelter home for HIV+ Muslim women, and she had no problem accepting Faridah anytime. I then called up Faridah’s SIL, the one I met last week. After explaining things to her, she too agreed that maybe we shouldn’t wait until the iddah is over. I also asked if they could arrange to send Faridah to KL themselves, and by the sound of it, I think it shouldn’t be a problem. Since she will be bringing Faridah for another appointment in Ipoh GH next week, we agreed to meet up and discuss matters further then. I’d need them to decide on a date so I can inform the person in charge at the shelter home.

So far the women I had arranged to send to shelter homes had been young 20-something year old women. This is the first time I’m arranging to send an HIV+ woman who’s almost half a century old to a shelter home. Well, at least part 1 of the problem is settled…