Friday, March 14, 2008

He did it, that is my son Khairul Syazwan aka Besor

He did it, with flying colours at that!
Not many, save for us, believe that he could do it
That is our son, Khairul Syazwan, or Iwan, or Acik , or Besor to his rugby chums

I was at Istana Abu Bakar when he personally called me
He told his Mama that he would call me personally
"Aboh, Acik dapat 6 A!" he was so full of zest
"A1 English, Perdagangan, Sains, EST....A2 Seni dan Ugama...Yang lain B3 dan B4

WOW! That's was what I could say in such a time
I was so very very happy

Acik was indeed a very happy boy, to say the least
He was restless as soon as it was announced that SPM result would be out on 12 Mac
He was impatient to show to the world that rugby players could be good students too
He had beautiful dreams many nights before the results
Dreams about him scoring many A's

Looking back when he was in Form 3, 4 and 5...
He was an avid rugby player since Form 1 in BM High School...
From a chubby slow-moving boy in Form 1 he had proven himself that...
He could do anything if he put his mind to it...

Still remember him saying that he might be too slow for the game...
His first coach prodded him to try and never to give up...
I told him he has the body for rugby
Soon he became a rugby player...playing for the under-18 team when he was 14...

In SMK Gunung Rapat he excelled as a rugby player...
I pushed him from every aspect in rugby...
I never missed his games...
Because I was so often at his games that I was elected Deputy President of Kesatuan Ragbi Perak
Out of great love of rugby, I was always very supportive of him and his rugby chums
I was basically their adopted father...
Bringing them to match venues....
Bringing food to them...
Giving moral support when their morale was low...
Writing to NST when they were unjustly labelled as school crooks...
Writing to NST when they played well even without a coach...
WRiting to NST when the school dropped the sport science as a subject...

Rugby, to me had changed him...
Still remember the time when his Principal called him...
Whe he decided to join Form 4P2...
To her he was too good for the class...
4P2 was the last least to their eyes...
I supported him for his decision...
But I always remind him not to be influenced by the majority...
To show good examples and to give good influence to his rather 'left-out' classmates...
That he did brilliantly...
He was the model student of the class (his class teacher told me so)

Coming back to rugby...
He continued to play well..
Once he even gave his school the winning try against STAR...
He was so happy after that...

Rugby took a lot of his class time...
He missed school for 1-2 months in Form 4 and 5 too...
I was not that worried..
For I knew he knew it...

When I was transferred to Pahang he decided to stay put in SMKGR..
At firts we were worried...
But he reassured us that it would be ok...

His short life in the hostel did him wonders...
In that short time he put all his effort in academics...

When SPM came, he was confident..
Even though he did badly in his SPM trials..

After SPM he boldly told us that he could scare 5 - 7 A's...
We were surprised at his great confidence...
He surprised us more when he saif he could score an A for Perdagangan...

It was true...
He did fantastically good in his SPM...
He scored 6 A's and 4 B's..

He changed his academic plan...
He switched from Sports science to Architecture as his first priority...
I just cannot wait to see him being accepted as an Architect student....


Thursday, March 6, 2008


I am losing my fight against leukaemia....

"Please write and publish my story so that others will understand what suffering from childhood leukaemia is all about..."

Whenever I felt strong enough I spent most of my time doing whatever I felt like doing. However, Aboh would always make sure that I did not over-exert myself. I was also very close to my brother Khairul Syazwan who resembled me both in looks and personality.

Some time in July 1991 I overheard Dr Raja Khuzaiah telling Aboh that at the moment I was all right physically, but that tissue matching should be done on my siblings to determine my bone-marrow donor should the situation require a bone marrow transplant.

So some times in August that year we went to KLGH for the test. It was pitiful to hear Syazwan screaming away while his blood sample was being taken.

As for my sister and elder brother, it was a quick one, but they were really angry at the doctor.

For me there was nothing much to it. The test showed that only my sister could be my donor.

Suddenly in late August 1991, I began to have bad headaches, especially at night. Altough I did not tell Aboh and Ma about the pains, they were quick to know as I was restless at night and I was also feverish most of the times.

During my monthly check-up in September 1991, Aboh revealed my problem to Dr Rahman and Dr Raja Khuzaiah.

She did a thorough physical examination on me including my eyes. She decided on a spinal tap to see why I was having those headaches.

Thinking that the test would not show anything, we all went home after that. I was glad that I was not hospitalised.

At about 3.30 pm the next day the phone rang and Ma quickly picked it up. Then she began to cry...

"What's wrong?" I asked myself. Still crying, Ma contacted Aboh in his office with the disturbing news - a lot of cells had been found in my cerebrospinal fluid.

Aboh came back immediately and dialled Dr Rahman. Aboh was asked to bring me as soon as possible to KLGH for I was likely to have a central nervous system relapse.

We left for KL very early in the morning. I cried before and all along the way. I did not know why, but I just did not feel like going to the hospital this time. Neighbours in the farm all came to see what was wrong with me.

I was admitted for the first time into the Institute of Pediatrics ward KK 7. I saw familiar faces there and that prevented me from becoming too depressed.

Once again my cerebrospinal fluid was taken for a test. It was finaly confirmed - I was undergoing a central nervous system relapse.

Dr Raja Khuzaiah began discussing my condition with Aboh. She gave her solemn word that she would do her best to expedite my bone-marrow transplant. She said she would explore all the possible ways to get the transplant done on me.

I was sent for a CAT scan to ascertain what was wrong with my brain. What an experience it was! They could not see anything wrong with my brain but I was getting weaker all the time.

My legs were painful to the touch and I could not move them without screaming in pain. Aboh had to carry me everywhere.

Dr Rahman ordered my legs to be x-rayed. On the way to the X-ray room I had a long chat with Aboh. I told him not to forget to write down my story so that others would know the plight of of children suffering from leukaemia.

The x-ray showed no abnormality in my legs, but the pain persisted and it was getting unbearable.

I was realy humiliated when one doctor accused me of being over-pampered because I had screamed and cried when he examined my legs.

Aboh was furious and gave the doctor a piece of his mind by telling him that I was not that sort of a boy, there must be something wrong with me or I would not have behaved that way.

My condition deteriorated. Dr Raja Khuzaiah ordered me to have intrathecal injections of methotrexate on alternate days. The regime was too painful for me to bear, but what choice did I have? Blue bruises were clearly seen all along the lumbar region of my backside.

I was feeling very weak by now and the energy seemed to have drained away from my frail body.

There were pains everywhere in my muscles, my joints and my head. I had lost my appetite altogether. Food and water did not seem important to me anymore. The presence of Aboh and ma did not comfort me like before. I did not know why, I just felt like asking them to leave me alone.

As I lay quite motionless on the bed, I realised that my days in this beautiful world were coming to the end.

I did not know what death was, but my young eyes had witnessed many of my friends passing away in the ward. Mine would be a short life...but I thought it would be better this way - less burden physically and mentally on both my family and myself.

Before leaving this temporary world for a more permanent one, and before I went to see Allah, the most merciful and compassionate, I gave Aboh the mandate to continue my story the best he could so that I did not leave this world with something uncompleted.

Even when he was still physically strong, he had repeatedly asked me to write something about his life - the life of a boy so young having to face such a daunting and uncertain disease as leukaemia, so that others would know what it was like - the pain, the fever, the blood transfusions, the painful procedures, the endless hospitalization and worst of all, the fear and physical trauma the disease inflicts on all involved.

Adik's condition was pitiful; he was emaciated, lying prone in the bed with the expression I had not seen before. It was somewhat like being in a trance or being sedated. He was clearly in great pain.

What worried me most was that he did not eat or drink anything. He did not even show any feeling at my presence - it was not like before, when he would always be jovial every time I paid him a visit. Now he would not even speak to me.

He continued in that semi-conscious state. He was always mumbling something I could not make out. His condition worsened. He suddenly passed out reddish urine - haematuria.

He was immediately treated to stop the bleeding. Several times he asked me to take him to the toilet but there was nothing. He urinated pure blood a few times that day. His internal bleeding had not been arrested!

In his half-awake state, he began asking both of us to be close to him, to hold him and lie down besides him on the bed. I could not control myself. I cried openly as I held him, cuddled him and kissed his cheeks. He was so light...

"Adik rindu pada Syazwan..." he released his feelings in a sad slow voice.

Then it finally dawn on me that I was losing him, Adik was losing his battle with leukaemia. I began to read Yaasin verses while fondling his fine hair. Then he fell asleep. With a heavy heart I left him for Selayang.

While I was just getting into the slumber world, I was rudely awakened by Razak knocking on the door. Razak told me that the hospital called. Adik was in critical condition. He rushed me to the hospital.

As I made my way into ward KK7, the ward was busy with doctors and nurses running here and there. I saw doctors surrounding Adik's bed.

My wife was sobbing in a chair in one corner of the room. One of the doctors called me and said that Adik's blood pressure was alarmingly low, most probably due to serious internal bleeding.

Adik was put on dopamine and oxygen. I saw Adik struggling uncomfortably when he was stripped naked.

When Adik's blood pressure was once again detectable, the doctors left the room. My wife was still sobbing. Adik was lying on the bed with eyes half-closed. His lips were dry and my wife constantly wetted them with water.

"Ma, air..." Adik begged.

My wife gave him a cup of water and brought it to his lips.

"Tak nak air tu...Adik nak air lain..."

We were flabbergasted, how on earth did he know that the water had been used to wet his lips? My wife quickly gave him a fresh cup of water. He drank it slowly.

"Aboh, sakit.." Adik exclaimed in a low shivering voice pointing to his belly.

Adik's breathing was becoming more and more difficult. I read him a few verses from the Quran and whispered them into his ears.

Realizing that his breathing was becoming abnormally difficult, my wife rushed to call the doctor on duty.

To my surprise the doctor, who was not familiar with Adik, told us there was nothing wrong with Adik's breathing. I was annoyed with his explanation. Being a Veterinarian, I knew what a dyspnoea looked like.

Adik's breathing was getting shallower and his lips were turning blue. I read him a few more verses from the Quran. My wife was crying in the arms of a friend.

She could not bear to witness it all. I was all alone by the side of my boy when, peacefully he breathed his last breath. I had lost our beloved son, our intelligent, good-natured and mature boy.

Adik passed away at 2.15 am 7 October 1991, after suffering from leukaemia for one year, two months and one day.

His departure was a great loss to us, but he had taught us a great deal about being rave, patient and positive. We grew stronger as a family. We submitted to the will of Allah. May Allah bless his soul and place him amongst His beloved.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


You could not understand how painful it was with these mouth ulcers.

They gave me bad breath and to hasten recovery my mouth had to be washed daily. During these washings the mucous membrane was sometimes stripped off together with some specks of blood clots.

The procedure was so painful that I could not bear to stay still and watch while the assistant nurses were busy pulling away strands of dead tissues which were formerly a part of me.

The process normally made me bleed profusely and it took some time for the bleeding to stop completely. My lips became swollen and I felt like a losing heavyweight boxer after completing a 15-round bout.

The third side effect was to greatly increase my appetite such that, believe it or not, I finished two plates of chicken rice in one go - and was still asking for more afterwards.

Aboh had to work overtime buying me all sorts of food. Soon I grew pretty fat and double-chinned. I became a plump, round-faced kid instead of a skinny one. The transformation was so great that, on one occassio, my aunties coould not recognise me.

Life in the ward was getting more interesting especially when I was physically well. The moments I disliked most were the treatment sessions, when they brought me to the treatment room for taking blood sample, resetting my intravenous set and worst still for spinal tap and bone marrow biopsy.

Every patient, even a three-month-old baby, would cry when brought into the room. It was a torture chamber for us.

Mondays and Thursdays were the two days we loathed. One these two days our arms, hands and even our fingers were pricked to obtain enough blood for all sorts of tests. You could hear all types of screams if you happened to pass by the room.

I usually screamed and cried every time my hand was pricked, but despite the ear-piercing cry, I rarely struggled or kicked at the doctors while they were doing their jobs. In this aspect I agreed with Aboh who repeatedly told me that 'we had to be cruel to be kind' in treating such a dreaded disease as leukemia.

After completing my chemotherapy, I had to undergo radiotherapy. Since radiotherapy sessions were on alternate days and each normally took only three minutes, DR Raja Khuzaiah allowed us to stay outside the ward.

Aboh was very pleased on hearing this for now he had solved one problem that had been worrying him all along - finding someone to look after Ma during her pregancy.

Looking back to the days when I was in critical condition, I knew that Aboh had gone all out to be by my side and at the same time look after Ma's welfare.

While undergoing radiotherapy we stayed at my relative's house in Selayang. All in all, I went through ten radiotherapy sessions.

The first night at Selayang Ma began to have her labour pains. Without delay Aboh, Ma and I rushed to the Maternity Hospital in Kuala Lumpur.

I was left alone in the car, for as you all knew, children under 12 were not allowed into the ward. I could not describe how frightened I was being left all alone in the car. Mind you, it was well past midnight then. Aboh was running up and down, between delivery room and the car to see that the two of us were safe.

While with me, Aboh coaxed me into staying in the car by saying that we sometimes had to scarifice for Ma. I understood and told him, between sobs, that it was all right. I would be brave for her.

At around 12.30 am Ma delivered a baby boy, Khairul Syazwan. How happy I was when Aboh broke the news to me.

At about two in the morning we left for Selayang since I had to undergo my first radiotherapy session the next morning.

After the session we left for Sungai Siput, Perak. I was glad that after three and a half months in the hospital, I could taste, once again, the fresh air of the farm that I loved.

My health was still not so good. I still felt weak, tired and sad. Before leaving the hospital I was supplied with a bottle of 6-MP tablets and made to understand that I would be hooked to them for 2 and a half years.

I had to be checked at KLGH every two weeks. I was still pale. They warded me everytime I came for my forthnightly check-up. My hemoglobin level was always low and I had to be given blood transfusion. Only when the hemoglobin level was over 10 and there were no more fever I would be allowed to go home.

The check-ups continue for another three months. When my hemoglobin level was constantly high again I was told to come once a month. Oh, what a relief! But Dr Jeny would always advise me to come back to the ward if I were to have fever or any other signs of the disease.

FRom the middle of January 1991 onwards, my health was much better. I was no longer pale and my hair started to regrow. Soon I had a fine head of hair. It was a lovely feeling to have hair again.

So many people were startled to see the change in me. They all said that I had blood again and that I had become a handsome boy once more. Yes, of course I was happy, but deep inside I was not that sure.

Through my discussions with Aboh I sensed that he still had doubts about my condition. He always encouraged me to be brave and positive. After having passed critical times I began to have confidence in getting well.

Aboh and Ma were surprised to see me swallowing the bitter prednisolone tablets without being forced to as was formerly the case. I just wanted to get well, that was all there was to it. There was no other way except to follow the doctor's orders.

So great was my enthusiasm for recovery that one day Aboh jokingly said that it was better not to go to the clinic anymore for I was well and no longer needed those painful procedures and botter drugs. I rejected his suggestion and insisted that I should not miss the check-ups, not for anything.

During my check-ups I received some sad news - my favourite Dr Jenny was going away. As far as I coyld remember no doctor could come close to her, in terms of dedication, caring and most important of all, as a friend to the many leukemia patients.

I also saw that a number of my ward companuions had passed away, one by one, due to the illness. Nobody could read my mind and tell how frightened I was, thinking about it.

To be continued


On a cool, misty morning 11 August 1990, we went to KLGH - Ma and I in the ambulance and Aboh and sis in our car. It was pitiful to see Ma in her condition to travel cramped in the van. She was expecting another child at the time.

I was put in ward K6 of the Childen's hospital. In the ward I noticed there were many others who were in the same boat with me. Gradually I made friends with some of them and also with the staffs. Though I was still giving problems to the doctors and nurses, my uncooperativeness was fast disappearing.

I began to make friends with my consultant doctor, Dr Raja Khuzaiah, Dr Jenny, Dr Anita, Dr Rozini and many others whose names - but not good deeds and tender loving care - I had forgotten. I became friendly with the nurses and called them aunty instead of crying whenever they touched me.

I was still pale despite the umpteenth bags of blood transfused into my body. I was so pale that Matron Rohana referred to me as 'the pale boy from Ipoh'.

After about two weeks in K6, I was transferred to K5, the first class ward. I liked it beter because I had a separate room, the food was better and the nurses were much friendlier.

But most of all, I liked it because Ma was provided with a separate bed and she could at last put her over-worked and tired body into a more comfortable bed instead of the back-breaking easy-chair.

My fever persisted despite antibiotic injections. I had to be sponged many times to bring down my body temperature - a procedure I disliked because I had to be stripped naked in the process and this really embarrassed me, more so with the nurses doing the sponging.

The paleness too did not improve much though many bags of blood had been transfused into my veins. I wondered where on earth all the blood disappeared to.

One morning Aboh was shocked to see that my stool was dark red in colour. He immediately reported it to the doctor and was told that I was suffering from internal bleeding due to the low platelet level in my blood. The problem continued for a few days and to combat it I was given platelet transfusion.

The bleeding did not stop. I saw Aboh being called by Dr Jenny. I knew that something was gravely wrong with me. Aboh did not tell me what it was, but I guessed it it was a serious problem because I noticed that Aboh was always nearby, night or day.

To investigate the problem, they performed gastric aspiration on me. A long gastric tube was forced down my nose and throat straight into my stomach. A few milliliters of iced water was syringed into my stomach - wow it was cold! Then my stomach contents were syringed out again.

Everybody, including myself was surprised and worried over what we saw coming out of my stomach into the kidney bowl : blood clots mixed with partially digested food. How eerie!

The ticklish nature of the tube made me vomit and there it was, more fresh blood clots! On seeing this, Dr Jenny immediately gave a 'nil-orally' order and so began my out- of- Ramadan fasting. No food, water nor anything except medicine could be allowed into my stomach!

Words could not describe how frustrating it was for me not being able to to have anything for breakfast, lunch, tea or dinner. I could not understand why they were doing this to me. Being a boy with a hearty appetite, I suffered extreme hunger pangs. I begged for food everytime I saw Aboh. He would tactfully avoid the word food whenever he confronted me. I was on dextrose drips all throughout my fasting.

They said that dextrose drips would give me energy, but to me, this was a little use if my throat was parched and hunger pangs still haunted me. I began to recollect all my favourite dishes.

Everytime I met Aboh I begged him for food. He was speechless and could not explain or make me understand why I had to go on fasting. On one or two occassions I remembered seeing Aboh crying openly on hearing my incessant pleas.

Failing to understand why I had to go off food and water for so long I even asked Aboh if it was because he had no more money. My craving for fried chickens, doughnuts, milk and chocolate was so great that I often dreamed of food.

I grew emaciated over time. Bony protuberances were clearly seen and I was so weak that I could hardly move my legs. The fasting went on for 10 long days.

Only on the eleventh day I was allowed to take in fluids. The first thing that went into my stomach was my favourite - milk.

I was glad that the 10-day ordeal was finally over. Since my condition was was stable at the moment, the doctor finally ordered induction course chemotherapy for me.

Being always afraid of medicines and injections, I found the course a real test. A battle raged inside my mind - the battle between the strong will to get better and the bad influience saying that the drug was bitter, the injection painful, so why bother cooperating.

From Aboh I knew some of the names of the drugs used on me - they were prednisolone - the bitter one, VP 16 which was given intravenously, Methotrexate and a few others that I did not remember.

These drugs, with their cytotoxic nature, began to cause side effects. The first victim was my beautiful black hair, which started falling and soon became so sparse that you could clearly see the scalp.

Within lessthan 2 weeks, my head was nearly bald, save for a few strands. Gone too were my eyebrows and most of the hair on my body.

I felt so inferior with my almost-hairless head that Aboh had to get me a cap to cover the head rom the belittling stares of those who did not understand.

THe second side effect was worse. Ulcers began to develop in mu mouth.

To be continued...


Before my five-year old son Khairul Syakirin passed away due to leukemia in October 1991, he repeatedly asked me to write down his story so that others would know what suffering the disease was like for a child. I promised him that I will write. At first I wrote his story in Malay and sent it to Utusan Malaysia but sadly it was not published. Then I rewrote it in English and sent it to The New Straits Times and it was published as a four part story, beginning on 9 June 1992.

This is the first part of Syakirin's story....

I was used to hearing my mother, whom I called Ma, being bombarded with questions about why I looked pale.

Being a boy of just over four, I did not pay much attention to the questions. Actually I was quite a fair-skinned boy - this could be the reason they mistook my fairness for being pale. I was feeling all right really.... wishe you all could see me rode my bike.

I was quite an active boy. In fact, my father ('Aboh' to me), often labelled me 'overactive' for I always running here and there, climbing whatever interested me and more often than not, causing Ma to lose her temper!

But sometimes all those questions did lower my self-confidence and like many adults, I felt scared too, at times.

"What's wrong with me? Am I sick or something? I guess not, for I feel as fit as a fiddle. Nothing can be really wrong with me." I began to have a dialogue with my inner self, especially when my self-confidence was too low for my comfort.

I was Khairul Syakirin, but my family preferred to call me simply as 'Adik'. Actually I was the youngest child in the family, at least for a while since no younger member of the family was anywhere in sight as yet!

My father was a Veterinarian whom I adored second only to my mother. From him I knew that I was born on July 23, 1986, which was two weeks earlier than expected, and a day later than Aboh's birthday.

I guess I was too eager and impatient to see, feel and enjoy the beautiful sunshine and fine Malaysian scenery.

True enough, even before I was barely two, many of the beaches, streams and parks in Terengganu had felt my presence.

Even as a toddler, I had shown an inclination to enjoy mother nature. I preferred the stillness of parks and the invitingly cool streams rather than the hustle and bustle of city life, crowded shopping complexess and, worst of all, I really despised visiting someone's house just to hera adults chatting over trivia.

For this, I was liked by Aboh, for he too disliked wasting time over nothing.

One day I woke up feeling dead tired. I had never felt that way before. I could not keep up with Aboh any longer, especially during our usual exploring of the farm's deer unit.

I had lost the stamina, the endless energy reserves that I used to have before. I was beginning to tire easily.

I could not remember exactly when I first felt the pain in the left side of my neck. It was so painful that I could barely turn my head without having to turn my entire body. There was something wrong with my collar bone. It was slightly swollen.

Thinking that I might have sprained my neck during my numerous previous falls, Aboh brought me to see an Indian medicine man in Jelapang who was said to be good in treating sprains and mending broken bones. I was really scared when I saw many grown-ups crying in pain when they were handled by the medicine man. When my turn came, I really was so painful.

He told Aboh that I suffered quite a serious injury from one of my falls. I was not that convinced by his explanation, but true to his word, the pain did vanish from my neck area. But that was not all... there were more pains to come.

In the next few days the pain strangely shifted to the knees. The pain was so excruciating that I was barely able to stand, let alone walk. I had to be carried everywhere, even to the toilet - just like a baby.

I also began to have fever, not a very high one, but it lingered on for days despite Ma forcing Paraetamol syrup down my throat. My lymph nodes, especially the superficial ones around my jaw, seemed to grow in size.

I was getting paler as time went by. Only then I I realised that the neighbours were right after all. When I looked into the mirror, which I normally did after my bath, I felt sad as the boy staring back at me was very pale and weak, not the boy who used to be full of vigour and life.

My tummy was also beginning to swell. I felt so uneasy because the big tense abdomen made breathing so difficult and I felt so inferior and embarassed whenever someone stared at me.

My belly was so big that it outsized most of my pants and I could hardly zip any of them up. This troubled me a lot since I preferred my shirt properly tucked in. I really took the trouble always to look smart.

One night I overheard Aboh telling Ma that he was worried about my condition. I pitied him for I knew deep down his heart he would have wanted to bring me right away to the hospital.

As a sort of compromise, they decided to sed me to a faith-healer in Kuala Terengganu.

So one Saturday afternoon, off we went to Kuala Terengganu. We arrived late but that very night I was brought to see the faith healer.

Many were waiting, but on seeing my sorry condition, they all allowed me to cut the line. I resented being handled by strangers. I struggled and screamed my heart out the minute the faith healer touched my swollen belly.

It was quite impossible for him to properly examine me.

He told Aboh that I was suffering from a kind of liver disease. According to him, my liver was greatly enlarged and he had to perform a 'surgery' on me to correct it. We were told to come back in a week's time.

We did come back, but as expected, I was struggling and uncooperative so they cancelled the surgery. On the way back, I was brought to see a private clinic for a second opinion. The doctor examined me thoroughly despite my protests and told Aboh that I was suffering from a form of blood disorder.

The doctor asked Aboh to bring me to Ipoh General Hospital for proper diagnosis and treatment.

My condition was getting worse. I felt tired and weak. I could hardly breathe and open my eyes. I felt like dozing off every time I was awake.

So on the morning of 6 August 1990, I was sent to Ipoh Hospital. After just taking a casual look at my condition, the doctor told Aboh that I was probably suffering from leukemia. Aboh was scolded for not bringing me earlier. I was put in the ward K6.

Being the way I was, I made everybody's life difficult during the first few days in the ward. I cried most of the time. I would not allow doctors to examine me without a fight. I was referred to as a very uncooperative patient. I did not even allow the nurses to take my body temperature and blod pressure.

I knew I had embarrassed my parents for my behaviour. Sorry Ma sorry Aboh. I could not help myself - I was terrified of the ward's environment, the smell of medicines and the strange faces.

Mind you, I was just four...I had seen bigger boys behaving worse.

Every time I saw Aboh coming, I would always be busy packing my things, ready to go home. I really missed home.

In the ward, I was immediately given blood transfusion and antibiotic cover. To confirm my sickness, the doctors performed what they called 'bone marrow aspiration' on me. What a very very painful procedure it turned out to be.

Imagine, I had to bear the frequent poking of long needles into my buttocks. Though I was put on Ketamine, I was aware of all that they were 'practising' on me.

The pain was so great that I lost control of my myself and passed motion on the bed. Thank goodness I was made to wear diapers! I saw tears streaming down Aboh's cheeks when he saw the horrible-looking blue bruises on my backside.

It was finally confirmed that I was suffering from leukemia - Acute Lymphobalstic Leukemia, to be more exact, or just ALL in short. It was Aboh who told me all these fancy- sounding terms.

The doctors told Aboh I had to be sent to Kuala Lumpur General Hospital for furher treatment. The moment Aboh heard the news, I saw a worried look on his face, for he knew what kind of problems he had to face soon.

After overcoming the shock, Aboh contacted my grandparents back home telling them the sad news....

To be continued

Monday, March 3, 2008

Living in USA - Part 10

My application for a travel award from Pfizer had been accepted. It came as a surprise, even to my major Professor, that I got the travel award for there were many applicants asking for it. I was awarded US$500 to cover a part of my travel expenses for my trip to Cancun, Mexico. My department paid the remainder of my expenses.

I was asked to present a poster of the results of my research works at the 45th Western Poultry Disease Conference in Cancun, Mexico. At the meeting, I felt so good when one of the speakers, a well-known coccidiosis expert, said, “There is a group of people in Georgia doing some good works on detection of sub-clinical coccidiosis. You all should go and have a look at their poster presentation.”

Many interested people came to my posters after that. They were impressed with the results of my works. For that, I was offered a job opportunity in a few poultry companies! I was tempted to take their offer, but thinking that money was not everything and there was the contract with the government that I had to fulfil, I had to say thanks but no thanks to the offers. If I were still a bachelor and not attached to any contract, I would surely have accepted their offer.

While enjoying the beautiful beaches at Cancun, I received some disturbing news from Athens. My wife was admitted to Athens’s Regional Medical Centre for her asthma. I was really worried for her. Who were going to look after the children? What about the baby? These questions really haunted me all day long. There was no more fun staying at the world’s famous tourist paradise. I just had to go back to my family. I tried to go back to Athens that very day, but there was no available flight out of Cancun.

With God’s grace, Azhar and Misliza were there. They called and told me not to worry. They would take care of things while I was not around. I kept on calling Diyana asking for the latest information. She was a great help. Under her leadership and with the help of Azhar and family, my wife and children were in good hands. After the meeting was over, I rushed back to Athens to see my family.

Not long after Cancun, it was time for me to take the comprehensive examination. There were five questions and a few glass slides that I had to answer and describe within about eight hours. The questions and slides were not that difficult but they took too much of my time that after the examination, I was so exhausted that I did not bother checking what I had written, like I usually did after every test.

Instead, I went straight home and played a few sets of tennis with Diyana, just to relax my mind. A few days after the examination, I was told that I did all right and they were impressed with the way I answered the questions and described the slides.

Throughout our last spring and summer in US, I was busy writing my thesis. For that I had to spend hours at a time, planning and writing. As a partial requirement for my Master’s degree, I had to produce two papers that would be sent to relevant journals for publication. It was decided that I should send my papers to Avian Diseases and Avian Pathology journals.

Besides the thesis, I was required to present a seminar of my thesis and defend my thesis with my academic committee members. Preparing the Kodachrome slides for this presentation would take me hours for I was still learning programmes like Power Point and Excel, the two programmes that were required to produce slides that I required. Randy helped me a lot in this work.

After going through the presentation for several times with Dr Bounous, my major professor, I was all set for my final seminar and defence. Feeling relaxed and confident, the seminar was excellent (from what I heard from fellow graduate students and professors) and the defence went through with flying colours!

Even the meticulous Dr Carmichael Paige complemented me by saying that she understood about 90% of what I was saying throughout the seminar. According to her, during my other seminars, at best, she could understand only about 60% of what I was saying. It was because, for the final seminar, which I was fully prepared, I spoke really loud and slow, like the way they wanted.

For my defence, it was more a discussion rather than an oral test. They were really impressed at the way I answered their questions. I was told that I passed my Master’s right there, after I successfully answered their final question! They even signed the necessary forms there and then for Dr Rowland would be on a long vacation after that. No words could describe how jubilated was I when told that it was over. I had just earned a MS in veterinary pathology! With the defence successfully completed, all that needed my full attention now was to complete my thesis.

At the end of spring 1996, Diyana was invited to attend certificate presentation ceremony at Chase Street Elementary. They still remembered Diyana. We were proud parents that day as Diyana, in her off-white long gown, walked along the hall to the stage to receive her certificates.

A few days after that, Diyana attended a prize giving ceremony at Clarke’s Middle School. We were invited too. Only parents of children receiving prizes were invited. It was a surprise, even to Diyana herself. No words could describe how proud we were when she was announced as one of the four best all-around students from more than two hundred students in the sixth grade! Besides that, she was also one of the students getting all A’s in her studies. She had proved once again that just within a few months after joining Middle School, she outperformed many American students. Once again it was proven that, we Malaysians could do anything if we put our hearts and mind to it.

The thesis was finally ready to be submitted to the School of Graduate studies for approval. According to Dr Bounous, my English was excellent, even better than many American students that she had supervised before. After a few minor changes, the thesis was approved for binding.

I could still remember how happy I was as I was walking towards the main library to deposit the five copies of my thesis for binding. At that time, the campus was busy with the Olympics. Most streets were closed and I had to walk all the way from Graduate school to the library.

For the Olympics, University of Georgia had been selected to host the semifinals and finals of man and woman’s soccer, volleyball, and rhythmic gymnastics. All during the Olympics, parking spaces were closed to students. We had to walk throughout campus.

Still on the Olympics, many international students, including me, thought that US had failed to project the universal spirit of the big sporting event. US media failed to cover all events like we used to see in Malaysia. All that were shown on television were events that US athletes ruled and had good prospects of winning gold medals, like beach volleyball, basketball, and tennis. Even the men’s hundred-metre dash was put on a low profile, just because an American did not win it as they had expected.

From talks with American students, I realized that they thought that they were the best and there was no reason for them to look at others who they thought as being inferior to them. For me that was the root of many problems faced by the Americans. Never in their minds to think that for once, other nations could be better off than them.

Still on this matter, I thought that American media were also to blame. All throughout my stay in US, not once I saw anything good about Malaysia or any other developing countries for that matter, on television. All that were shown were scenes of earthquakes, flood, and other negative things happening in other parts of the world. Running out of good ideas perhaps, or just because they wanted to ridicule Malaysia, I remembered watching a programme where they showed a cigar - smoking club somewhere in Malaysia!

With the thesis already sent for binding, there were no more course works or necropsy duties for me in the department. I spent more time relaxing at home rather than going to school. We had just slightly more than one month to go home. Packing things were our priority now.

Over the two-year period, we had quite a lot of things to pack. Friends, either at the family housing or at the Islamic centre, started asking me when we were leaving. I told them I would like to leave as soon as I was finished. Many were surprised at my answer.

They could not understand why I wanted to go home so soon. Some of them even asked me whether our children protested at my idea of going home. I told them we had a good life in Malaysia and our children were counting days to go home.

Actually, many foreign students, especially those from underdeveloped countries, would prefer to stay in US rather than going home after their graduation. They had good reasons for staying. For us, US was not a place to live for long and to bring up our children. The environment was just not there for a good full life.

When asked to compare Malaysia and US, I answered them in just a sentence. Whatever you could find in US, we had them too in Malaysia, but there were things in Malaysia that you could not find in US. “What?” they would ask back. “Security,” I answered back. In Malaysia, we could come out at two in the morning to have a cup of coffee and ‘roti canai’ in Kuala Lumpur or any other cities for that matter. We could not do that in US. We could get ourselves mugged or worst still, killed for that.

People had been killed without a reason in US. They were killed just because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. I had read a tragic story of a family shot to death by a group of teenagers when the family took a wrong turn and ended up in a dead-end street, which happened to be the gang’s hideout. In short, there was no real individual security in America.

Everything was set. I had just received the letter from Graduate school informing me that I had fulfilled all the requirements necessary for a Master’s degree or in other words, I had got a MS! My two papers had also been accepted for publication in two prestigious international journals, Avian Diseases and Avian Pathology.

Plane tickets were received a few days ago from Washington DC. Once beaten twice shy, I decided not to choose the rough tumbling flight we used to take from Athens to Charlotte. Besides, we had too many baggages for the small aeroplane. Instead, we would be travelling to Los Angeles from Atlanta on Delta Air.

A whole 16-seater triple A van had been booked for our Athens Atlanta journey. My table and cabinet in the graduate student’s room had been cleared. All my notes, research results, and all other things collected throughout my two-year stay had been all nicely boxed. After emotional farewells with my major professor, lecturers, fellow graduate students, and staffs of the Department of Pathology, I left the College of veterinary medicine building with a sad feeling. Sad in knowing that most probably I would not be able to come back to Athens again, though deep in my heart I would like very much to. It was my dream to see that, one day, our children would again meet their friends and continue their interrupted friendship.

So on the morning of the 1st of September 1996, we left Apartment H210 for Atlanta. Katie, her mother and Bridget (Diyana’s friends) were there too to say goodbye to us. We decided to put up a night in Atlanta before the long journey home. We stayed at the Holiday’s Inn Atlanta. Amalia, like her brothers and sister, appeared happy to be in the hotel’s bed. Probably she too knew that very soon she was going to see her grandmothers, grandfathers and cousins back home in Malaysia.

We arrived early at Atlanta Airport. It was the 2nd of September, exactly two years since we first set feet on US soil. Malaysian friends came all the way from Athens to bid us farewell. It was really a sad event. Amalia and Amira exchanged presents. After hugging each other (with the same gender of course), we boarded the Delta Airlines heading for Los Angeles.

At Los Angeles Airport, we had to queue for the checking in. There were some renovation works going on at the airport. We quickly made our way to the Malaysia Airlines Golden Lounge. The lounge was a real treat for our tired bodies. The food and drinks served were excellent. An old White man couple, probably American, were surprised when they were told that everything served, including the liquor, in the lounge was for free. They wasted no time in tasting almost everything on the table.

I was occupied with US open tennis match on television. Every one of us looked calm. Except for our seven-month-old Amalia, who would be experiencing her very first long flight, there was nothing to worry us. We were going home, to our beloved Malaysia.

In the early part of the flight, Amalia cried a lot. I had to carry her in my arms, standing most of the time, to quiet her down. An old White couple in front of us was always looking at us, probably sympathizing with our plight.

Besides Amalia’s crying, everything else was fine. Syafiq and Syazwan were busy teaching two old English gentlemen sitting next to them a way or two about operating their mini-television sets. We reached Kuala Lumpur at about three in the morning.

With nine big bags, we had to use three trolleys to bring the bags to the custom checkpoint. They were surprised to see that many bags brought by a family. They decided to check just one bag, the easiest bag to open. How lucky we were!

Following the easy custom clearance, our luck suddenly changed. First I was informed that the airport hotel was fully booked for the night. No reservation had been made! Then I tried other hotels in the vicinity of the airport. All nearby hotels were also fully booked for the night. A hotel in Kuala Lumpur told me that they had room for us but there was no transport available to fetch us at the airport. How irritating!

With the entire luggage that we had, it would need at least four taxis. I was wondering why was it that there were no bigger taxis (a van for instance) like they had in US at the airport. I was so angry and frustrated at this inadequacy. I hope the relevant authority would look into this problem. Even baggage room at the airport was full and would not accept our luggage for the night.

Totally frustrated and angry, we pushed our trolleys back to the departure hall upstairs where it would be more comfortable for the children to rest and wait it out for daylight. It was not until about ten in the morning that finally a Pajero from my colleague in Wilayah Persekutuan office came and brought us to the Pan Pacific Hotel. My wife and the children slept throughout the day in the hotel.

At around two in the afternoon, I left them to report duty at my headquarters. I was informed that I would be posted to a Regional Veterinary Laboratory in Kuantan. When I came back, there they were, still fast asleep. They were still in US I presumed, and in Athens it would be five in the morning!

All in all, the children had learned a lot while they were in US. They were no more afraid to ask questions or voice out their opinion or feelings. In fact at times, they could be somewhat irritating with all their questions and smart remarks.

Diyana was all grown up, both physically and intellectually. Syazwan was a real attraction among his classmates with his Georgian accent. Getting used to the friendly and cordial US classroom atmosphere, it took some time and effort for the children to be familiar and at ease with our style of teaching.

Syazwan often came home complaining that one of his teachers had pinched him on his tummy for a little mistake that he had done. On other occasions he told me that teachers here were not as friendly and caring compared to his former teachers in US.

Initially too, the weather was far too warm for our little Amalia. She developed rashes all over her body whenever exposed to Malaysian sun and humidity. Even my wife, once in a while, complained that it is much easier to get things in US. There, many things were easily available under one roof.

After my explanation of how things were with us in Malaysia, they gradually stopped comparing US and Malaysia and accept our way. I know that they all love Malaysia, but who could blame them if they think that we are still far behind in many aspects of life. It is difficult for anyone to erase those sweet memories of the easy and fun-filled two-year experience of living in a developed country like US from their young minds. They now know what living in US is all about. They have come, seen and perhaps, to a certain extent, even conquered US! I hope those sweet memories would linger on as a treasure for their challenging adult life of the fast approaching new millennium.