Friday, March 04, 2005

‘pil samo’

Malaysian health care has certainly come a long way.

Every time I took my kids to their favorite doctor, I shudder at the thought of having to pay a considerable amount of RM for medicine and consultations. But it had to be at their favorite doctor because the clinic is beautiful, complete with a play area and the lady doctor was always generous with ‘lollypops’. While the consultation has not improved much from the standard, ‘Adik, apa sakit?’ (What’s wrong with you?), the medications were now aplenty. It certainly was a far improvement from the day of ‘pil samo’.

When I was a kid, there was only a government’s ‘Pusat Kesihatan Kecil’ in my kampong. The ‘doctor’ was a ‘H.A’ and he was so assimilated in the community that the clinic is virtually open 24 hours a day. Best of all we don’t have to pay. Everything, from consultations to medicines were free.

The medicines available then were limited. If I recall correctly, there were only ‘pil samo’, ‘ubat biru’ and ‘air-ding’. Plastic medicine bottles were unheard of. To visit the clinic, one must always bring a clean bottle or two. Bottles can mean ‘botol kicap’, ‘botol air lamned’ or ‘botol tomato’. The latter preferred because of its clear glass and come with a reuseable cap. But ‘tomato’ was a luxury and you can find few of them bottles. If you have to bring ‘botol kicap’, don’t worry because the clinic will provide you with the ‘gabus’ (cork).

‘Air-ding’ (iodine) was the brownish orange liquid used to clean cuts, as well as a cure for it. Getting cuts were frequent occurrence because most of us kids were using ‘selipar jepun’. The only shoes we have were the white school shoes; it must be kept clean and white so using them for playing was out of question. ‘Selipar jepun’ are also not good for running so we played ‘kaki ayam’ (bare footed) thus, the frequent cuts on the sole. If the cuts were dirty, the attendants will first clean them with spirit methyl. It was ‘pedih’ like hell. Because it was so dreadful, rather than visit the clinic, many of us kids would just put in the ‘serbuk kawe’ (grounded coffee) on the cuts, wrap them with ‘kain buruk’ (old cloth) and played on. Amazingly it does work wonder. In a sense, iodine was significant in a Malay boy’s journey to manhood. Ask them about their great adventure of ‘bersunat’ (circumcision) and you will know what I mean.

‘Ubat biru’ (literal translation - blue medicine) was an ultramarine blue liquid used for ‘kudis’ – all kind of skin diseases then common.

The panacea of all ills then must have been the ‘pil samo’.

‘Pil samo’ as the name implies were tablets pink in color. I remember them being the only medicine prescribed be it for fever, headache, toothache, flu, whatever. If adults were given pills, we kids were given ‘obat air’ of the same ‘pil samo’ but grounded in water. So shake well before use. Amazingly the same ‘pil samo’ were grounded into paste for ‘ubat gatal’ (skin disease medication). I knew this because I was always a curious kid, and the attendants don’t mind me peeking into their ‘laboratory’.

The ‘laboratory’ – if you can call it such, was hardly one we are now familiar with. The basic they had were probably the ‘stone and mortar’ for grinding the pills into everything else; the pots for boiling utensils, needles, syringes, knives, scissors etc; a stainless steel container for sterilised utensils and a fridge for keeping some special medicines, mostly those applied by injection. It scares the wit off you, when the H.A opened the fridge and said ‘Ning kena cocok ning’ (I need to give you an injection).

Despite the rudimentary facilities and dependency on ‘pil samo’ we survived. There were no ‘lactose intolerance’, ‘obesity’, high cholesterol or diabetes. Most of us survived the environment to now be the ‘forty-somethings’.

Sometimes I wonder aloud, if the advancement in health care and medicinal technology came because of the new diseases or was it the other way. Maybe, just maybe, we should take a good re-visit to the days of ‘botol kicap’ ‘air-ding’, ‘ubat biru’ and ‘pil samo’.

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