Malaysian nurses – rising above bigotry and racism
In its International Living Commentary dated 5 January 2017, CNBC ranked Malaysia first among top four countries in the world for healthcare, based on a four-fold criterion of clean, excellent hospitals, highly trained doctors, and very affordable care.
But Malaysia would also score first if another criterion – humanity – is applied.
We are talking here about the nursing population in the country, in particular, those serving in Malaysia’s public hospitals and front-lining the country’s battle against COVID-19.
It is no secret that despite being highly qualified with degrees, nurses in Malaysia’s public hospitals are not receiving adequate compensation.
It was found out that they suffer burnout due to heavy work schedules and various work related stress (Siti Hajar R, Huda B.Z., 2018). That is one reason why they are the country’s angels.
The other reason why nurses in Malaysia’s public hospitals deserve the angel epitome is that they continue to rise, as they have been doing, above bigotry and racism.
Recent political developments in the country are seeing the heightening of racist and bigotry sentiments since the past two years, leading to the taking over of the national government by a Malay dominated coalition since March this year.
Now, Malay nurses are the majority of the nursing population in the country. Yet, any non-Malay patient can walk in any public hospital in the country and expect equal treatment and services by the dedicated Malay nurses.
Here’s a testimony to that effect by an avid Malay-Muslim social scientist:
“I took the opportunity to conduct a direct participant observation of the Malay nurses’ behaviour between 7 November – 6 December 2019 when a close Malay relative was hospitalised at the Universiti Malaya public hospital and put in the same room as another Chinese patient suffering from terminal stroke.
“The Chinese patient, about 80 years old, was totally paralysed. He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t move his hand or fingers. He couldn’t even toss his head or body. That means he couldn’t use his voice to call the nurse on duty, he couldn’t press the emergency call button by his side, and he couldn’t even make any bodily movement to attract attention.
“There were a few times when some of his adult children came to visit him by turn. They would call his name and utter some words to signal their presence. But the patient would not be able to respond accordingly. His eyes kept staring at the wall of the room. After a few futile attempts at alerting him the visiting children would just be quiet.
“But there was still life in that almost dead body. You could see his eyes filled with tears as he made that rare, unintelligible noise to express something urgent to the outside world. The struggle that he went through to emit those noises were so heart wrenching. At such times I would leave the room and notify the nurses outside.
“The nurses would nod and smile and quickly went to the Chinese patient. They would speak to him as if he could hear them. One nurse would straighten his head which was falling to a side almost touching the bed’s railings. Then another nurse came to give him water to drink and check his temperature for the hundredth time and change his hospital clothes. A few minutes later, another nurse came in to dismantle all the pouches containing the patient’s waste, and re-install new ones. Then she would refill those tubes that contain ‘food’ for the patient and write down whatever that was to be recorded in the patient’s folder.
“While pretending that I was just waiting on and talking to my relative next to the Chinese patient, I observed how kind the nurses were in the way they treat the Chinese patient. I never heard any harsh scolding of him from the nurses. And I never saw any rough physical handling of him by the nurses.
“To me such conduct of the nurses was deeply touching because they could have just done the opposite if they wanted to. The doctors and housemen were not around 90 percent of the time. The patient’s children only came for a couple of hours during weekends.
“The nurses were all Malays and Muslims. Their being Malays didn’t discriminate against the hapless Chinese patient. Their being Muslims didn’t prevent them from touching their non-Muslim patient and accorded him all the physical procedures they were trained to do in such situation.
“When I finally had to leave the ward as my relative patient was discharged, it looks like the Chinese patient was just waiting for his final moment to leave this world.
“But I left the Universiti Hospital with the unforgettable memory of the nurses’ humanity. Without so many words they had shown how natural it was for them to rise above the prevailing incitations of bigotry and racism politicised by vested interests and choking the hearts and minds of the majority Malay Muslim population in the country. Are they angels in human bodies?
“These down to earth, unassuming, ordinary Malay Muslim ladies had succeeded in implementing what the Malay Muslim ulama, ustaz, preachers and intellectuals had only managed to keep on talking.
“As I said goodbye to the nurses, I heard my heart saying, ‘you humble me’ repeatedly “(Amriah Buang, 2019).
Amriah Buang (2019), Behind the Malays’ racial and religious supremacy rhetoric. Unpublished research report, Interactive Muslimah Association (IMAN).
CNBC (5 January 2017), Top four countries in the world for healthcare, International Living Commentary, https://www.cnbc.com/2017/01/05/4-countries-with-the-best-health-care-in-the-world-2017-commentary.html Siti Hajar R, Huda B.Z. (2018), Burnout and its associated factors among nurses in a tertiary hospital, Malaysia, International Journal of Public Health and Clinical