A view from the hospital bed in Malaysia

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SINGAPORE (March 18): It started the day after I returned to Penang from Singapore, a visit filled with the usual shopping and dining, as well as catching up with friends and relatives. An earache prompted a quick visit to the GP, but it didn’t mar the family reunion dinner that night. But by the first day of Chinese New Year (Tuesday), it was obvious that the heavy coughing and phlegm was not the usual over-merrymaking, hangover or food-poisoning mishap. Still, I hung on with 4,000mg doses of paracetamol and an antibiotic course over the next two days, thinking it to be a bad case of the usual flu and believing that “this too, shall pass”.

By 5am on Thursday, however, I was being wheeled into the accident and emergency ward of a private hospital. Dengue, with bleeding in the lungs, it was pronounced. Had I walked through a jungle trail recently? Nope, I had been walking the urban jungle of Singapore malls and Changi Airport, if that helps, I answered in between wheezing through the ventilator tubes and what not. Of course, it was also likely that I had been bitten where I reside — George Town’s heritage enclave with its ambience of crowded tenements, clogged drains and brackish canals.

The difference between private and public hospitals became obvious in the following days. Anyone knows that you need to place a deposit first, thank you, before they roll you in. Not a problem for me, I have a credit card. I also have a premium insurance plan (not MySalam, folks) but initially, the health maintenance organisation (HMO), which “negotiates” between insurers and hospitals, could not find my insurance policy. It was a caring, private not-for-profit hospital, so I was sure they would not cut off the oxygen... (Click here to read the full story)