This happened yesterday... I was happily driving home when I saw my friend standing by the roadside. Thinking that something might be amiss, I stopped to enquire. That stop took up my next 2 hours.
A middle-aged lady was sitting on the grass. Another elderly lady was standing with friend. I asked what was wrong. The problem: the middle-aged lady was 'lost' and she didn't sound 'right'. She rambled in 'old' Hokkien to which I could little comprehend. Her toothlessness also made it difficult. We could only get bits of info which seemed to bring us on a bush-run... not just round the bush. But this we established... she was lost and she did not have full control over her mental faculty! Thus began our 2 hours with her under the tree on a hot afternoon. And I hadn't taken my breakfast yet!
Friend wanted to get her something to eat. Since I was still sitting in my car, I volunteered. Bought her a pau and a packet of milo. She ate the pau minus the meat. No teeth, so cannot chew. Then the 3 of us proceeded to dig more information from her. We got no where. Leaving her seemed so wrong. So in the end, I dialled 999 and asked them what to do. Gave my name and was connected to the police.
Was pleasantly surprised that a patrol car came in 15 minutes... I was starting to think that maybe our police force boleh tahan. The 2 police officers were nice enough. They gave her 2 boxes of drinks and talked to her. I managed to get the lady's name. Even managed to get info that she had gotten an jab from a clinic in town. But sadly, one of the police officers just wrote it on a piece of paper and left it in her pile of rubbish that she had collected in the morning. We had to 'insist' the info upon the second pair of police officers who appeared at the scene later with 2 more lady officers.
It took more than half an hour of waiting for them to show up. The waiting was bad enough. But it was the attitude of the police officer in charge which I found appalling. The first thing he said after a 'brief Q & A' was the lady was not 'mad'. And he didn't even speak her language. How did he establish that? Everyone of us could see that she was not normal. It was easy to see that these police didn't want to take her to the relevant authorities. Trying to pass her off as normal so that they didn't have to take the next step.
So I asked him about procedures.... what should be done for people like her. He said he didn't know (Duh!! What police officer doesn't know such procedures?). Then I asked him whether it would be appropriate to send her to the hospital for a check up (her toes were swollen) and for an assessment by the psychiatrist. He was reluctant and kept saying she was not 'mad'. I then said we should not leave her alone as she might be raped or robbed again. She had been relieved of her ear rings and chain it seemed; I found out in those lucid moments when she switched between the present and past worlds. Then I asked whether it was possible for the Welfare Department to step in... The same police officer mumbled something about you know how troublesome it would be.
The elderly lady beside me started asking me whether it was because she was Chinese and these Malay police officers did not want to help. In segregated Malaysia, this is often the first thing that pops into our minds. I told her no... it's a general malaise that has inflicted itself onto our civil service. Ethics and commitment are no longer the yardsticks. Taking the easy way out is.
By then, I was quite annoyed. We are supposed to have first world infrastructure. Tax payers money is used also to set up Welfare Departments, etc, etc. The society is supposed to have put in place, infrastructure and a system to deal with the homeless, lost... the misfits of the society; to enable some dignity to be returned to such people. Yet, this police officer seemed so heartless. Actually, I wasn't expecting him to be super compassionate. He's a police officer... it's his job to pick up such people to be sent for assessment. A system has been put in place to safeguard the people's interests. But its execution is rife with flaws.
Just a casual look of the lady told us she has not been on the streets long. Her clothes were still quite clean. Her rings were still on her fingers. Her nails seemed well kept and her eyebrows looked trimmed. She could be an Alzheimer patient for all we know. The police are supposed to be trained to look out for that... not jump into assumptions immediately. I supposed I have been watching too many CSI shows...
First world infrastructure... third rate execution system and procedures. Police who seem to offer presence but reluctant to carry out their duties when they are supposed to. But these police wouldn't think twice about spraying water laced with chemicals at peaceful protesters. That's our police forced on us.....
And back to my 2 hours... 2 hours lost is nothing compared to what this lady has lost. She lost her mind. In losing that, she lost her dignity. And maybe she has also wandered from home and got lost. Life without dignity... I cannot imagine that. The elderly lady who was with me... she said it's better to be dead than to live without one's dignity.... and I can't help but agree with her.