The Indomitable Mastiah Eluan

‘Have you ever treated a person with a gunshot wound?’

I asked my mother Mastiah one day at Starbucks. Mom – a nurse for the greater part of her adult life, answered -


I was impressed.

‘Several times I assisted the doctors in the operating theatre.’ she added.

I was very impressed.

‘Maybe around 10 cases or so’ – she was not finished.

Ok mom. I was WAY impressed!!!

We’re blessed with peace – nothing of that sort happens in Brunei.

I asked her to clarify when the incident with the gunshot had taken place.

‘….it was during the communist insurgency in Sarawak’ she said referring to that era in the 1960's in the Malaysian state of Sarawak in Borneo well before I was born.

‘Soldiers mostly’ she said in between carefully picked food. I was having a meal with her after all. And now that I think about it, our topic was such a strange and rather inappropriate if not macabre subject for a meal conversation.

She added, ‘One communist escaped through the hospital’s toilet window.’

I raised an eyebrow. This was way past interesting.

‘How did that happen? Didn’t they have guards for that?’ I asked.

‘Oh, they did’ answered my mum ‘careless policeman!’

Apparently the communist who had been hospitalised for a gunshot wound to the leg had asked the attending policeman/guard to excuse him for a nature call. The rest was history: he had ‘naturally’ absconded through the toilet’s windows.

‘The next instant…’ continued my mum, ‘the Army ran through the hospital!’

In fact, the Army scoured through the hospital and then for good measure….the countryside for the conniving communist. But it had been quite futile…

‘Disappeared right off!’ She had concluded.

I watched her eat. She had worked in 3 continents including the UK in all sorts of situation. Yet these incidents no matter how extraordinary they were, were only described in her typical low key manner. She could as well be describing some mundane thing such as the act of folding a shirt for all I know.

Yet in the simplicity of her description, I manage to identify my mum’s methods of dealing with stressful situations: humour.

She is also adept at understatements, it seems.

‘It was work’ she had once told me, smiling.

‘It was work…’

We continued with our meal. Then after a few minutes I pushed her wheelchair to the nearby lift. It was time to go home.

Later in the car, I would ask her teasingly,

“Do you know anyone who was fined twice in a day by the police for speeding?”

She laughed,

“Hah!”, Mom had answered “That would be me!”



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