An ambulance siren should have been blaring

opinion January 12, 2013 00:00

By The Nation

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The case of a news photographer being denied medical help at Parliament is a deeply disturbing indictment of an uncaring society


There’s a difference between being heartless and unethical. But while you can be one or the other, you can also be both. What happened at Parliament on Thursday, when an ailing news photographer was refused use of an official ambulance – because it was on standby for any MPs that might need it – beggars belief. 
Sakol Sandhiratne, who works for the Nation Multimedia Group and was covering a parliamentary press conference when he collapsed, remained in critical condition yesterday following an operation on his brain.
This was no stomach-ache or broken leg. Sakol’s colleagues and friends sought the help of parliamentary authorities because his condition was serious, the symptoms of a major brain or heart problem evident to any bystander. Sakol was semiconscious words when he said, while being denied aid, “Doc, I’m losing it. Help me.” 
You might abhor the sound of an ambulance siren, but its silence can be far more disturbing.
No one can say whether Sakol’s condition would be any different had he been taken to hospital sooner, but often minutes or even seconds can decide between life and death in the case of heart or brain stroke. Anyone could see that, in Sakol’s case, there was no time for the ambulance crew to check with superiors about getting him to hospital. He needed urgent, immediate help. He didn’t get it.
The medics in Parliament’s first-aid room firmly refused to dispatch the ambulance that was sitting idly on standby should an MP fall ill. The officials were worried they’d be reprimanded if an MP did suddenly need the ambulance when it wasn’t there. Eventually an ambulance from the Narenthorn Centre took Sakol to Klang Hospital, where he was diagnosed with bleeding in the brain and underwent surgery.
Reports yesterday suggested there is no discriminatory policy regarding use of the parliamentary ambulance. Evidently Parliament has an agreement with several hospitals, primarily Phramongkutklao, to handle any medical need that arises in the compound – MPs, staff and visitors alike. But such assurances provide no comfort for Sakol’s loved ones, who at the moment are only praying for his full recovery.
Cynics will say such medical discrimination happens every day, much of it overlooked by the news media. Of course Sakol’s ordeal is one of countless others, but doctors and medics warrant scrutiny when they refuse to help a citizen who is suffering a possible brain haemorrhage just metres away. That the medical arrangements at Parliament cover visitors like Sakol can only add insult to his loved ones’ pain. 
Expect to see reports soon about how often the medical facility at Parliament is actually utilised and how many times the ambulance has made emergency trips to hospital in the past year.
It is difficult to decide which is more disturbing – the human or the ethical aspects of Sakol’s case. This is a strange world, after all, in which people will nurse injured stray animals back to health and yet shrug off an event involving injured humans, like what happened at Parliament on Thursday. 
The medics involved must have been junior, but what have they been taught and from whom did they learn? Being heartless and unethical requires no lessons, to be sure. They don’t teach us in school to save our own skin first, but that doesn’t mean we can’t quickly learn the lesson