Sunday October 18, 2009
ON THE BEAT
By WONG CHUN WAI
The burnt-out rate is high for those who love the newsroom adrenaline. With age catching up and after the recent scare, I have to be mindful of how much my body and brain can take.
IT wasn’t karoshi, the Japanese term for death from overwork where workers die from heart attack, stress or over-exhaustion but I certainly suffered a blackout last week.
It happened on Monday when I was having a discussion with a colleague at 7.30pm after our daily evening editorial meeting to decide on the contents of the next day’s paper. It was the only time slot that we could find and I had wanted to discuss with her a simple matter – the design of the T-shirts for an upcoming event.
But shortly into our small talk, I felt my head spinning. I unbuttoned my collar to remove my necktie and complained about the heat in her room, asking for ever reliable minyak angin at the same time. My legs then turned wobbly and I started throwing up continuously. My colleague’s secretary quickly summoned for help.
I do not recall what happened subsequently – my colleagues struggling to put me into a wheelchair and bringing me down to the lobby to rush me to the hospital.
The headache was massive. It was horrendous. My colleagues thought it was a heart attack, which is not uncommon in the newsroom. Three of our editors, including two former group chief editors (GCE), had heart problems. One had to be rushed to hospital while he was in the newsroom and he still has plenty of stories to tell.
Ironically, he was at the lobby to help me into the company van that took me to the nearby Damansara Specialist Hospital.
Another one of my predecessors had to take sleeping pills every night because he had difficulty retiring for the night. An old school journalist, he would come to the office at midnight almost every day to see the pages before they went to print.
The rest of us had installed the page tracker software that enabled us to keep track of pages done by the sub-editors at Menara Star even when we are thousands of miles away. But my ex-boss didn’t believe in modern technology. Barely a year into the position of The Star’s GCE, he aged. But he looks fresh now that he has retired.
Back to my own drama. I was put into the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) on admittance and I can vaguely recall my anxious colleagues arguing with the doctor on duty at the emergency room that I had a heart problem. They must have annoyed the poor doctor and prevented her from performing her duties.
By that time, I was already a little conscious but still vomiting badly. I was instantly taken for a full body scan or CT (computed tomography) scan, a computerised test that X-rays the body in cross sections, to find out the cause of my massive head spin. The brain is after all the most important component part of the body. In short, this was the central command centre. I was worried that I could end up with a stroke.
But the doctors found no bleeding in my brain as initially feared. But the giddiness continued even as I was wheeled into the ICU for the night. I could not even lift my body without feeling nauseous. I was put on the drip and given oxygen to help me sleep better.
There were also concerns that I had suffered an aneurysm – blood clotting in my brain for those with history of migraine and headaches – but it turned out otherwise.
It didn’t help that there were other patients wailing away, probably in a more distressful situation than mine. It was only after a few doses of painkillers that the unbearable dizziness subsided slowly.
The following day, the doctors carried out an MRI test or magnetic resonance imaging for a more accurate picture of my problem.
I was discharged on Wednesday after being given a clean bill of health in every aspect, including blood pressure and sugar level. I still do not know whether my dizzy spell will be a long-term problem.
The body is still weak and I have more tests with my neurologist this week. But I should have seen the warning signals. Just days ago, I had complained of my headaches. I blamed it on the hot weather. The veins above my right eye were also throbbing slightly.
The body always has a way of telling us to slow down. There is only so much a worn-out body can take but the workaholic in me foolishly chose to ignore these signs.
It has been a punishing month. Most of us at the newsroom would have begun to clear our accumulated leave by now but the work of a journalist, regardless of our ranks, is unpredictable.
No one could have predicted an MCA crisis or an extraordinary general meeting. For that matter, another EGM soon or a fresh round of election barely after a year. Then, there is the Umno EGM to adopt amendments to the party constitution and the Budget.
With the Hari Raya and Deepavali just weeks apart, the thin staff strength in the newsroom added to the burden.
If that isn’t enough, a few projects are in the offing and a news portal has just been kicked off. Then, there is the endless SMSes and e-mail, easily hundreds a day, on my two computers and Blackberry.
The workload has been so heavy that for the first time since December 1997, when I first started this column, I could not find the time to write last Sunday. Even when I am on leave, my column is published. I should learn from this first warning.
But committed newsmen are bad at looking after their health. Our predecessors worked hard, drank hard, smoked hard and partied hard.
My generation – editors in their late 40s – are more health conscious. But we work just as hard. A good reporter may not be expected to file a story on his day off but he is expected to keep his ear to the ground.
But the burnt-out rate is high for those who love the newsroom adrenaline and are passionate about their work. Age is catching up and certainly I have to be mindful of how much my body and brain can take.
To all well-wishers, including my colleagues, friends and readers, I wish to extend my deepest appreciation to each and everyone for the many get-well messages and prayers.
It’s a lesson to all of us that we are merely a pencil in the Lord’s hand. It’s a gentle reminder from Him that I must heed.
I am not a doctor nor a medical dukun. I am just a distributor of colostrum milk Alpha Lipid Lifeline product of New Zealand New Image. I would like to suggest for those who having stress, depression due to their heavy workload, pressure from the boss, pressure of reaching target date to slow down themselves. We are only a human being. We not a machine. It has been proofed through medical research that that bovine milk is the best solution among the rest to take. Why not give yourself a chance, opportunity to try this suggestion.
It will not harmed you either your pocket or your health condition. Give yourself a chance to try and see the difference after a week or so.
My best regard.