Dawn comes early in the tropics, and consistently so the year round. The sun comes up around six o'clock in winter as well as in summer. There is but little variation in the length of the days and nights, since this region lies along the equator. Long before daylight, birds of the night begin their hammering, hawking, crying, and uttering of many of the weirdest and most nondescript sounds. Our first sleep in Bangkok was punctuated a score of times in this way, and finally by a canine chorus which actually made us sit up in bed and laugh. A few dogs in the immediate neighborhood began their conversational howling, and were soon joined by a countless number not too far away. Within a minute the very jungles were resounding with echoes and overtones that sounded as though pandemonium had broken loose.
During the rainy season many of the yards are flooded with water. They remain this way for two or three months, and afford a frogs' paradise. The whereabouts of the frogs during the dry months is always a mystery, but the night of the first rain changes things, and they become very much in evidence. Millions of them are everywhere. Their croaks vary in pitch from soprano to contrabass, the latter being the loudest and after a time the most distressing.
The frogs in our front yard were led in chorus by an old grandfather whose voice was especially low. During the night his deep croaking sounded exactly like maw, the Tai word for "doctor." This would arouse me from sleep, and I would go to the bedroom porch and look out at the front gate, expecting to see and hear someone who had come with a request for me to call on some sick patient in his home. Just then another deep and husky "maw" would arise from the frog pond.
By five-thirty or six o'clock we were usually up, in preparation for the day's work. Seven o'clock found us at the clinic. This was the hour when the night nurses completed their work and the day nurses began. During the wee small hours of the morning, the beds were tidied and the wards put in order, so that upon our arrival everything looked fresh and clean. The hospital was always full. Our crowded capacity permitted fifty-five beds, but often there were ten to twelve' cots in the halls, offices, and corners.
In order to accommodate the many different nationalities and races of our clientele, as well as keep the overhead as low as possible (which is a very important factor in operating a mission hospital), we followed the policy of not furnishing food for the clinic patients. This meant that each one of these fifty or sixty patients had two to three food-conveying visitors daily. They began coming' before daybreak and continued scarcely without interruption until late at night. Attempts were made to enforce visiting hours, but not always with the greatest of success.
By seven o'clock in the morning this influx was well established for the day. Natural inborn curiosity made the visitors all interested in the case next door, and this gave rise to a long retinue of inspectors during our morning rounds of the inpatients. Most of the patients were very ill. They were briefly examined, dressings were changed, and counsel and encouragement were given as the troop moved on, for we had only an hour and a half in which to make rounds.
We did surgery three or four mornings a week, and this had to be finished by seven or shortly after in order to provide for the routine work of the day. Emergency work was done whenever it came in. Oftentimes minor work was done in the late afternoon.
At eight-thirty the signal system gave an unusually long buzz—the call to morning worship in the waiting room. All of our one hundred employees who could leave responded, as well as many of the ambulatory patients. Our faithful chaplain, Pastor Phang, led out with a gospel song, Scripture reading, and a short sermonet. The entire program took but twenty minutes. He later visited all the inpatients in both our institutions, studied with the waiting outpatients for an hour, and conducted Bible classes for all non-Adventist employees.
The rest of the morning the waiting room would be crowded. Oftentimes standing room was hardly available. Patients were continually going, coming, registering, and calling for medicine to take home. One after the other would be ushered into one of the doctor's offices, where they would be examined, and then usually sent to the laboratory, X-ray room, or treatment room, while the sickest were admitted as inpatients. The noise of all this, mingled with the confusion of the street, simulated the clamor of a county fair.
This program continued until one o'clock, at which time we paused briefly to eat a luncheon that was usually sent or brought from home.
Within fifteen or twenty minutes we were back at work, and carried on until seventy-five to one hundred patients had been cared for and treated. During the last fiscal year of operation, twenty-five thousand patients came to the clinic for treatment.
A large cabinet, full of pigeonholes, was conveniently placed at the office entrances, and filled with a variety of tracts. These pamphlets were numbered, each taking up a salient point of the message, and clearly but simply explaining it in the vernacular. Each patient was given one or more of these, and if his condition required that he return a number of times, he might receive the entire set. The number given him was recorded on his chart, along with the record of his prescription, so that there would be no duplication on subsequent visits.
As a result of such contacts made through literature, Pastor Phang's effective ministry, and the favorable influence of our medical missionary enterprise, many were won to Christ. Our church membership has grown considerably. God has richly blessed the right arm of the gospel which has gone far in that part of the world to break down heathen prejudices, and to prepare honest hearts for saving truth.
Hospital routine was not complete without a trip to the sanitarium, or annex, as it was called, to see the twenty-five patients there.
This new institution was opened more than a year ago, and has proved a distinct blessing to our work. It not only provided accommodations for our better class of patients, but served as headquarters for our nurses' training school which was opened last spring.
The shades of night always fell too soon ; the days were always too short for the work that had to be crowded into their scant hours.
From two to eight home calls were still waiting to be made. These were often five to ten miles away across the city, or across the half-mile river which in many cases had to be traversed by sampan (rowboat). Usually it was impossible to get them all in before dark. After a year or so the sweet sleep of labor became so sound that even the "mawing" frogs, the howling dogs, and the hammering birds were unable to effect an interruption.
Life is strenuous, and life is real, but such is not without its reward. The joy and satisfaction of relieved suffering and genuine appreciation are so much more keenly felt in lands of greater contrasts. God has been and still is calling a people out of the distant corners of the earth. And I am sure that when He makes up His jewels, there will be a goodly number who have come to Him by the way of medical missions. Thank God for His strong, right arm.