Mar 5, 2018


The first time I've heard of this term when I was in final year of medical school. I naturally didn't understand much about it because it's hard to understand things if you're not part of it. Siapalah aku kan time tu, just a medical student yang blur blur dan tak paham apa-apa. But in essence, I roughly deduced it means someone who when at work will attract incidents that will make their work shift eventful.

Kata-kata orang yang bangga dengan dirinya yang jonah

The term jonah is a slang word used exclusively among healthcare professionals in Malaysia and is very popular among housemen and staff nurses. Medical officers used the term less, and it is almost unheard of among specialists to utter the word in conversations. It is often used to tease colleagues who often appear to have very eventful work shifts when compared to other colleagues. We usually tease them in light-hearted manners, although I've once witnessed a staff nurse throwing a bitchy temper when she learned a 'jonah' MO is oncall during her shift.

As a Muslim we believe in qada and qadar (takdir dan ketentuan) and accept that no such thing exists - no person is unlucky and to truly believe in jonah is a thing of khurafat. To just tease each other with it is fine. No harm done.

In a working environment where there is no consistency in the form of work load, I find that it is peculiar that such a word is coined to describe people who bring 'troubles' to work. If you work in the ward, yes, there are jobs that are a constant - a work routine that we do and follow as standard operating of procedure (SOP). For a houseman, that would be to do morning reviews, trace the blood investigations / formal imaging reports / formal lab reports, follow ward rounds, and performing the tasks ordered by the MOs or specialists. That much is expected.

What is also expected is that no two patients will present identical workload to the doctors / staff nurses. Similarly there is no two days that are identical. We expect that the number of new admissions to the ward differ from day to day and that different patients can collapse or deteriorating at any time. There is simply no consistency in that. We cannot say that a day which has 12 admissions and two patients desaturated of oxygen as a 'troubled' day because no matter how bad any day is, it is all within expectations when working in a hospital. Dey, kalau kau tengah attend CME hospital then tetiba ada orang collapsed kena heart attack itu baru eventful, macha.

Nevertheless, it is a culture I enjoyed to be a part of at work. More than once I have been labeled as jonah (even though I think some people had it worse than me). I used to hate it very much being a jonah when I was in Medical because working night shift in Medical means you will be busy working clerking a handful of new admissions and taking patients' blood for the whole ward. Granted, during my time I always have a colleague working with me and we don't have to rely on the runner for blood taking, but I absolutely loathed it when other things happened like relatives wanting to speak to the specialist to make complaints, patients making a scene or developing blood transfusion reaction at midnight (hence it is imperative to not transfuse blood after 6 pm unless it is absolutely necessary!).

I don't mind if things like patient developing a temperature or a low blood pressure or even an active patient (as opposed to a DIL) collapsed and needing CPR - it is within my responsibilities. But to handle things that are time-consuming and irritating in nature? Things like wrestling with a severe head injury patient to prevent him from yanking out his urinary catheter and failed, then watching in horror as blood dripping out from his penis due to the injury he himself inflicted, or trying to calm a patient down as he angrily shouted at us wanting to sign an AOR (At Own Risk) discharge form (which then my specialist said go and refer him to psychiatrist for delirium at freaking 9pm WHICH IS NOT THE CASE! HE JUST WANTS TO GO HOME, and which we did discharged him close to midnight eventually after calling the patient's whole family for a psychiatry evaluation and conference), or attending a staff nurse who had an ankle fracture after she slipped on the floor in the ward (yes, I even pushed her on the wheelchair to do the X-rays at 11pm, gosh that was funny and annoying at the same time) next to a patient's bed who late at night we heard a loud bang as the patient also fall to the floor as he tried to get up from his bed (and failed). LOL thus an incident reporting was issued.

That is what I personally think what a jonah is about. Sometimes all I could do is to gape open-mouthly at the absurdities of what is happening in the ward. Other times I would find myself grasping at my hair and screamed silently in consternation - being jonah is absolutely a true exasperating moment you have to experience it yourself. You will come to be proud of yourself at the end of your work shift - either because it finally ends or you managed to emerged unscathed with no harm to patients done - and calmly accept the fact that yes, despite dah mandi segala air mandian bunga, avoiding all red undies and clothes, dah sembahyang cukup-cukup siap tambah solat hajat tolak bala - you are indeed a jonah.

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