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Fresh Reads from the Science 'o sphere!

Thursday, February 19, 2009

That Will Be 90 Dollars, Please

By now practically everyone in the Singapore blogosphere must have heard of this "unique" incident:

You're a hero

Donor hands over the money to SGH to say thanks to man who saved drowning woman

By Judith Tan

SEVERAL readers of The Straits Times came forward yesterday and offered to pick up the treatment tab for a good Samaritan injured while saving a drowning woman.

More than 10 people offered to reimburse Mr Filip Lou's $90 bill after reading in The Straits Times yesterday that the Singapore General Hospital (SGH) would not waive the charges.

They were beaten to it by an unidentified man, who turned up at the hospital early yesterday morning and handed over cash to cover Mr Lou's bill.

Mr Lou, 34, a Dutch IT executive here for a conference, had jumped into the Singapore River on Monday night to rescue a woman who had fallen into the water.

While pulling her out, he cut his hands and feet on the sharp stone steps along the water's edge. He was brought to the hospital, along with the woman, by the Singapore Civil Defence Force (SCDF), where his wounds were cleaned and he was given a tetanus shot - and then presented with the bill.

Yesterday, Mr Lou received a call from the hospital, asking him to return to collect his money.

Initially, he thought SGH had gone back on its earlier insistence that he pay the bill.

But when his wife, Ms Theresa Lee, arrived at the hospital to get the cash in the afternoon, she was told what had happened.

Contacted yesterday evening, Mr Lou said he was rendered speechless by the generosity of Singaporeans.

He said he understood SGH's policy, saying that there was a service performed, after all.

But, he added: 'What there should be is a policy looking into treating someone who got hurt trying to save another.

'Mine was a small injury. What if it had been a broken leg or dislocated joint?' he asked.

When contacted yesterday, SGH stood by its decision.

'We maintain our stand that we will not waive fees for medical services rendered,' a spokesman said.

Its stand drew comments from more than 70 people who called or wrote to this newspaper yesterday.

Most were critical, and said Mr Lou's act should be recognised.

Said a former MP for Sembawang GRC, Dr Warren Lee, a paediatrician, 47: 'We as Singaporeans should not hear about such a brave and selfless act without expressing our thanks by at least paying for his medical bill.'

Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioner Yeow Boon Kwee, 67, who was among those who wanted to pay the bill, said: 'It's my way of saying sorry, and that we are really not that bad.'

Mr Lou's deed did not go unappreciated, however.

Apart from having his bill picked up, he was also given a Public Spiritedness Award by the SCDF.

He is also the toast of the town, as far as some people are concerned.

The story and photo in The Straits Times yesterday, he said, brought him a lot of attention - 'both wanted and unwanted'.

'After it made the papers, I received a lot of hits on my Facebook account - mostly propositions from women.

'I am indeed flattered. But sorry girls, I am happily married.'


What an elegant case to demonstrate my point about the weakness of a rigid system!

Based on the frenzied commenting rate at the ST forum, I'm pretty sure that the blogosphere must be ablaze with criticisms and insults for the hospital admin.

How come they cannot come up with $90? So kiam siap (stingy) meh? How come no common sense? How come so heartless? How come no GRACIOUS SOCIETY?

Actually, there's no need to generalize so much.

The simple answer is that the rigid organization of an administration also precludes individual initiative.

Rigid systems have stable and predictable behaviour, similar to reliable machines. If all the constituent members are free to exercise their "common sense", then the hierarchical structure would be weakened and its efficiency compromised. Expect to wait long long at the queue while the staff put their duties aside and pass envelope around to collect money to reimburse Mr. Lou.

You can't have it both ways.

The solution can only be supplied from outside the system - in this case an anonymous donor who must have felt very lau kwee (lose face) for Singapore that a life-saving hero ends up getting "fined" for his efforts.

I can assure you that there are people within the hospital admin who also feel very lau kwee, but they also boh bian (no choice).

To use an old Army phrase: This problem is not at "their level".

System says no policy for reimbursing good Samaritan, so no money for you. Any comment please fill up the feedback form. Have a nice day, goodbye.


angry doc said...

'After it made the papers, I received a lot of hits on my Facebook account - mostly propositions from women.'

Surely the interesting question from the evolutionary point of view is: why would women want a man who is willing to risk his life for strangers?

Lim Leng Hiong said...

And I thought it was all about his handsomeness.

Anyway wives are always strangers, from a genetic point of view.

But if he makes a habit of risking his life to save unknown women then his wife might not be too happy about it...

Ed said...

Maybe cos of his physical attributes and his ability to swim and save the lives of his potential offspring?

arensb said...

the rigid organization of an administration also precludes individual initiative.

This is why I am, in general, opposed to laws that specify a minimum sentence for a crime: it means that judges aren't allowed to use their experience and knowledge of the specific case at hand to prescribe a lenient sentence, or no sentence, if they think that's what the situation calls for.

Of course, sometimes standardization and rigid rules are called for: McDonalds and other fast-food restaurants are built around such rules and procedures: you may not get something exceptionally good, but you know you won't get something exceptionally bad, either. You'll get the same quality every time, at every location.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Ed:

Yes, physical attributes such as handsomeness, manliness and a Dutch passport! ;)

I should say that it's difficult to know whether a behaviour is mainly due to biological or social/cultural forces, which is why I prefer not to write about evolutionary psychology.

To Arensb:

Hmm... I don't know much about law, but even if there was no minimum sentence, I think that judges are still constrained from individual initiative since the legal system is heavily dependent on precedent cases and thus has the tendency to be standardized into rigidity.

You are right about the advantages of a rules-based organization. It is amazing how feedback control renders a whole group of individually unpredictable components into a highly stable system.

It also makes me wonder if there is any possibility for a large, centrally-controlled organization to succeed in promoting creativity and innovation.

Sivasothi said...

Hospitals and the like might generally be inflexible money-making entities, but when I was once in a tight situation, officers from various entities involved in the complex problem I was faced with helped me beat the system. All were old hands, of course.

Lim Leng Hiong said...

To Sivasothi:

Indeed that is possible; I'm guessing that the "anonymous donor" may in fact be one such old hand, since this person acted far quicker than the general public.