Thursday, March 10, 2011

tan tock seng hospital & tb





today, tan tock seng hospital is the second largest general hospital in singapore. the present image of tan tock seng hospital is so different from the tan tock seng in the 50s and 60s. after the war, tan tock seng hospital became known as the tuberculosis centre of singapore. when someone was admitted to tan tock seng, it had to be for the once dreaded disease - pulmonary tuberculosis. back in the 50s, tuberculosis (tb) or consumption was the number one killer in singapore.

the incidence of tuberculosis was so bad that some sufferers had to nurse themselves at home; there was just not enough beds at tan tock seng to cope with the large number of tb sufferers. the success of treatment was better when the disease was detected early. coupled with the fact that the disease was infectious, all government servants had to be x-rayed on a biennial basis. i remembered my visits to the villa on moulmein road to have my x-ray taken. there was also one instance when i had to report to sata (singapore anti-tuberculosis association) on palmer road to have my chest x-rayed.


today, this row of buildings have become part of the ren ci medical centre and the singapore christian home for the aged. back in the 60s, when i walked past these blocks of buildings, i used to see tb patients convalescing in the one-storey structures. i think there were similar blocks along mandalay road. the patients would usually be seen in their blue and white hospital clothes; most of them were skinny and frail and i imagined i could hear them coughing.

this was the tan tock seng i knew when i was growing up. kampong chia heng, where we lived, was separated from tan tock seng by the former jewish cemetery on thomson road. next to the hospital was another kampong known as kampong lorong sinaran. those days when someone had a persistent cough, we would say: " tb, ah? you better go to tan tock seng." living so close to the hospital also made us more aware of some of the symptoms of the disease, like loss of weight (nearly all the patients were skinny); a persistent cough and, in very severe cases, coughing out blood.



i think the dreaded disease was finally brought under control not just because of all the x-ray examinations and campaigns like the anti-tuberculosis week but because of the improvements in the country's general hygiene and housing.

the low buildings (compare photo 2 and photo 4) - they have not changed much over the years - are a reminder to us that tuberculosis was once the scourge of our society. i hope they do not demolish these buildings as they serve as a connector to the past.

11 comments:

peter said...

Is the last photo that of the Middleton Hospital YG? I recall staying in of those in the early 70s but entrance from Moulemein Road.

yg said...

peter, i think the buildings at middleton hospital did not have metal roofing. these buildings are closer to bassein road and irrawaddy road. you could get to this part of tan tock seng via moulmein road also.

Lau Peng said...

The one storey buildings are part of a student hostel now. In time to come, these will probably be demolished and the land sold to developers. Most of the bungalows nearby have been replaced by condominiums.

yg said...

lau peng, i think you are referring to a different lot of one-storey buildings on the same road. yes, like many parts of singapore, the area has changed so much. condominiums are popping up everywhere.

Philip said...

In the 1950s Tan Tock Seng Hospital was known as infectious disease hospital. Chicken pox was very common among the Indian workers who shared accommodations. Health Inspectors were stationed at TTSH equipped with disinfectant spray and a van ready for action everyday. Normally there were more than one infected person in the room, for the disease spread quite fast.

yg said...

philip, 'the infectious disease hospital' - could that be the middleton hospital, now known as the communicable disease hospital? i think it was and still is part of the tan tock seng hospital.

Philip said...

yg, thanks for the correction. Getting old lah!

Icemoon said...

Is that row of buildings (Ren Ci) the one in the last photo? The roof structure looks similar.

yg said...

icemoon, yes, but not the whole row. those at the back are used by the singapore christian home for the aged.

Lam Chun See said...

TTSH does not bring back nice memories. I practically saw the transition of TTSH from the old to the new becos during those years, my parents took turns to be hospitalized there before they passed away within 1 year of each other :(

YG. There's another lesser known hospital not far away from your old home. Maybe you know enough to blog about it. I am referring to the Toa Payoh hospital accessed from Thomson Rd. It's mortuary was visible from the Philips factory.

yg said...

chun see, my father also spent his last days at tan tock seng hospital.

toa payoh hospital started as thomson road hospital. it was around until the 90s. it closed down when the new changi hospital was opened. i visited it once to see a friend who was hospitalised there.