Some 61,000 Indonesians died of tuberculosis last year. And while early detection and antibiotics have been used to save millions of lives, the simple fact remains that the disease, which is spread by coughing, sneezing or spitting, remains one of the world’s biggest killers.
So it’s no wonder that Michael, a watch salesmen who recently won his battle with the infectious disease, doesn’t want his picture in the paper. TB carries with it a certain stigma. And in a city like Jakarta, nobody wants to be part of anything that might be bad for business.
What do you do for a living?
Over the past four years, I’ve been dedicating myself to marketing imported watches like Christ Verra, Angel, Mounte Christ and Caterpillar at local retail shops. Most Indonesians might not be aware of these watches yet. Slowly but surely, we’re building the branding and making the watches trendy here in Jakarta.
Do you have a sales target?
Yes, working in a team of five, with a sales target of Rp 2.3 billion ($260,000) a month. So far, we have been doing fine [laughs]. That was until late last year, when something really big came crashing into my life.
What was that?
It started with a high fever every other day for a couple of months. Come to think about it, I was being real stubborn and ignoring all the tell-tale signs. I kept telling myself and those who cared for me that I was totally fine and just exhausted because of the constant travel under the scorching sun, wind and rain to achieve my sales target.
When things didn’t get any better, I went to a doctor who diagnosed me with TB and prescribed antibiotics. A few months went by and I wasn’t getting any better. Things only got worse. Colleagues, friends and even customers told me that I was saying things that made no sense. I was in denial.
Why did it take so long for you to get professional help?
I couldn’t be honest with myself. But God has been kind to me. A good friend of mine approached me about accompanying him on a weekend trip to Singapore. I agreed to go because I thought I needed a break. Little did I know that it was an intervention to get me to seek medical assistance.
As soon as we got to Singapore, my condition became dire — I started vomiting every time I ate something. That was the beginning of a dark time. I got weaker every day until one day I fainted and was rushed to the hospital. The doctors immediately admitted me to the ICU, where they were convinced a virus had attacked my brain.
That was the last thing I remember. I didn’t wake up until three days later. I was weak but conscious. Encouragement from family and friends really helped with my speedy recovery. I started physical therapy in the third week — learning things that a baby would learn. It was tough, but I kept telling myself that I didn’t want to disappoint them or myself. Things got better from there.
Your treatment must have been expensive. How did you pay the medical bills?
I was covered by one of the big insurance companies in town. Unfortunately, when all this happened it was like two months before that one-year ‘probation’ thingy. I was not allowed to claim a single cent. I had no choice but to settle it on my own. And it was a hefty bill. Anyway, health is more important than wealth.
Did you go back to work straight after that?
I was too weak. I rested for three months at my house in Singapore before I finally decided to come back to Jakarta last month. I missed the city so much — this is the place where I belong. I finally went back to work this month. I have to give my mom all the credit for getting me back on my feet. I would be nothing without her.
Do you plan on going back to Singapore for your follow-up treatments, or will you consult doctors here in Jakarta?
Well, I did consider seeing a physician here, but maybe not now. I’m planning to fly to Singapore for monthly checkups, just to make sure that my recovery is going well. Once things are stabilized, I’ll go ahead and find a local doctor.
Would you say that you’re 100 percent back to your old self?
I’m not as fit as I was, but yes, I am feeling better each day and now I’m able to run most of my errands on my own. Soon, I’ll start making my rounds at Kuningan, Block M Square and Pasar Baru again. I bet the shop owners down there miss seeing me around.
Was it the hectic lifestyle in Jakarta that led to your medical condition?
I can’t really be sure — it could be. It could also be the food that I ate or maybe the cigarettes I smoked. The doctors couldn’t tell me for certain where I got TB from. Maybe they don’t have the answer either [laughs].
If you ran into somebody with similar symptoms, what advice would you give them?
Hmm. If I was close enough to the person, I would drag them to the doctor straight away — just like what my friend did.
Has getting a second chance changed your outlook on life?
I’d say now that I’m learning to appreciate what I have in life, to live well and stop smoking.