LOL Mondays: I Had A Swell Time In The Army

When something swell is not a good thing.

By Alywin Chew        5 February 2024

Whenever someone asks me about my National Service experience, I always tell them that I had a swell time.

Yes, I did make many friends and had a generally good NS experience. But the choice of the word “swell” is one that is more literal than figurative.

I’d wager that few if not no other NSF would have had such an affinity with swollen body parts than I did.

I still remember waking up one morning and feeling soreness in my upper lip. Naturally, I didn’t make much of it and went about my morning routine.

“Morning,” I said to my fellow course mates who were brushing their teeth.

“Bro, are you alright?” said one of them.

“Apart from the fact that I’m sleep deprived, I guess I’m fine?” I replied.

“Erm, you look like you got kissed by a pontianak,” chuckled another.

“Bro, it’s too early for lame jokes,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“I think you need to look into the mirror,” said another.

And there it was. A swell so bizarre it looked as if I had a sweet lodged in the upper right lip. In fact, it was such a ridiculous and embarrassing sight that I pursed my lips to hide this odd condition.

Ten minutes later, during reveille, I raised my hand when the section commander for the day asked if anyone needed to see the medical officer (MO).

“And what’s wrong with you?” he asked.

I unpursed my lips. He widened his eyes. Everyone laughed.

“Holy cow. Go see the MO now!” he chortled. 

While marching to the medical centre, thoughts of getting sent home and enjoying a blissful day away from training streamed into my head. I fantasised about having McDonald’s for lunch and zi char for dinner. But everything came crashing down when the MO sent me back to the bunk with nothing but a tube of antihistamine cream.

“Sir, no medical status?” I asked.

“Medical status? What you want? Excuse kissing ah?”

The next incident took place during my professional term at the School of Armour. While adopting a prone position during a night exercise, my right knee came crashing down on a sharp rock on the ground. Being the, ahem, garang soldier that I was, I gave the knee a quick rub and continued with the drill.

Five minutes later, however, walking became a problem. Ten minutes in, the knee was completely frozen.

“Halt!” yelled the platoon commander.

Hilarity ensued. While everyone quickly got into a kneeling stance, I found myself shaking from side to side and jiggling around as I tried to bend the knee.

“What are you doing? Get down! You’re going to get all of us into trouble!” said my buddy.

“I’m trying! I’m trying!” I said.

“What do you mean by you’re trying! Just kneel!”

“What do you think I’m trying to do?”

“I don’t know but you look like you’re trying to pull off some retro dance move at Mambo night!” he laughed.

The giggles soon drew the attention of the course commander Major Tan. Let’s just say he was far from impressed.

“Cadet! What the hell do you think you’re doing!” yelled Major Tan.

“Sir, I can’t kneel!”

“Are you trying to be funny? Are you royalty? Does your grandfather own the SAF? What do you mean you cannot kneel??”

“I hurt my knee and now it cannot bend!”

“You’re going to sign seven extras if you’re trying to chao keng!” yelled Major Tan, as he grabbed me by the backpack and hauled me over to the medical rover. The medic then tried to roll up the right pant leg to check the problem, only to discover that he couldn’t get it past the knees.

“You need to take off your pants,” he said.

And so there I was, sitting at the back of the medical rover, my pants hanging off my calves, my crotch exposed to the world, with a torch shining down on me.

My knee was the size of cantaloupe.

“Wow, that’s big,” said the medic.

“Yeah, I know,” I replied. “That’s what she said.”

The last incident took place a couple of months later after my course mates and I had returned from a field camp. While showering, I noticed a swollen patch the size of a drinks coaster on the front of my thigh. 

Two days later, the swelling had grown into the size of my face. There was also a pustule right smack in the middle of the swelling. Once again, I crossed my fingers and prayed that I would get that elusive Attend C status. It would’ve been the perfect day to get some time off from camp because we were scheduled to do maintenance for our M113 armoured personnel carriers later in the day.

But the MO begged to differ. He gave me nothing but a dose of antibiotics. 

“Sir, no status? My commanders might think I’m malingering, leh,” I said.

“Oh. Sure, I’ll give you a status,” he said.

A wave of excitement came over me as I slowly unfolded the slip of paper with my medical status. It felt as if I was about to learn whether I had struck Toto.

Well, the MO wasn’t lying. He did give me a medical status. 

But he might as well not have bothered.

Because he gave me “EXCUSE SWIMMING”.

LOL Mondays is an ongoing series of slice-of-life stories from freelance writer and NSman Alywin Chew. Look out for the humorous tales which will be posted every first Monday of the month, to help you drive away your Monday blues!

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