It’s an oft said cliche that us Brits don’t appreciate the NHS till you don’t have it to fall back on. Being ill in India has certainly given us a glimpse into a different way of doing health care. Some of it laughable, some of it really pretty good and dare I say it, better than in the UK!
Hospital No 1…..
We never saw much of Chandigarh in the north as I was so ill with the dreaded but obligatory Delhi Belly. Instead we had our first Indian hospital experience, necessary because I was totally dehydrated, was very poorly and had fainted whilst on the toilet and fallen on a tiled floor, banging my coccyx and head. A head injury in India is not to be ignored! Nor, to be honest, could the fact that I hadn’t eaten or drunk anything for several days and despite this my bowels seemed to have a life of their own!
So our driver Raju finds us the hospital and in we go. It looks very clean and busy, certainly no worse than a British casualty. As westerners we were treated straight away. I was asked to lie one trolley in a casualty room where on the next bed it sounded like a woman was reaching the end of her life. Her whole family stood round looking very serious. They had no privacy.
Keep your clothes on….
Two smartly dressed doctors saw me. “We need to check your blood pressure.” I start to roll up my sleeve. “Oh no, ma’am. Over your sleeve”. Then the consultant asks to check my tummy. So I start to pull up my top. Vigorous shakes of his head and hands say no – he will do it over clothes. Clearly modesty comes before medical care. He is not interested that I’ve banged my head, just says that they need to get fluids in me and offers to admit me and put me on an IV drip. No bloody way I think. Patrick has already been primed that if needles are involved he has to stand over them and watch that they come from unused sterilised packets. I promise to drink lots of water and horrible electrolyte powders, and after about half an hour we are sent off with a prescription for antibiotics, Indian strength Imodium, pain killers and vitamins and a bill for about £7.50 for everything. Less than we would have paid for an NHS prescription!
Dizzy, I’m so dizzy my head is spinning…..
So fast forward a couple of weeks and we are in Goa. But I’m still dizzy a lot of the time, getting daily headaches, and also my coccyx is still appallingly painful when I sit down and lie down. I’ve had enough. So we decide to get it checked out. Of course, things are more chilled in Goa…
A tuck-tuck drops us outside a hospital and my heart drops. It looks a less clean and modern than our previous encounter. We go in and a very stern nurse asks for our details. We are taken into a dark room where she asks me again what is wrong and with no sympathy then says I need to have a CT scan. By this point, I’m starting to get really worried; that sounds serious. She gives me a referral document, a small piece of hospital paper on which she writes my name and the words ‘brain scan’. She then writes an address on the front. We’re told to go and get a taxi and dismissed with a wave of her hand.
Getting a good look…..
About an hour later we arrive at the scanning hospital. We have to take off our shoes and we go in and give them the referral. I ask to use the toilet. It’s totally covered in piss and stinks. No way barefoot! No one washes their hands at all whilst we were there, let alone any sanitisers. We wait about 20 mins then I’m called in for the scan. Precious little chat or info about what will happen. I’m just told to lie down keep still and close my eyes. I’m bloody terrified. They put a blanket on me. I start worrying that it has bedbugs!
Scan complete we wait for results. I’m getting more and more scared. My name is called and a receptionist hands me a branded carrier bag with my scans in. She asks for payment, about £20. I ask for results! She tells me to go and see my doctor at the first clinic. I ask again. “Am I ok? Was the scan clear?”. “1800 rupees” she replies clearly thinking about getting paid. I’m getting more worried and desperate. We pay. Then she says “your doctor will tell you what’s wrong”. “Am I ok?” “Oh yes. Nothing to worry about”. Phew. Feels very modern India. They brand the carrier bag but don’t think my results are important …
The top doctor and the diagnosis….
Still with concerns we return to the first hospital. The 30 minute drive seemed long. The stern nurse tells us we can see the top doctor. Ok I’m thinking, this seems better. We see a man walk past. He is about 6 foot tall. His shirt is dirty and buttoned up on the wrong buttons and doesn’t fully cover his big belly. We are introduced to the top doctor….
As then, this very posh voice with perfect english asks me to come through. “So you have been dizzy Peggy?” he asks seeing my full name on the official forms. He looks at the scan report (doesn’t bother with the actual CT scans) and tells Patrick not to worry!! After a few questions and fairly quick assessment he diagnoses Cervical Spondylytis – an inflammation of the top of my spine. I freak out – our family has a hereditary condition called Ankalosing Spondylitis which I don’t have. A GP in England once told me that a bug caught in a 3rd world country could bring it on: fear of this this has been keeping me awake at night on occasions since we left the UK. “No, no, no. Nothing to so with that. No major problem. It’s minor” he says with a huge smile. For my coxyx he tells Patrick with a wink he should put on a warm compress every day. He diagnoses dizzy pills and vitamins, and tells me about some exercises I have to do everyday for the rest of my life. Then as he tells me again not to worry, its only minor, he writes us a fake receipt for far more than the £9.50 or so we actually pay.
About 3 hours after we left the hostel we get back home. All far quicker than the NHS and really very cheap – in fact the taxis cost more than the doctor. But I’m not convinced about the diagnosis, and cleanliness and personal care….. well ….. seems that’s health care India style for you.
Coming very soon – ‘A day in the life of Goa’