Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Health care received in India

So while I never did come down with Delhi Belly, I did get sick while in India. If you followed my blog or were the recipients of my terrified emails you'll know that I worried particularly about coming down with Malaria. But what did end up happening was due to all the pollution and my body not having the strength to fight off infection due to lack of proper nutrition and rest I managed to come down with a nasty nasty nasty throat infection.

I remember being alone in my hotel room in Jaipur, completely delirious with fever. I used one of my toss-away thermometers to take my temperature and it was something around 104.5. SCARY! I remember stumbling my way down the street. Having to hold onto walls to stay upright. My unfocused eyes scanning every direction seeking out the red cross symbol that denoted medicine.

The doctor I saw helped calm me down. Between the fever and the fear of being alone I was in a full blown panic attack. He diagnosed me with a throat infection, and prescribed me two medications to make it all better. (I had brought two different types of antibiotics with me... but the Penicillin ended up being only a temporary fix and I got too sick too fast to then take the other medicine.) All in all, I think I paid the doctor 40 rupees, and the pharmacy another 60. *blink* And I was feeling better very soon, so it was all worth it!

The doctor was wonderful. Calming, knowledgeable, and he spoke perfectly unaccented English. If I had been less delirious I would have asked him where he studied. Cause on the plane to Kashmir I'd met another doctor, who had studied in the States and then came back to India to practice. You see that a lot in India.

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Oh! I also want to say that I got my pre-Rabies vaccine in India rather than in the US. In the US, the vaccine would have cost me over $1000. I spent 150 rupees in India ($2.72). For the EXACT SAME VACCINE! Ok, that rant is over.

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The final experience I had with Indian health care came at the end of November, shortly before leaving Pushkar to head back to Delhi. My ankle had been sprained two weeks prior and while I hadn't bothered to see a doctor when I first injured it I figured that after walking on it for two weeks (possibly damaging it further) and having it still being wretchedly painful warranted a stop at the hospital.  One reason I had resisted going to begin with though was money. I was low on funds, and was trying to save money where I could. And all I could think was, "It's just a damn sprain. Sprains heal on their own given time." But after two weeks I figured I'd better get it checked out after all. And Mavi, wonderful wonderful guy from my hotel, told me how to get to the hospital and he said it shouldn't cost more than 150 rupees for the X-ray.

So the morning I checked out of my hotel, before heading to catch a tuk tuk to the train station I gimped my way to the hospital. Somebody directed me to "registration" and it was just a plain room with a woman behind a desk and another woman sitting on the bench. The woman at the desk asked what was the problem, and I told her. She said 5 rupees. I blinked again, and handed over a 5 rupee coin. The other woman was the doctor. She had me take off my shoe and sock and she examined the ankle. Told me to go to Imaging for an x-ray and wrote me out a sheet to give to them.

So I gimped my way around the hospital, poking my nose around til I found Imaging. Again, door open and people just hanging out. I handed over the sheet the doctor had given me, and the woman there said "70 rupees." *BLINK* 70 rupees for an x-ray? Much less than Mavi had guessed for me, I was thrilled. I handed over the money and she directed me to sit up on the table and then manhandled my ankle into the position she wants it in.

She and the two guys with her both went behind the screen. I didn't even get the apron that protects against radiation. She came back, manhandled me again and then went back behind her screen.  Comes back out and tells me to come back in half an hour. Then disappears.

What?

I've spent a lot of time in US hospitals. This was my first time in a foreign one and it had to be in India. And wow the differences! There are no comfortable waiting areas. No nurses or staff showing you where to go. The room to see the doctor filled with people crowding to be seen. Doctor-patient privilege, not so much an issue here.

No wonder things cost so little!

Half an hour later I limped my way back to Imaging, where the woman tucked my X-ray into an envelope and handed it to me with instructions to go back to see the doctor again. The number of people to see the doctor had risen so she had been shuffled off to a bigger room across the hall from registration. And it was packed with people. Yet as soon as the crowd saw me limping in, they immediately parted for me and pulled out a chair right next to the doctor, indicating I should be seen next.  Yes, people in India (even when sick or injured!) are kind to strangers.

The doctor reassured me that my ankle was NOT fractured, it was in fact just a severe sprain (not the mild one I had assumed). She told me to stay off it, but I sort of laughed. It's hard to stay off a sprained ankle when you're traveling through India! She did prescribe two medications. One, a Percocet like pain drug. And the other, a wonderful numbing cream to rub on my ankle every day before wrapping it up. I waited for my final bill as the boy she sent off to the pharmacy ran to get my prescriptions. But she just turned to her next patient and I was forgotten.

I never did receive a final bill. The 5 rupees I had paid when I first arrived covered the full doctor exam both pre and post x-ray. AND the two prescriptions.

OMG!

I saw a doctor, got an X-ray, and two medications. For 75 rupees. According to the conversion app on my iPad that is the equivalent of $1.36.

It is no wonder Medical Tourism is growing by leaps and bounds in that part of the world!

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I know that not everyone has solid experiences like I did when sick or injured when traveling. I won't say I got lucky because dude, I got both sick AND injured while traveling! I also came prepared. Because I am allergic to Latex I brought with me a supply of non-latex gloves, non-latex bandaids, non-latex medical tape, and pretty much anything else I could think of. I had doctors who spoke perfect English. And nothing too terrifying that would lead me to hospitalization, the way things happened to a friend I met during my trip.

So all in all, I am very grateful to the experiences I had there. It definitely made me less afraid to seek medical help the next time I go on one of my adventures and manage to break myself again. *laughs*

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