February 10, 2009
Going to the doctor in India is an experience in itself.
During my first six months here, I went to hospital three times. That’s how dirty the food was in my hotel.
The doctor who looked after me was, for some strange reason, the “Expats’ Doc”. And truly, his injections were magical. You’d be stuck in bed by an agonizing food poisoning but an hour after his injection, you’d be ready to party. My father, a doctor himself, thinks these injections are laced with opium, a well-known bowel-fixer, apparently, and mood-lifter, as we know.
Expat Doc is good for food poisoning, or Delhi belly, as it is called here. The first time I met him, I was in a sorry state. I must have passed out, because I have no memory of he and his son carrying me to his car, on to his hospital. But I remember the room, not exactly clean but not revolting either. I remember people walking in just to take a peep. And I remember the nurse trying to make me sponsor her visa application to France. But hey, I was very ill when I checked in, and fine when I got out, so I guess the place wasn’t too bad.
But honestly, it is. First of all, it is in a dreadful area of Jaipur. Right before the old city, in a dirty street full of animals and garbage. The street is lined up with private hospitals, X-Ray centers, diagnostic centers and chemists.
Whenever I went to Doc’s clinic, just as sad as the other ones, there would be a line of poor people waiting to see him. I would sit, but then Doc would call me and urge me to jump the line. I’d attend someone else’s consultation in his office with the door open. But thankfully, no one attended mine. There were small children with big eyes, women with grey skin, men with clenched teeth.
It was a poor people’s clinic and I was alright with it.
Until Doc lost it. When I was too sick to go to his clinic, he would come home. One day he showed up with a rose, and invited me for dinner. I mean, I was curled up in bed with terrible stomach cramps, having thrown up two days worth of food. I politely turned the invite down.
Another day, he showed up seven hours late. Enough time to die four times if you ask me, but I was still grateful to see him. Now, he took my hand and told me how important I was for him.
The third time, he tried to hug me before he left. Four months in India are more than enough to figure out that hugging is not cool.
Then my friend Kasha had an accident, and Doc screwed up. Kasha fell off a camel gone amok. She landed on her face and arm. Both were crushed. Half her face had gone and her arm didn’t look good either. Her boyfriend, Matt, took her to Doc. He examined her and said she just needed Dettol on her face and a cast on her arm. Matt was a little perplexed. He was no doctor, but surely his girlfriend looked like she needed a bit more than disinfectant. What about X-Rays, he said? And wasn’t there some reconstructive procedure to undergo on the face? Doc got angry. He was adamant there was nothing serious and started abusing Matt.
Matt went to Delhi, to the best and most expensive hospital in the capital. One look at Kasha and the doctors ushered her to surgery. She had plastic surgery on her face and pin and plates in her wrist.
I still don’t know how Doc had built himself a clientele of expat, but I know how he lost it.