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I'm an Explorer, Engineer, Writer, Public Speaker, and Entrepreneur. I write about exploration, travel, and science. 

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What It's Like to (Still) be Sick in India

Still not fun. It took me all of ten days to get sick in India. But I guess I’m just out for the full India experience. I started to get a fever last Saturday that probably got up to around 101F… I say probably because we had no thermometer for the first few days before locating one at the corner “pharma” store. And by locating one I mean we told the 12-year old boy at the counter that I needed a thermometer and he went off running down the street to find one from some unknown location. Maybe a warehouse. Maybe another pharma store. Maybe in a trash heap out back? (There’s no shortage of those here).  We broke the first one trying to sterilize it in hot water on the stove—causing immediate melting within 2 seconds.

The replacement came delivered by the boy’s father employer, Umesh, the owner of the pharma store. Now my temperature is down to 100.8F. I also have horrible cramps and a cough that does not make the cramps feel better. Add in a headache and a stiff neck and no A/C and you get the conditions that amounted to the decision to check out the Indian hospital system. 

First off, MIT set me up with great health insurance that includes access to a 24/7 call center through the International SOS system. I called the Philadelphia office through Skype and was talking to a doctor within a couple minutes. They set me up with a preferred provider and made me an appointment at Fortis Hospital that afternoon. ISOS seems like an amazing program.

Then came getting to the hospital, which was conveniently located on the opposite side of the city. Aside from eating a live centipede, I could think of few things I’d rather do LESS than take a rickshaw in my condition through the bumpy streets and horrendous traffic of Bangalore. So we called a taxi company and spoke to a guy I could barely understand to arrange a ride in a real car. I called back twice to confirm. 2:00, yes, yes. Cooke Town, yes, yes.

The appointment was at 3:30. We waited until 2:45 before we gave up on the driver and jumped in a rickshaw. That’s when it started raining.

I’d think by my centipede line you’d understand just how horrible being bounced around in a rickshaw would be, escaping near death by motorcycle sideswipe or oncoming bus or jaywalking cow while doubling over in coughing spasms, shielding eyes from splashing mud and feeling like a railroad spike was being driven into my skull, but in case that part isn’t clear: it sucked.

We got to the hospital and the first thing I thought was: what are all these people doing here? There were something like 50 people in the lobby, just standing around in groups, all staring at the two white folks as they strolled through the doors.

Damn there are a shit ton of people in this country.

Indian hospitals are not like American hospitals. I waited in line at the desk to fill out paperwork for fifteen minutes (and by “line” I mean the only occasionally followed queue of people patiently waiting to speak to a clerk behind a desk, completely undermined by Indians’ seemingly innate ability to absolutely ignore waiting people to thrust their own agendas onto the immediate attention of said clerk) before I caught someone’s eye and told them I had an appointment. They handed me a narrow card to fill in my information, which I did in front of them, not wanting to lose my place at the desk to other elbowing patients. The consultation fee was 400 rupees, about $7. 

The doc was all business. I sat down and all he said was, “tell me,” jotting down notes as I explained my symptoms. After listening, he told me I had a “beautiful stomach infection” and prescribed some pre-biotics, telling me to come back in two days to get antibiotics if that didn’t do the trick.

I filled the prescription at the hospital pharmacy for 190 rupees, a whopping $3.30. That covered two of three of the “pre-biotics”; they were out of the third.

We took a minivan home and it was glorious. 

Back at the pharma, Umesh’s son (who can barely see over the counter) filled my prescription for the third medicine by cutting up a sheet of pills from a Rubbermaid container and sliding them across to me.

“22 rupees,” he said.

 38 cents.

Considering the likely culprit for my stomach infection was the 14 rupee cafeteria lunch I had at the university last Friday… at least this experience is a cheap one. 

Reader Comments (4)

Jesus, this sucks, Garret. I'm glad at least that MIT has you set up with good insurance and contacts. You feeling any better?

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterStephen Craft

Gar, my brother was in Bangalore for a full year in 2010-2011. I'm sure he would tell you that your experience is totally normal and that India gets much better after the first few weeks. Hope you get to feeling better soon!

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterPhipple

I've been waiting for you to write, sorry it had to be about this. Hope you're back up to par soon! Received your card in the mail, what an unexpected surprise; my first ever mail from India! How's the Guiness search coming along?

June 25, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterVirgi

Feeling much better now, thanks! Looks like it was just a stubborn infection. Phipple - what did you brother do here for a year? That seems like a ridiculously long time to be in this city. :)
Virgi - glad you liked the card! Still haven't located a Guinness here, but we haven't been searching in earnest yet. The one Irish pub we went to served Murphy's but no Guinness, which I was surprised to see since it's more rare and actually, in my opinion, a better beer.

July 2, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterGarret

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