Prior to my leaving for Ladakh, I stopped in at Max Hospital because one of my ‘kindergarten tubes’ had fallen out of my left ear (where it went, I am loath to wonder – did I swallow it? who knows). Anyway I was concerned, so Max, which is the best private hospital in Delhi, got paid a visit. Max is a wonderful place - if you like hospitals, which for me are much, like indulging in mud wrestling, if you get my drift – all clean and shinny like the western hospitals I am use to.
Then in Leh, as you may recall, I fell into a very deep water run off drain hole by the German Bakery. There I was taken to the Out Patient Casualty Department (MOT) of the local government hospital. Once I arrived I was directed to a window where I was ask the reason for my visit, given a small form with my name, age, and my problem written on it and was then sent to room 19. I walked down the dreary grey walled hallway lined with wooden benches looking for the proper sign, 19, Orthopedics. Overhead were signs directing patients to little spider ante ways where their particular specialist could be found. Mine was at the second leg and the benches around it were packed with patients young and old waiting to be seen.
‘Had they too all fallen into the same drain hole?’ I wondered, as I sat down, knowing I was in for a long wait. After a short while, the young Ladakhi girl sitting next to me pointed to my slip and then toward the doctors’ closed door and said, ”There, you take it there.” Getting up I took my paper to the door and when it opened I handed it to a woman dressed in an Indian sari who took it, looked at me, then at the paper and ushered me in.
Inside were two desks, the front sides forced together, and a doctor sat at each desk with a stool at the side of each. After one of the doctors had finished with his current patient, I was directed to sit on the stool. The doctor examined my left knee and foot, and the abrasions running from above my elbow down my right arm almost to my wrist. “X-ray,” he decided, “x-ray on your knee.” Wouldn’t you know it would be my left knee? That was the one I put the most weight on during quick stops in tennis. That was the one that received the most pressure when I danced. Damn! My left Knee. My weakest link.
Then I was sent off to pay 60 Rupees for the to x-ray service. When I reached x-ray, armed with my payment slip, there were a number of people ahead of me, but three men cut into the line (one had what looked like a hole in his head), and after that I was taken in ahead of everyone else. When the deed was done and the film processed, it was handed to me by the corner; a still dripping wet x-ray, and I was send back to the doctor. Again I was taken in immediately and told I had torn Ligaments on the inner side of my knee. Hindu instructions were written on my paper and I was then sent to the MOT, Minor Operations Theatre, a big grey cement room with bits of dried mortar running down from in between the molten looking rock squares. Inside were a desk and three chairs on one side, two examination tables behind a green curtain and one metal and two plastic stools sat in a qusai line opposite. Along the wall were wooden tables with sterilized gauzes, scissors, cotton batten, and red antibiotic strips of medicated material. They sat me on the metal stool. Rinsed my arm with saline solution and placed a couple of the red medicated strips on my wounds. Then they covered the strips with cotton batten and over that a whole role of gauze tightly attached with a piece of tape. A World War II bandage, if I ever saw one. “See you tomorrow,” they explained, “and we’ll change the dressing.”
Well that certainly interfered with my plans to see the Indus river valley, Zankar, and Lake Pangong Tso, where I had planned to stick out my tongue at the Chinese soldiers on the Tibetan side of the border, who try to encroach on Ladakhi/Indian soil and lakes).
After the initial next day visit, I had to go to the MOT every other day. Depending on the number of patients and amount of help available, some days they dressed three people’s wounds at a time, and sometimes just me. Occasionally there was an emergency, a man on a stretcher brought in with what looked like a hole in his abdomen, a young man carried on the back of a male family member with his foot and leg in a caste, a sick child with a cute on his forehead. But most days, it was just the usual line up of cuts and scrapes. Every day that I went, a different practitioner often greeted me. But I seemed to be getting better with no infections – I am deathly afraid of infections in out of the way travel venues. As the cuts on my arm had not quite healed, and I was leaving the next day for Srinagar, Kashmir, I was told to go to the government hospital when I arrived and have the bandage changed there.
Srinagar’s Government hospital seemed much more of a hodgepodge of confusion then the one in Led. After being pointed toward the proper door for out patient services, I was then sent to a window to pay five rupees for service. That’s about eight cents US, and with my payment slip as proof, I was sent to see the doctor, a charming young woman who decided that I needed an x-ray on my still swollen left foot. But first my arm was re-bandaged. Then I was sent to another window to pay 60 Rs for the x-ray. With that slip in hand off I went to x-ray. ‘Hospitals are fun.’
Across from the hospital were a large number of locals sitting on the grass behind a chain link fence eating their lunches. As I walked back and forth from building to building, as if at Wimbledon watching a match, their eyes snapped in unison, watching my every move. How strange to see a western at their hospital.
When the x-ray was done, I was handed my dripping wet result, and sent off to the orthopedist. Again I was pushed ahead of other patients. It is amazing that after being treated as a superior patient in every previous situation in India’s government hospitals, how I had a momentary feeling that it was my due. Bad Bobbie!
Upon entering I was told to lay down on an examining table, no matter that there was another doctor as well numerous people in the room. First, the doctor looked at the bandage on my arm, ripped it off and threw it aside. Then he looked at the x-ray and my foot. “You have chipped a bone on the upper top of your foot just below the ankle. You will have to go in a caste for four weeks. We can put you in a regular caste for free or you can go to the market and buy a walking caste, bring it back and we well also put that one on for you free. Any doctor anywhere can take it off, so it will not stop your travels.”
“I think I need to think about this, before I do anything,” I said. At that point, the doctor turned to the tall, lanky, thin-faced man in a yellow shirt, who had ushered me in, and said, ”Take her.” And the yellow shirted man led me away, down the stairs toward the entryway of hospital. As we neared the door he stopped and turned to talk to a friend. That’s when I made my escape. There was no way a man in a yellow shirt, a yellow shirt mind you – I have always hated yellow shirts, something unsavory about them – was going to take me to my walking death for four weeks without a second opinion.
So after only four days in Kashmir, a place I had always wanted to see, I had to leave. Within two days I had a flight to Delhi, and even though the next day was Sunday, I headed out to good old Max, where they were waiting for me with nurturing arms. An appointment no problem, the next day at 11 a.m. On Monday morning with all my x-rays, of both my foot and my knee in hand, I was squired into the office of a lovely orthopedist, Dr. Singh. As I handed him all my x-rays, I explained my situation, and about my escape from the Kashmiri Government Hospital. Dr. Singh smiled and sent me off for four more x-rays. Upon my return with dry pictures in a proper medical sleeve, the doctor carefully studied them on his back-lighted screen.
“Do you want the good news or the bad news first?” He asked with no hint of what was to come.
“The bad news,” I responded, after all, although he spoke in a monotone, his voice did not have the sound of major concern.
“You’re old.” He said. Like this was news? “And the good news is that you have nothing broken.” I clapped like a child
‘Thank heavens,’ I thought, ‘no caste for four weeks.’
“But you do have old age osteoporosis and you need to start taking some pills now.”
‘Hurray nothing’s broken. Yek more pills.’ I thought. “Ok, sounds good to me.” He wrote some prescriptions and off I went to the hospital pharmacy.
Altogether, the x-rays were $32, Dr. Singh’s fee was ten US dollars and the medications, around $20. Added together the whole medical cost was a little over $63 US dollars and I was told that Max hospital had the most expensive x-rays in town. I was also told that 85% of the orthopedic department patients at Max were from Afghanistan. Amazing! Not really, with the sad situation in that country. European, American and Canadian patients who go there for the hip polishing procedure (the best hip polishing procedure Doctor in the world is at Max Hospital - instead of having the standard hip replacement, which is done in the United States and Canada), are rare medical birds in this hospital. I was certainly a rare event and again, I was treated as such, with a young nurse to squire me around through the whole Max process.
Since my celebrity visit to Max, I am still taking it somewhat easy, but am thankful that Max Hospital is here for me in India. Yet even now that I am in Macleod Ganj, a place with reasonably well taken care of streets and roads, I watch my feet. After falling in two ‘holes,’ a pavement or drain hole could sneak up on me any time and I want to be ready.