Take two and call me in the morning, Indian style

Bhubaneswar Travel Blog

 › entry 11 of 29 › view all entries

I just looked back through my journal, and on February 27th I wrote that I felt nauseous for the second day in a row.  I hadn’t realized I’ve been feeling unwell for quite so long.  I’m usually a very healthy person; I can’t remember the last time I even had a cold.  And because I think of myself as impervious to illness, I ignored what my body was telling me.  Well, that and the fact that the symptoms came and went every few days; I’d have a day when I literally couldn’t eat anything and had a fever, and then the next day I was back to my normal, chipper self -- fooled into thinking that I was healthy again.


I felt like a big complainer at work, never sick enough to stay home but nauseous enough to put my head down on my desk a few times.  I got all kinds of home remedies from colleagues: from Sabita, coconut juice (in the form of a fresh coconut with the top cut off and a straw in it, presented by the office boy twice a day); from Pushpa, a creamy, milky white pudding of sorts, that tasted a bit like turnips and was I think actually made from root vegetables; from Sir (the guru at the ashram where I do yoga), a disgusting juice made from eucalyptus and other leaves; and from Sabita’s brother -- a homeopathic doctor -- two medicines, which the office boy (he’s busy) went out and got for me, and which I dutifully took without much questioning as to what they were and whether it was really a good idea (see previous blog entry about judgment suspension in India).


A few people told me to go to a doctor, but the stubborn, I can do it myself, I never get sick Debbie wouldn’t do it.  Finally my volunteer program officer, Will, gave me a bit of a talking to and insisted that I get myself checked out.  (Thanks, Will.  You were right.)  So I called International SOS, a medical referral service my volunteer program subscribes to.  They made an appointment for me with a doctor in Bhubaneswar, at Kalinga Hospital.  I got my courage up, went over there, and paid my $2.50 for the consultation.  The meeting with the doctor started with the basics: describing symptoms, taking blood pressure, listening to my heartbeat.  After that it got a little strange.  The doctor asked where I’m from, and proceeded to talk about how the US is the “greatest country in the world” and “the most powerful,” with a huge smile on his face.  My attempt at being deferential (“The US is a wonderful place, but it’s far from perfect” type of thing) was ignored, and round two of US is #1 started.  When he finished I didn’t have a response, so after a lull he wrote up the list of tests he wanted me to get: blood test, endoscopy, colonoscopy, chest x-ray, and more.  What?!?  I wasn’t able to do any tests since I’d eaten earlier in the day, so I went home and called International SOS.  Their opinion, based on the symptoms I described, was to get the blood test only; they called the doctor in Bhubaneswar to get the logic he used for ordering the other tests and confirmed they were unnecessary.  I’m not sure what that was all about.  Because I’m American and the doctor was trying to show that India can offer quality medical treatment?  To see the insides of a white girl?  Because I can pay for the tests?  Whatever.  No thanks.  Not gonna go there.  Nuh uh.


The blood tests results were normal, but I still felt lousy.  Then one Friday night my colleague Sabita invited me over to her apartment for dinner and to spend the night -- my first of either type of invitation in India, so I was very excited.  Dinner was delicious, and it was fascinating to see how she lives.  After lights out, the trouble started.  Let’s put it this way: Using an Indian-style toilet (read: hole in the floor) more than 10 times in one night is not fun.  In the morning it all caught up with me: Feeling nauseous, frustrated, confused as to what the hell was wrong with me, honestly a little frightened, wishing I were in my own bed -- and Sabita caught me crying.  She was so sweet, and when I thanked her for taking care of me, she wouldn’t hear of it and said it was her “duty.”  She put her arm around me and kissed my head, which was exactly what I needed. 


I called International SOS and asked for an appointment that day with a different doctor.  Take two, back at Kalinga Hospital, with a seemingly more professional doctor who didn’t seem to be the least bit interested in my being American.  He was writing up the long list of tests I should get (what is up with that?!?), and doctor #1 (whose office is right next door) came in, having gotten wind of my return.  They talked in Oriya and pointed at me.  Thrilling.  I finally got the right test (I’ll say it -- a stool test) that I should’ve gotten from the start.


Turns out I have E. coli!  Thinking back to that journal entry, I started to feel sick after I ate chicken at an outdoor festival.  No more street meat for me!  Unfortunately, it’s resistant to oral antibiotics, so I'd have to go the intravenous route.  I was already planning a weekend trip to Delhi, so I had International SOS set up a doctor’s appointment for me there.  What a difference.  A modern medical center with computerized records.  Anyway, turns out the drugs could be administered either in one day with a 16-hour iv drip, or with a single dose on five consecutive days.  Since I’d been feeling well for a solid week, I decided to go with the doctor’s recommendation: That I wait to see if my symptoms return (sometimes E. coli leaves the body on its own), and if they do, get the five intravenous doses in Bhubaneswar.  In my mind this appointment was going to put an end to this whole saga, and the “wait and see” approach had me on the verge of tears.  The doctor sweetly put her arm around me, though I noticed she didn’t say “Everything’s going to be okay” like my mother or a boyfriend would.  Though I do know everything’s going to be fine.


So now it’s a couple of days post-Delhi trip.  I’ve been taking a couple of drugs for what the doctor suspects is giardia, but so far the E. coli hasn’t reared its ugly head.  I feel back to my energetic self, and my appetite has returned.  The lessons learned: 1) No more street meat!; 2) Though I work at having a good diet and exercising regularly, I've taken my good health for granted for a long time, and have newfound appreciation for it; 3) Listen to people who care about me; and 4) I don't have to go through everything alone, and it's okay to ask for help.  I knew all of these things before (though now #1 is real vs. abstract), but the universe sent me a refresher.  Guess I needed it.  Or something.

Aopaq says:
Seems like we all need some sort of refresher once in awhile ... glad to hear yours turned out ok!
Posted on: May 03, 2008
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