I'm not going to lie. Anna and I have been sick. Not the kind of - oh i have a cold and feel sheepish. The kind where you think "OK, It's been a month of health issues. Im getting worse. Maybe I should go to a doctor? Hmm, I can feel my coccyx jut out when i sit on the floor. My arm just fell off. I just blacked out sitting still in my chair. Yeah, i should go to a doctor."
So last week we caved and went to the nearby hospital, Saint Joseph's. It is a private hospital with nuns dressed in white, and Jesus statues, and a close rickshaw ride away. Of course we were idiots to think we could go and get all of our health concerns 'sorted out' in a day. in one of the most populated states in india. in one of the most populated countries of the world. The hospital reminded me of the train station. Lots of families, lots of lines, lots of milling about. No one is really going anywhere.
Basically this is the lowdown: You first travel downstairs to get a number to see a doctor. If you are a first time patient at St. Joseph's you need to be issued a 'book'. It is your responsibility to keep this book with you at all times (FOREVER apparently). You bring it with each visit, and each time the doctor writes his notes down - medication prescriptions - further tests to be taken- etc. In a nutshell, it's a complete record of your medical history, so the hospital doesn't have to keep the records of everyone they treat (i am sure that would be nearly impossible). You also must provide your name, religion, phone number, and address. Anna filled her religion section: Baha'i. I left mine answerless. By 9:00am, she was Hindu, and I was Christian. great start to our day.
We were number 10 in in line, for room #10, so we patiently sat on the benches in the main room, in front of Jesus, in 110 degree heat, for 2 hours...waiting to be called. There were about 15 rooms along the parameter of the main room - all taking patients. Some treating #4, some #45, some #62. I was grateful to get number 10.
Our doctor we were randomly assigned was actually helpful (i know that sounds strange). He listened to our concerns, asked questions, took our privacy seriously as men randomly barged in to sell stuff. He wanted to be thorough. i was relieved. things were going well at first. however we did hit a slight hiccup in my evaluation when he took my bloodpressure.
1st time.....pause. look of concern.
"Madam, are you OK?"
"Yes, Im fine, is everything OK?"
"Your bp is 80/60."
"Is that normal?"
"The lowest you should have is 100. You are at 80. Would you like to be admitted to the hospital for a couple days to rest?"
"......um... (enter thought: me lying in hospital bed in room with 10 indian women staring at me. no bra. iv drip in my arm.).......no, im fine. i have to work. (thankfullsoutherngirlsmile)."
"Okay (youwesternwomenaregoingtodieinthisheat head bob)."
He prescribed a plethora of meds, and a lot more tests for the both of us to have done: chest xrays, blood work up, urine/stool, testing the thyroid, making sure anna didn't have diabetes, abdomen ultrasounds...LOTS of fun stuff. It took us all week to get it all done. All the tests, the xrays, the reports. After fighting to hold my place in line for 3 days, glaring at and pushing old women trying to cut in front of me, children asking me for money to for medicine they can't afford (some lying - some telling the truth)... i had had enough. i will never go to a hospital again. i will just die at home. it was too exhausting. and after all that, my time, energy, missing work - all i thought was- i better had had some condition worth having...like an all paid inclusive vacation for 2 to the carribean lodged between my spleen and whatever is next to the spleen. or a ceasar salad.
the doctor looked at my results and reported everything was 'normal', except for some mild hepatomegaly in my uterus/liver which came up in the abdomen ultrasound. he say not to worry, but prompted me to go see a 'lady doctor' just to make sure. this frustrated me. i know 'normal' is relative. different places. different cultures. but apparently, in india, even though i didn't feel normal, i was normal. if my bp got any lower i could slip into a coma, don't worry - everything is fine. anna has lost a third of her hair - don't worry - everything is under control. we were two perfectly unhealthy girls, given 'healthy' thumbs up. lucky lucky ladies.
we made an appointment for us to see the gynecologist (aka: the lady doctor).
Note: i had thought retelling experiences of getting over my inner fears or crapping my pants in varanasi would be on the top of my 'difficult subjects to write about' list.
i am overjoyed to report that i was wrong.
may i please start by saying i don't know of anyone who actually LOVES to go to the gynecologist (if you do, please inform me). Its not like its as bad as getting a skin graph, or going to get your hemorrhoids looked at. it is after all, a mostly painless and informative examination. but for me, there are better places to be - more fun to be had elsewhere - than having someone poke around downtown.
just so you know, i did go to the p. poker before i left for india, and got a clean bill of health. Unfortunately the abdominal ultrasound at the hospital detected something different. So, i obliged.
For those who aren't aware, when you go to the 'lady doctor' in the states, the doctor is very aware of you as the patient...there is consultation, feelings and emotions are discussed, she lets you know the order things, what she is going to examine when, what she is doing before she does it. there are no surprises. your comfort is top priority. Its easy to relax. Now, I have heard the bedside manner of indian doctors is a bit different, so i was trying to prepare myself mentally. Doctors and medical staff are rougher, quick to get things done. There isn't any tiptoeing around nerves or potential hurt feelings. But if you think about it, there isn't a lot of time for that sort of thing when there are huge amounts of people to fix, and not so much time to fix them in.
My boss Urvashi found out we had to go see the lady doctor and immediately made the arrangements to take us herself (with the driver of course). We went to her personal gal- the best in Lucknow - a Dr. Chandrawati. Its incredible. Urvashi and Anna both know how to get things done, but on two completely opposite planes. Anna is the one to know if you need to get a rickshaw, bribe a train conductor, or get down and dirty with the chaiwala on the corner. Urvashi (a woman who knows everyone who is anyone) is the force who calls meetings with government officials in order to persuade them do what she needs them to do, barges in and demands prompt service to be delivered, and gets you into the lady dr without an appointment when there are 45 women waiting in front of you. There is no number taking with her. She is a godsend.
So in we went. two western women and queen Urvashi herself. we waited around for about 40 minutes, finally Dr. Chandrawati came out of 'surgery', walked through the room and spotted us (which is kind of like identifying a 3 tall giraffes in Antarctica). Urvashi inquired about her daughter, introduced us, and said we needed to be seen immediately. The doctor kindly asked us to wait in the AIR CONDITIONED office across the room. she would send someone for us when she was ready. Urvashi of course had to run off, and left us to relax in our private waiting room. Done and done, as anna would say.
30 minutes later we were taken into her office. They didn't seat us in the regular room with the other indian women- but put us in the examination room itself. A small room with two examination tables and a 'privacy' wall about 4 feet high between them. Anna and I sat there, awaiting our fate looking around for an escape hole. Underneath each table was a bucket containing clear solution and used gloves (some bloody and some not so bloody). All i remember is anna saying "i wanna know why some of those have blood all the way up to the wrist. elizabeth?? do you see what im talking about???". i heard her, but couldn't respond. i was fixated on the woman lying down on the table in front of us. we were facing the bottoms of her feet...and they were ....getting ready to...... "um, anna...are they going to...?" we began fidgeting, adverting our heads, situating ourselves in nervousness. when i thought of coming to india for a personal experience, this wasn't what i had in mind......awwwwwwkward........ and then just before things got too personal, someone finally moved us. we ended up sitting on the next bed with our backs to her. thank god. i thought we were safe. i obviously thought too soon.
2 seconds later the doctor herself walked in. we both reviewed our health problems. i showed her my ultrasound report, let her know ive lost a lot of weight and have been sick, blah blah blah. anna briefed her on her hair loss, weakness, and other health issues. She took note of our problems, smiled and said "OK, lie down." I looked to Anna, quipped 'good luck, you go 1st!' with a smirk, and attempted to leave the room. "Nonono elizabeth, you too - you lie down." suddenly the scooby in me spoke, "HOOOOUUUUUHHH?" i stopped in dread, turned around, and saw the other bed was free now as well. great. I walked to the other side. The assistant held a sheet up, told me to take of my stuff and lie down. Apparently anna and i do everything together here. e.v.e.r.y.t.h.i.n.g.
Lets just say the next 5 minutes i spent on that table will forever be burnt in my memory. This marks the point when india had taken enough of my sass, bitch slapped me across the face, served myself back to myself on a platter, lit a cig and sauntered off to get some chai. have i not LEARNED to expect the unexpected? All the things i felt, saw, and heard: blood, forceps, removing objects, white knuckles screaming in silence, five sets of hands poking my stomach. Never again will the phrases "very very very very bad fungal infection." and "Oh yes, its a rather LARGE tumor." have such weight in my heart and stomach.
After the terrorist attack of the entire southern hemisphere, i quickly got dressed. My insides screamed "WHAT THE HELL JUST HAPPENED TO US?!?!?!", but i was silent. Anna and i sat at dr's desk in the middle of 30 indian women, as she let us know what we needed to do. We nodded. Anna held back tears. We held hands. She got a list of meds. I got a list of meds and a referral for ANOTHER ultrasound. I was to get it asap and come back to see her the next day at 11:00. "Don't worry" she said, "...im sure everything is fine."
We stumbled out of guantanamo, traumatized beyond our wildest nightmares. i rhetorically asked..."Anna? What the hell just happened?" "Don't worry honey..." anna held it together, went in to give me an eskimo kiss, and in her best Arnold impression stated, "You don't have a TUMA."
So in our fragile state, we did what any other smart american girls would do: we walked to the nearest 5 star hotel, called a car service to take us home, and ate a big plate french fries as we contemplated how we were going to break the news to our mothers. walking with our arms intertwined, we made sure to curse everything and everyone we saw. the men. the trash. the dogs rummaging. the birds mocking us. the holy cows. the noise. the indianess of it all.
We made an appointment for my second ultrasound (internal kind this time - woo friggn hoo) the next day. I was supposed to see a woman, but her schedule didn't work with ours - so i opted for the man doctor option. The receptionist making the appointment was reluctant to let me have it (the doctor available was a man after all, and i was....well...a woman), but it turned out that since i was married - it was OK that a man examine me. lucky lucky girl.
so the next day, i woke up early, and went to see about this alleged TUMA. The MAN doctor started off by talking to me about how his cousin lives in Seattle- which i tried to block out - and then moved on to feeling my stomach. He asked me if i needed to urinate. i said no. he said to go try. so i went and peed. i returned to the table and we began with the procedure. He then told me again, "I thought I told you to go urinate?" I was confused. "I did. I can't go anymore." silence "Hmmmmm. Well you have quite a lot of urine." Stupefied.
So here is the deal, this whole time i just assumed that my inability to pee was because i didn't have to. I thought i was sweating out all the water I drank. THUS no pee. I mean, its HOT here. I had NO IDEA my broken body was retaining 250ccs of urine! YEAH, there is your TUMA bitchesssss.
Back at dr. lemme indianize you, i ran some more urine and blood tests. i showed her allll my results and she of course informed me everything was normal- besides a liver infection/inflammation, and my 80 year old inability to fill a urine test cup. She dismissed me with medications to take. i will be taking them.
So, in short, anna and myself are slowly on the mend. we are still a weak pair, all full of talk and no walk. Even though we may be a little slower physically, we are quick to remember the positives of this situation.
Let's just review the scary symptoms and their positive counterpart outcomes shall we?
Serious hair loss: real human hair wigs in various drag queen colors.
Serious infection of the delicates: i will never return to lucknow ever again.
Serious weight loss/weakness/blackouts: we can get a leg wax for 5$.
Serious 'i am starting to look like a sewar rat' disease: n/a.
Serious inability to release urine: elastic waste bands and Ol' Country Buffet.
But through it all, being sick has provided me with time to unwind, relax, medicate myself (lucknow is better on medication), and most importantly -thanks to an aquaintence in Haifa- i am currently spending my time surfing one of the most excellent websites i have ever come across.
You are so welcome.