I’ve now been in Delhi’s Max Super Specialty Hospital for 39 hours for treatment of pneumonia, although they’re also trying to rule out tuberculosis. It’s been an interesting experience to say the least. (I ended up getting a same-day flight here from Udaipur when I was told that I would need to be admitted to the hospital. A guy I used to teach with in Denver, Ben Slavic, lives and works here now, so I contacted him and he said he’d find me a great hospital and take care of me. So far, he has kept his promises!)
For the most part, it seems like a modern, clean “American” hospital. The doctors and nurses appear well-trained and competent, although not very attentive. The medicine, equipment, food, and beds are all standard hospital quality. But if you look below the surface, and stick around a while, you’ll start to notice the little nuances that make it very typically Indian.
First of all, I’m in the Economy Ward, which has five beds separated by curtains. It’s evidently very difficult to get a private room here, as I’ve been trying for the past 30 hours and I keep getting blown off. (This phenomenon itself is very Indian. No one will ever just tell you “No, it’s impossible.” Instead they will say “Later, later. Check in a few hours. Tomorrow. Maybe. We’ll call you.” And then it never happens, and of course, they never call back.)
I was awoken yesterday morning at 5:30 by Mr. Gandhi, the old guy in the bed next to mine. Gandhi is a loud guy. I’m not sure if he’s hard of hearing or just rude, but every time he spoke, which was often, his voice level was at shouting range. Imagine a sick turtle who yells everything and moans and groans A LOT. That was Mr. Gandhi. He also always had company, so there was always someone there for him to shout at. I requested 3 or 4 times to be moved to a bed in a different room, but to no avail. At one point last night, I even called the hospital’s “bed manager” and said that I just needed to be moved to any other bed in the hospital, and I was told there were no beds available, that they were all full! No… freaking… way! That had to be a lie. This hospital is massive.
It should be noted that I tried all of the following to deal with this guy’s ruckus: earplugs, music & earbuds, shushing, patience, and speaking with the nurses. Nothing helped.
So when, at 11:15 last night, Gandhi was still shouting AND his wife was talking on her cell phone, I decided that I had had enough. I got up, collected all my belongings (big backpack, small backpack, X-rays, bag of snacks, & purse), walked into the hallway in front of the nurse’s station, put my stuff on the floor and declared that I would not stay in that room. Instantly the bed situation changed and I was ushered into the room RIGHT NEXT TO the one with Mr. Gandhi, another 5-bed economy ward that only had one guy staying in there! He was sound asleep and it was very peaceful and quiet. So, that’s where I am now. However, now the room has several more patients and is much louder than it was last night. A new guy has been admitted to the bed next to me and his mother keeps singing Hindi songs. Plus his whole family has peeked, one at a time, through my curtain to observe the Great White Female in here. At least they’re not taking pictures, I guess. Unfortunately, some (most?) Indians, particularly the men, have no respect for personal space and that includes sound space. (This whole ordeal reminds me of the night I took a 2nd class overnight train and the guy in the bed next to mine was watching music videos on his cell phone [Wrecking Ball was one of them] WITHOUT headphones all night long. So obnoxious! But none of the locals were phased. Can you imagine that in the States? Someone would tell him to turn that crap off so quick! Maybe Indians can sleep through anything. They’re probably tougher than us.)
Another clue that I’m in an Indian hospital is that everyone (doctors, nurses, food staff, cleaning staff) continually asks me where my “attendant” is. My attendant should be my husband (at age 35, there is no doubt about that) or my father or brother (if I were younger or, perhaps, widowed). When I say that I don’t have an attendant, the hospital staff react with mixed looks of shock, pity, incredulity, and disgust. It goes so against Indian culture for a woman to be single and/or alone at my age that it’s basically impossible for them to comprehend. When the food staff come by to drop off my meals, they always try to leave a second meal for my attendant. When I tell them that I don’t need it, they look around my “room” in disbelief, as if I’ve just lied to them and maybe my attendant is hiding under the bed. It’s hilariously annoying.
A third sign that I’m in India is the ever-present language barrier. Now, just about everyone in this hospital speaks English to some extent, but there are always issues with accents or small translation problems, such as these conversations:
Me (about to have an ultrasound): How long will this take? I need to use the bathroom.
Nurse: You lay down here.
(I lay down on my back.)
Nurse: Sit down.
(I just look at her until she mimes that she wants me seated on the bed with my back to her.)
Me: Where is the black pill I usually take at night?
Nurse holding IV drip: I’m giving you antibiotics.
Me: Yeah, I know. But what about the black pill? Don’t I need to take it?
Nurse: 20 minutes.
(Ten minutes later she returns with the black pill.)
Nurse #1 (taking me to X-ray room): You want wheelchair?
Me: No, I can walk.
Nurse #2: You have to want a wheelchair.
( I go to Radiology in a wheelchair.)
Food delivery lady (bringing me a second lunch): Dinner.
Me (only in my head): Why are they serving me dinner at the same time as lunch? Am I just supposed to hang onto it for 5 hours?
(Reality: The lady had said actually said “Attendant” because it was lunch for my non-existent attendant).
Speaking of food, another indication that I’m in an Indian hospital is that I have two options of food at every meal (except breakfast, which is always something terrible like cereal with boiling hot milk). The hardest decision I’ve to make for four days is: Continental or Indian? I’ve been swinging both ways during my visit, but generally speaking, the Indian food is always better no matter where you are. I was hoping the Indian food would be spicy though, like it is literally everywhere in India, but they’ve done some kind of voodoo magic to make it bland and terrible here. In addition to breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I am also served snacks and tea between each meal: soup between breakfast and lunch (although today’s breakfast was soup, too, so I had soup and then more soup), and a random snack like a sandwich or potato cakes between lunch and dinner. They cannot be faulted for leaving a patient hungry, that’s for certain.
The final notable observation I’ve made while at Max Hospital is a deeply rooted cultural difference between American men and Indian men. American men are trained from a young age to be tough: “toughen up”, “tough it out.” Don’t show pain, don’t show fear, and definitely DO NOT CRY, right? Well, Indian men clearly have not received this kind of sexist coaching and have no shame in wailing loudly, whimpering, moaning and groaning through their pain. In the past three days I’ve heard one guy (21-year-old Asif Hurrah who had leg surgery and was in the bed next to me) sobbing unabashadly every time he had to move from his bed; and two very old men who whimpered and moaned constantly through their discomfort. My first thought about all this crying was, “Dear God! These men are the biggest BABIES!” But then I realized that, hey… they’re in pain. Maybe they’re scared. Maybe they just hate being in the hospital. (I know I do). And their culture allows them to express it, which is cool. I just wish they could express it in a different room than mine.
*Update: After four days of IV antibiotics, other drugs, and a lot of sleep, I was discharged from the hospital. I’ll continue with oral antibiotics for the next five days.
Now onto some pretty boring photos of my hospital adventure: