Colleen went home to the US on Saturday. She had been sick for a few days and she wasn’t on track to get better here, so she headed back to the US to see her doctor and her parents. Her illness was nothing contagious and nothing travel-related, but it was making her feel sick enough that she wasn’t going to be able to stay in India for another 3 weeks.
On Wednesday, when her illness started to really bother her, the Gomeses called a doctor to the house. We ended up going to the hospital nearby later that night. Here are some excerpts from an email I sent to my parents after we arrived back from the hospital:
We had a bit of an exciting evening. Colleen has had stomach problems ever since coming back from El Salvador, I guess, and today she was having some chest pain in addition to the tummy trouble. At about 5 pm, she sat bolt up in bed and said she needed to see a doctor because she had just felt pain rolling down her arms in waves. We got Richard and Cecilia, and they were very concerned. They called a general practitioner to the house and he came quickly. Richard kind of translated for the guy as he examined Colleen, and Liz and I were sitting there watching. We got kind of sketched out by the guy because he prescribed 4 things – an EKG (normal), an injection to raise her blood pressure (shady because she said she normally has low bp), a homeopathic hormone sleep aid, and some vitamin biscuits. Weird.
So the guy left and the 3 of us went in to triage mode. Cynthia called Tamo. Liz emailed her parents-both doctors-and the travel nurse (who got back to us a few hours later saying go to the doctor. Ok.). I called Sangita at the school, and she sent over the school ambulance with a driver and a nurse. They arrived shortly, and the 4 of us piled in to this beat up jeep sort of thing to go to the hospital across the big road.
The hospital was filthy. Like there was a half an inch of dust and dirt on all surfaces higher than 6 feet. There were lots of doctors around, but for the emergency wing, you had to go up to this metal gate and talk to them through it. There were a bunch of really awfully sick looking people laying in the halls on crazy plywood stretchers, but we were helped right away. The doc prescribed her a shot of something, so we googled it right away and couldn’t find it. The nurses station where she was supposed to get the shot was basically a card table with a box of needles and a few plastic chairs in a closet. We were not about to let Colleen get a shot there. So we went back and had them give her the EKG.
We pushed our way in to the exam room with the Loreto nurse and male doctor. They are really sensitive to modesty-Colleen had to take her bra off and put her shirt back on for the EKG. The female nurse was there basically so the doc didn’t have to touch Colleen’s skin at all. The hospital even had separate male and female waiting rooms. Anyway, her EKG was normal, so the emergency docs told her to go home, rest, and come back tomorrow if it was still bothering her.
We came home and made some rice for dinner. Colleen is doing a little better-just laying down now. Cecilia and Richard have been so sweet-offering to cook for us, wanting to do Colleen’s laundry. Super nice. They have a daughter who is 28.
It was a really interesting look into the Indian healthcare system. We were really prepared with insurance cards, travel nurse stuff, the list of doctors from HTH and the consulate, and a pile of money, but the hospital was free. The only information they asked from Colleen was her first name and her age. They didn’t do a medical history or anything-she even brought the medicines she is taking with her to show them, but nobody asked. I was surprised the records weren’t more thorough.
Cynthia, Liz and I were talking while we made dinner, and all of us felt like being white had really helped us. Also, we were all assertive and asked questions-lots of them. Most of the sick people laying on gurneys there haven’t been brought up with the sense of entitlement and feeling that we have a right to information. They deserved to be treated just as much as Colleen did, but we knew how to ask questions and who to talk to and when to demand information. We also discussed how the 3 of us were completely prepared to throw down our American citizenship and play that up in order to get Colleen good treatment, if the need arose. There is just so much that I never realized I took for granted.
We are so sad that Colleen had to leave–she was the most well-traveled member of the group, and she had a very calming influence on all of us. We miss you and hope you feel better soon!!