My Unexpected Indian Hospital Visit
“Every time I see you, there’s less and less of you,” my yogi friend Dom observed after our evening asana class. We, along with about 40 other students, were in the final two weeks of our 200-hour Registered Yoga Teacher training course at Rishikesh Yog Peeth in India. I’d survived the first month of the course virtually unscathed, minor bouts of intestinal or tummy trouble, but the seasoned traveller in me had learned to pop a few Imodium or Tums and continue about my adventures. I didn’t know I would end up visiting in Indian hospital.
This time, the diarrhea was unrelenting. It wasn’t interfering with my daily schedule in yoga school, but it was uncomfortable and it wasn’t gradually subsiding as in the past. For the first two weeks of the course, I’d followed the advice of the school and resisted eating outside the dining hall. I diligently ingested my nightly probiotic, as I’d read that a probiotic may help prevent travellers’ intestinal troubles.
I thought nothing when I witnessed the chai wallah rinse my returned glass in a pail of dingy water and place it back on his tray.
However, I was getting restless and didn’t want the Rishikesh culture to pass me by as I confined myself within the four walls of the ashram. I started small, with a coffee or masala chai at the local Health Café or Ayurvedic Café, both of which catered to yoga students from the nearby schools. In fact, I branched out to India’s version of Mexican food (not too bad) and Indian pizza.
I couldn’t resist a dainty glass of perfect masala chai from a roadside stall. I thought nothing when I witnessed the chai wallah rinse my returned glass in a pail of dingy water and place it back on his tray. The next morning it happened. I woke up, ran to the bathroom, relieved myself from both ends, and settled on my cool bathroom floor to nurse what I thought was food poisoning.
After my conversation with Dom, I announced to Ankit at the front concierge desk that I needed to visit the hospital. “Diarrhea?” Ankit enquired.
“Um, yes, for six days,” I sheepishly replied. Amit, another staff member, joined the conversation.
“Diarrhea,” Ankit clarified to Amit, gesturing in my direction.
“Well, why don’t we just announce it to the entire ashram?!” I thought. In the United States, custom prohibits us from discussing such delicate bodily activity. In India, aiding foreigners through their intestinal adjustment period or ailments seems to be the hospitable duty of the natives.
The following morning after meditation class, I reported to the front desk for my transport to the hospital.
The following morning after meditation class, I reported to the front desk for my transport to the hospital. Another student was waiting for transport too. We mounted Ankit’s motorbike and wound our way through the back alleys of Ram Jhula, Rishikesh. I paid my 70 rupees at the hospital check-in, where they asked for my first name and no form of identification.
The attending doctor diagnosed my condition as food poisoning and sent me down to the pharmacy to purchase the prescribed antibiotic Flagyl, a probiotic, and electrolytes. I happily paid another 300 rupees, and was delighted that my Indian hospital visit cost less than $6 USD.
Nothing was improving. Typically, antibiotics begin to treat the infection immediately, but, despite my energy work and positive outlook, my intestines were still distressed. Two days later, I appeared at the front desk once again, imploring another ride to the hospital.
I met with a handsome doctor who wore jeans beneath his lab coat. He chided me for not seeing him the during my first hospital visit. After pulling down my lower eyelids and examining the surface of my tongue, he concluded I was suffering from severe dehydration as well as an undetermined intestinal bug.
My Unexpected Indian Hospital Visit
“I need to admit you to the hospital,” he announced.
“No, I can’t stay,” I explained. “I have homework and projects to finish in the next few days.” Of course, I could have worked on my projects at the hospital. My protest was rooted in a fear of the food they would serve and the lack of Western toilets and toilet paper. I’m adept at using squatters, but not when my intestines are distressed.
“Okay,” he consented. “You can choose, but you need to return twice a day for the next two days.”
Over the next two days, either Amit or Ankit graciously ferried me via motorbike to the Indian hospital for my IV rehydration and antibiotics. I thanked them profusely and was met with the response, “It’s our job.”
On the morning of my last treatment, I consulted with the doctor for a final evaluation. He interpreted the results of my stool sample and blood test, confirming that a parasite had invaded my intestines, as he had suspected. Another round of prescription antibiotics was given, along with additional electrolyte packets for home administration over the next seven days.
I assumed the usual position on the hospital bed and extended my arm for the rehydration drip and antibiotic treatment.
The shocked nurse regarded my tearstained and terrified face, then abided by my wishes, removing the IV. I was the one who was subsequently shocked. In the United States, the treatment would have continued after the administration of a sedative.
Up until now, the treatment had been bearable, uncomfortable, but not painful. This time, I survived one rehydration drip and one antibiotic drip, with one more of each treatment waiting in the bag I purchased from the pharmacy.
The IV was so excruciatingly painful that I wondered if the nurses had misjudged the vein. I completely lost it, sobbing and whimpering, mostly as the reality of a parasitic invasion settled in psychologically. I was disgusted, frustrated, and disappointed that I couldn’t eat every delicious morsel of Indian roadside fare.
“Take it out! I don’t care if it’s not finished! Take it out NOW!” I dramatically pierced the peaceful hum of the room. The shocked nurse regarded my tearstained and terrified face, then abided by my wishes, removing the IV. I was the one who was subsequently shocked. In the United States, the treatment would have continued after the administration of a sedative.
I vowed to fly to Dubai, my next international destination, ahead of schedule if the symptoms didn’t improve. Luckily, the oral and intravenous antibiotics improved my condition so that I could enjoy my weeklong journey around the Golden Triangle of Jaipur, Agra, and Delhi, gingerly sampling homecooked meals for sustenance.
“Take it out! I don’t care if it’s not finished! Take it out NOW!” I dramatically pierced the peaceful hum of the room.
More importantly, stealing every moment between hospital treks, I furiously progressed in my final projects toward my Registered Yoga Teacher certification. I set up camp in the dining hall, working until 11:00 PM, then again within the afternoon break between theory and asana classes, finally finishing my requirements to graduate. The last step was teaching a class to my fellow students, which was evaluated by one of the master teachers.
Amazingly, this horrifying experience didn’t sour my love for India. Travelling to a country that deeply contrasts the United States as much as India does, one must prepare for some degree of discomfort, intestinal and otherwise. I learned to shed all expectations, both positive and negative, and absorb each moment organically.
My Unexpected Indian Hospital Visit
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My Unexpected Indian Hospital Visit photo credits: Anne Castegnaro.