Staying Healthy: Aug. 14th
One of Sue’s diversions is the Overseas Women Club. This is a club of expatriate women who meet once a month to support each other, swap finds (furniture stores, people who import cheese, reputable doctors, etc), and help newcomers get adjusted to Bangalore. Sue, perhaps because of her German ancestry, has become friends with many German and Dutch ladies.
Invariably, the discussions will move to health, this being the number one preoccupation of a new expatriate. The stories of Westerners, expecting Western medicine, run from the ridiculous, to the scary, to the paranoid
Paranoia runs deep. We heard about one lady with 3 young children who lived on imported canned food for a year. Her children were not allowed to go to school, nor were they allowed to leave the house. On the other hand, fear about any operation that involves blood is justified. Last year, a study done by a local health agency revealed that over one-half of the doctors in Bangalore were unaware of how AIDS was transmitted. Since a doctor can literally buy a degree, you have to really check out your doctor. Similarly, in all but the very best hospitals, a quality check of blood supplies revealed that 35% of all samples were tainted with HIV. India has 3 million AIDS cases, and the number is growing. The President of the Overseas Women Club is a nurse who does volunteer work. She has noted that Indian men are becoming aware of AIDS and are trying to avoid it by having sex with younger and younger girls (ten-year-olds are now considered safe enough).
Since feranghi’s (foreigners) are deemed to be a source of entry of AIDS into India, an AIDS test is required to obtain residency. Sue’s German friend Sigrid recounted how she went to hospital to get her AIDS test and was told to go to room 4, queued up, was eventually told to go to room 2, where she queued up, and then was eventually told to go to room 6. Half a day later she got some someone’s help in room #6. It didn’t look like an AIDS room, because all around were posters about helping the blind. Apparently, because of her German accent everyone interpreted AIDS to mean eyes. Next day she tried a different AIDS clinic, and after the usual maze wars she knew she was in the right room - a bowl of used syringes was on the counter (help yourself!). After an hour or so, a counter person appeared and told her to go to a particular lab. She gets back in the car, drives to the lab, and finds it’s closed. It's a Muslim holiday so no tests are being given! So she goes back to the AIDS clinic. The counter person assures her that there is a Hindu lab that is open (she can't telephone to make sure because they have no telephone), The process repeats - she goes to the second lab, and they’re closed also. A whole workday has now passed. On the next day, her third, she tries again and succeeds. This time she wisely brings her own syringe obtained from the company-supplied expatriate emergency kit. This is one of the many reasons Sue and I haven’t applied for residency.
For westerners, a stay in a hospital alternates between anger and fright. Sue’s friend Katie, a former Chicago lawyer with an unconquerable positive attitude, had her appendix taken out at the local hospital. The claim to fame of the hospital was that it was the cleanest in Bangalore. When the spiders proved to be too much, she moved out trying her best to keep her stitches intact.
A few months later she woke up with a sore throat and a fever. The diagnosis was "bad tonsils madam", and a tonsillectomy was required. She recalls standing up, stripped naked, being scrubbed pink by an army of women with Brillo pads and crying from pain and embarrassment. First of all, Katie had freckles. This was diagnosed by the dark-skinned nurses as a skin ailment; the cure was to simply scrub those freckles off!. Then the nurses had to see the skin under her toenails (if your skin turns blue under your nail, you have an oxygen delivery problem). First they tried scrapping off the polish with razor blades. The blades apparently were not sharp enough. The next attempt was to try using gasoline. This also failed. The nurses then sent a peon to fetch some anesthetic from the local pharmacy. At that point she rapidly dressed, left, and took a first class air ride to Singapore, where she had her tonsils out in safety.
The expatriate discussions eventually move to the health of the children and servants. One story from a German woman was about her maid. Apparently a suitor approached the maid and professed his love. This is an extremely forward thing to do in India, and is never, ever done. The maid was bewildered and didn’t know what to do. The suitor continued to press his aims, and finally in a truly demented moment he decided to prove his love by lighting himself on fire. He died in the hospital three days later.
Another German women trying to lighten the discussion told a story about her driver. He had become very sick, and had been admitted for surgery. His wife comes by asking for 10,000 rupees to support the family while he got better. Good drivers being very hard to find, she quickly gave the wife the money. Two days later another women came by asking for the same amount for the same reason. Did the driver have two wives? Or did he have one wife and one trickster, or was it two tricksters? We’ll never know.