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Vellore, Tamil Nadu, India
I'm a frood who knows where his towel is.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Stomach issues

Date: 07/08/2011

“It made me sick to the stomach!”

No, you don't understand. It really did. By "it" I mean some medicines I am on and possibly some food I consumed last night that was probably laced with only the choicest mix of gourmet bacterial enterotoxins. The repeated trips to the bathroom make me feel like a pregnant father. I console myself by remembering that this too will pass (at a rapid rate from both ends of the gastrointestinal system).
This dish should have been labelled as follows: "You'll be sorryyy."
Conquering the urge to bivouac myself into the bathroom, I gingerly dressed and poured myself into a nearby auto. I usually ease my way into ambulances that run between the college campus and the hospital by casually tossing a stethoscope around my neck-- in this tiny college town, doctors (even pretend ones like me) are seldom stopped from doing anything. They, the public reckons, probably know what they’re doing. I love it! Given, my ginger GI system, the auto was an awful choice. My liver rattled against my ribcage as usual and my spleen seemed to be accompanying it today. Fortunately, I followed my golden rule of not watching where the auto was going. It’s not something the faint of heart or gut should do. My eyes were firmly fixed on my Haematology book’s riveting discussion on anaemia.

After extricating myself from the auto, completely oblivious to how many times I had come close to shuffling off my mortal coil, I looked to the left and then to the right.

Left hemisphere:(clipped, sergeant major tone) “No, idiot, you’re in India!”
Right hemisphere: (slow, dull voice) “Oh, OK.”

I looked right and then left.

Left hemisphere: Hmm...not much point to it, is there?

Unlike countries that have established walk and stop signs, crossing streets in India is an adventurous activity. It is widely known that your safety on the road is your own responsibility, not that of the vehicle hurtling towards you at imprudent speeds. My morning ritual involves hopping cautiously across the street dodging cycle rickshaws loaded with school-going children and milkmen on motorbikes. All this while, I find myself chanting “Dekho Dekho!” (look out). I heard a non-Indian pooh pooh the notion that you have to be careful in India a few days ago. “India Schmindia” were his exact words. Poor bloke, he’s going to meet a sticky end faster than the driver of a speeding bus/auto-rickshaw/elephant can shout “DEKHO DEKHO”.
An oddly uncrowded street in Vellore. Notice how fearlessly the man in the pink shirt is crossing the road after a gang of yellow autos rampaged past him.

Having safely, crossed the street without being gored/stomped/trampled, I strode into the hospital. A familiar sight awaited me:

Perhaps this is a testament to the secularism of India. Hindu women praying in front of a cross.

This small lady seems like she has immense faith in divine intervention.

Can you see the number of candles?

This is a cross between a church and a little hindu temple. Christian Medical College (CMC) is a 2500 bed hospital that has been around for the past 111 years and I often think of how many millions of candles people of all faiths have lit here and how fervently they must have prayed. I usually stop for a second and pray with them. Frequently, I watch them from a distance (somewhat creepy, I accept) and can almost see their unshakeable belief in the mercy of christ/vishnu/allah/karma exuding from their bodies like a fragrant vapour. Today, I surreptitiously photographed them with my iphone.
Snake bite? Abcess? Occupational injury? Dog bite? Buruli's ulcer? Leprosy?

Having been reliably informed that I look like a pervert when I smile, I didn’t stare too long and walked into the main corridor of the hospital. Here, I usually encounter what medical students call “Zebras”, rare diseases that you’ll probably never see in your life. CMC is a referral hospital and it sees patients from all corners of Asia. The old saying goes: “When you hear hoof-beats, think horses, not zebras.” At CMC, you think zebras. My two minute walk to the GI department is spent staring rudely at the people I pass in the corridors and trying (usually failing) to guess their ailments. Many patients are impoverished and they receive free care here. For instance, there’s no chance that a child with a treatable entity like Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia would get turned away from the Haem/Onc unit at CMC regardless of his ability to pay. I thank Christ/Vishnu/Allah that institutions like this exist in India where people can access world class care.
I work in Williams building and I pass poor patients like these on a daily basis.

However, just as I reached the GI unit, I felt a familiar rumble in my tummy. No, this was not the product of nasty medications or exotic enterotoxins. It was the gut wrenching realization that millions of my countrymen don’t have the economic wherewithal to travel to CMC. It was time to get to work.


Sorry, this blog post didn't turn out quite as well as I had hoped. I was attempting a Gogol-esque funny beginning with a ridiculously sad ending (like in "The Raincoat"). I was trying to show how my day begins with personal issues, moves on to medicine, and-- ultimately-- to public health. It gets progressively less funny because there's nothing funny about India's public health situation. Unfortunately, I couldn't quite pull it off. 


  1. As some wag said, 'the personal is political'. as such I dont think it is possible to extricate your personal health crisis from the public health nightmare. Get better soon and fight the good fight.

  2. Man up, old boy. Dodgy street food and weaving autos are but occupational hazards. Forward and onward!

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