The Hospital

Tony keeps saying how nice Mt. Abu is – especially the ice cream parlors. Not like I have any way of knowing that. I got sick on my second day here and I’m spending most of the time in bed. It started with a swelling around my left ear. When I asked Tony if my face was swollen, he said that my face always looked fat so he couldn’t tell (well, thanks). But a day later, while we were having breakfast, even he began to worry.

As soon as I had had a couple of spoons of yogurt, the swelling and throbbing started and, quickly, I looked like I was hiding an egg under my skin making my face look rather asymmetrical. I was in extreme pain for about 15 minutes before my face slowly deflated. Quite worrisome.

Having a slight tendency towards hypochondria, I checked out a variety of health forums online, and just knew in my heart that I had a blockage in my salivary gland and that immediate medical intervention was needed.

Our hotel manager referred me to Dr. Metha, an ear-throat-and-nose specialist at the local hospital. Seeing the fear in my eyes, he said, “It’s a western-style hospital. Very clean.” I was terrified that “clean” was the only thing “western” about the place. But I was proven wrong.

To my relief, the clinic was surprisingly modern and looked much better than some of the medical facilities I had seen in East Berlin. I paid my fee of 10 rupees ($0.25) and made my way to the white, very sterile looking waiting area. As it turned out Dr. Metha also ran a cleft palate treatment center. The waiting room was full of funky tribal people from the lowlands who had come to Mt. Abu to have their children treated. I was the only westerner and sat somewhat forlorn between two women who looked equally out of place. Barefoot on cold marble floors, thick silver anklets, and stacks of bracelets made of camel bone around their upper arms.

Only after announcing my presence to the doctor’s assistant several times, was I eventually called in. Without words, he directed me to a chair next to Dr. Metha, a lean, slightly stooped-over man in his fifties with a bushy grey moustache. After I explained to the doctor that I normally didn’t look swollen, he asked me to open my mouth. He stuck his hand in and felt around. While this was going on, the door to the office was still open and more and more people pushed into the room to get a good look at the foreigner. I heard the jingling of bangles and muffled murmurs and caught flashes of brightly colored saris out of the corner of my left eye. Privacy is too much to ask for in India – even in a hospital.

The doctor finally got up to wash his hands. So far he hadn’t said a word. Then he sat down, wrote out a prescription and handed it to me. “Take this two times a day, this one three times, and gurgle with this every few hours.” He was still not telling me what was wrong with me, so I said, “And?” “It’s probably a viral inflammation of your salivary gland – something like mumps,” he replied hesitatingly. He told me to rest for the next few days and not to eat anything sour, spicy or anything else that would trigger my glands to salivate. (At that point I couldn’t help but think of my favorite foods – and my face puffed up again.)

I did as I was told, and when I didn’t feel better after a couple of days, I was convinced I had to be flown back to Germany for emergency treatment. But even repeated visits to the doctor didn’t change his diagnosis. No need for repatriation, just rest.

After several more days of lamenting, I actually started to feel better, and the swelling went down. It seemed to have been a viral infection after all. But why was I so doubtful? It wasn’t the hospital or the doctor but rather the whole procedure. Things just work differently here and communication is not a focal point, not even between the doctor and the patient. I think just a few words of comfort and open discussion would have made a big difference.

Now that I’m feeling better, I’m deriving my comfort from ice cream shakes. Rose and chocolate flavored shakes are my favorite ones. I have to make up for all the time during which I thought I would never be able to eat again.

3 responses to “The Hospital”

  1. avatar laurelle says:

    So glad that you’re feeling better, Thomas. Being sick and needing medical attention in an unfamiliar environment can be really scary. Your story reminds me of a medical adventure while I was living in Korea. I had muscle spasms in my back, and after running out on a terrifying and humiliating visit to a hospital, I ended up going to a blind acupuncturist in a massage parlor/brothel. The acupuncture was effective, but I felt scared and vulnerable.

  2. avatar Beverly says:

    I was swollen last week, too! I got bit by what I think was a no-see-um insect and I had a terrible allergic reaction. I noticed the swelling on my legs and arms and thought – thank goodness I didn’t get bit on my face. I retreated to the shower and upon drying my face, I noticed the same swollen bite with a red center just a pinky-nail length from my eyeball! Scared, I went to a dermatologist who told me how allergies increase with age. And then, she charged me $50!

  3. avatar Thomas says:


    $50?! They don’t charge by age, do they?

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