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Published: December 8th 2007
The plans laid out at the end of my last posting didn't work out. I must have thought that more in-the-field research in India was needed before going home or something, because this is what happened instead.........
Woke up in Mamallipuram with a high fever and sore throat, listening to heavy rain outside - and I only had the clothes I stood up in, remember. So it wasn't too long before I caught the bus back to Chennai, where fever or no fever, there was still shopping to be done, and packing to be done back at The Hotel from Hell.
I eventually made it to the station , where I planned to catch a train to the airport- a local service with a quick journey time. How was I to know that the train would fill and fill and fill and fill until people were hanging from the doorways in true travel doc. style? With me crushed inside feeling iller by the second? Actually, 'crushed' doesn't begin to cover it: the only reason I didn't fall to the floor was that it was physically impossible. At a certain point I couldn't stand it any more, and somehow forced myself and luggage off the train, with everyone shouting behind me 'No! No! Airport is 2 more stations!'. By then though I was sprawled across the platform, vomiting and vomiting as the train drove off. A lovely man tried to help - he brought me water which he poured over me, washing my face and making me drink. A concerned crowd gathered, but by then I had lost all pride as I lay there, being repeatedly sick.
2 policewomen turned up, at as much of a loss as everyone else. Finally, they made a decision. They manhandled me, extraordinarily roughly, as if I were a somewhat dangerous demonstrator rather than a pretty ill female tourist, and tried to bundle me onto a train. By yelling and weeping I managed to avoid the first train (later now, the trains were nearly empty again), but lost the battle in the end as they chucked me onto the floor of the next one.
At the airport station, we were joined by a handsome young male pc, who carried me 'Gone with the Wind' style up the stairs (shame I was way too ill to appreciate it) and heaved me into a rickshaw, where they all joined me, together with my luggage. Airport at last - or at least the airport medical centre. Here they finally examined me and decided I needed to go to hospital - I'd been muttering that for at least an hour. An ambulance appeared and I was dumped on a stretcher - bang! The ambulance driver revelled in using his siren - who wouldn't if it meant actually MOVING in the streets of Chennai? And after that I don't remember much of the rest of the day. I think the Embassy must have been told, and dealt with the fact I could no longer catch my flight home.
What picture have you got of an Indian Hospital? I bet it's wrong. My ward at Sri Balaji Hospital resembled pretty much any hospital ward in an older-style British hospital that you may have come across - only cleaner. It sparkled with clean paint, fresh blue and white candy-striped sheets and general good order. 4 beds in my ward, with 2 nurses by night and 6 by day, all in smart white jacket and trousers uniform. The nurses, being Tamil, are of quite astonishing physical beauty: I really couldn't take my eyes of 'my' night nurse, Jhoti, whose loveliness extended to her personality. They appeared equally taken with me, and would pat and stroke me, or chuck me under the chin at the least provocation. As I started to get better, they amused themselves teaching me Tamil. With one exception, they didn't speak much English, but what they did know, they'd learnt at Nursing School. Phrases like 'Go to the toilet'/'Use the bathrooom' etc. were not understood, until light dawned. 'Ah! You want pass urine?'
Besides nurses there were:
- nice ladies in saris who appeared to fulfil some kind of auxiliary role
- doctors - lots
- men in blue jackets and trousers who seemed to be gophers, called Ward Boys
- men in brown ditto- porters.
The night nurses did 12 hour shifts and before you feel too sorry for them, they told me that when doing night shift, they work just 10 nights a month.
Medication and tests of all kinds flowed freely - they make the French look amateurs.
No TV, no radio, no nice ladies from the WRVS dispensing sweets, newspapers and library books. No getting up either. You lie in bed until you're good and better, and meanwhile you do nothing. I was caught attempting to wash on my last day, and was chivvied back to bed and given a bed bath.
At visiting time, those of us without visitors did not go without attention. Dozens of noses were pressed against the glass wall of the ward as curious onlookers gave us all the once-over. I felt a bit like an inmate of Bedlam in the 18th century.
And so that's why I didn't reach home till yesterday, still pretty unwell actually, but so glad to be here. I haven't done with my blog yet though. Lack of access to the net has meant I've had little to say about the wonderful first 10 days of my time in India, and whether YOU read it or not, I want a record for my own benefit. And I'd like to do something of a picture record too, so watch this space over the next few days. Thanks to the very many of you who've kept in touch over the last few weeks - it's meant a lot to have your interest and comments
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