– with guest Paratha-blogger, Kyle
The week starts off pretty normal: by 8:30 AM on Monday, Lindy is out on foot, dodging through an intersection of honking lorries, rickshaws, and swirling dust. She has two wide-eyed French tourists in tow who need to find an ATM on the double. Their train is about to leave, and—c’est merveilleux!—they’ve found a willing and able guide who just happens to be on long-term stay at their guesthouse.
The next time I saw Lindy was when I came back from work that evening. That fast-footed, rickshaw-dodging, Joan of Arc ATM-hunter was lying limp under under a great pile of blankets. She had a fever of 103. Her face was red as an Indian carrot. In two days we would be in an Indian hospital for a blood test. In three days, she would weakly whisper to me (with only slightly exaggerated melodrama), “I don’t want you to be a widower.” In four days a very angry and small Indian child would yell at me as I crossed the street to the pharmacy, repeatedly christening me what I can only assume was, for some reason, an expletive-filled Superhero name (perhaps like ‘Lex Luther,’ but in a very minor key): “Hey, Foreigner F***!” And in six days, Lindy would be stumbling determinedly around the most expensive mall in Asia looking for a Cinnabon. This is the story of Lindy’s Dengue Fever.
Like the small Indian child and his cursing, Dengue symptoms might even be funny (at least in their unexpectedness), if they weren’t so vulgar and annoying. Dengue demands that you wear all your sweaters! Your husband’s too! Okay, now take them off, you’re boiling. Now you need to scratch your face the whole night. Sorry—couldn’t you sleep? Now sleep the whole day without so much as an itch. Now your back hurts so bad you can’t move! Tricked you, it doesn’t. Now try on this rash-glove: nice fit! No rash at all below the wrist, bright red above it. Give me that glove back! Just scratch the bottom of your feet for a while. Okay, blood test.
Dengue’s like some evil little, indecisive demon—some sort of tiny torturer sitting in your room on his little chair with a little magic wand that looks a lot like an Aedes mosquito’s snout, and which he waves at you whenever new and better annoyances cross his tiny mind. Fortunately, for whatever reason, he can only inflict one or two of his weird whims at a time. As I write this, for instance, he is inflicting upon Lindy: a) itchy rash-glove move, and, b) face-skin peel move. Again like the small, cursing Indian child, there’s not much you can do about him. You just kind of wonder what his problem is and ignore him as best you can.
The ignoring has been mostly accomplished through movies, back-rubs, medicines, and novels. Sustenance has been mainly liquid, and usually in the form of World Health Organization electrolyte salt-water juice (‘yum!’), coconuts with straws inserted, liquidy Dino Eggs oatmeal (actually yum!), and various teas. There is thus very little to report from the bulk of the week: Dengue really is a tough and slow slog through a bewildering swamp of symptoms. Lindy has often been pulled up and out of the muck by the encouraging words of friends and family (thank you!). She has been carried up and away on the wings of many prayers.
What we can report about is the local medical system. From the start, we were setting sail into completely uncharted waters.
We first visited the incredible Dr. Sangeeta. She works in pediatrics in various leading hospitals around Delhi during the day. By night, she operates a walk-in clinic from her home. She is young and soft-spoken, and her calm and warm demeanour is completely disarming. We are so blessed to know her, and to have her as the Sector-A, Pocket-A doctor.
Sangeeta has a tiny waiting room at the front of her home. A man in a maroon vest sits on a plastic chair and oversees the sign-in of guests, though he never actually signs anyone in, he just greets them with a broad, moustachioed smile and continues watching the news in Hindi.
When Sangeeta first told us that she suspected Dengue, Lindy and I both felt really upset. She calmly told us what it would entail, and reassured us that she would be with us “every step of the way.” She even puts her own residential address on all her prescriptions, as well as four phone numbers, from her work, to her home, to her cell. She is away today (Sunday) for her wedding anniversary celebration. On this—her one day off—she still told us to text the results of Lindy’s blood test and offered us encouragement in reply. She is wonderful.
Every two days we have to visit the hospital for blood tests. Dengue causes platelet and white blood cell levels to drop. How far they drop determines whether one has to be hospitalized or not. Surinder, our innkeeper and friend, kindly loans us her driver each time we need to go, despite the hospital being within easy walking distance (for a non-Dengue-sufferer, at least). Again, we’ve lucked out here: Fortis Hospital (along with Apollo) is the best Delhi has to offer.
It still is a strange place. On entering, you must pass security detail: one uniformed man uses a mirror on a pole to check under your car (for explosives, we assume), while another checks your trunk (for guns, we assume). A turbaned fellow in full Rajasthani ceremonial garb waits at your next stop. He’s a valet (this is Fortis, after all) and he will park your car for 100 Rs., and won’t tow it away after a few hours for 200 Rs. Athik, our driver, drops us off and waits a block away for our phone call.
We pass through a pointless, unmanned metal detector to enter Fortis (these are everywhere across India, detecting lots of metal for no one). We go to the front desk, which tells us to go the desk downstairs. We go to the desk downstairs, which tells us to go to the lab desk. A pattern is developing, so Lindy sits down somewhere. I go to the lab desk, which tells me to go to the payment desk. I go to the payment desk, which tells me to register Lindy. I register Lindy. I go to the payment desk, which tells us to go to the Lab desk. Okay, blood test. I go to the payment desk to get our online ID. Wait in line. Get told to go to other line. Wait in line. Get pulled out of line by some nurse and taken to a swanky and hidden rich-people-and-white-people ‘health lounge.’ After retrieving our ID, I emerge from a secret door in the wall to the waiting room, and walk up to Lindy with her chart in hand: “Excuse me. Are you Mrs Jackson? I have your chart here. Could you please follow me?” We leave and call Athik for a pickup.
After jumping through similar hoops online, we still get the results just two hours after depositing the sample. We’d repeat this process three times.
For a good Canadian with Tommy Douglas blood in his veins, Fortis was a bit of a weird place. It felt like a fast-food restaurant. The payment desk was about four cashiers wide, just like at a McDonalds, each with a line about as long as a McDonalds’, with transactions taking about the same amount of time as at McDonalds. It even had a similar average payment for each customer (say 1200 Rs, or 20 bucks). All the while a gigantic poster with a generic but happy looking Indian woman advertised a special “30% Discount on Diwali Cosmetic Surgeries” at Fortis. “This Festive Season,” the ad beckons, “unveil the new you.”
Cash flies back and forth. They didn’t have enough change for my (comparatively expensive) first bill of 2290 Rs, so they put 10 Rs on Lindy’s ‘tab’ on the system. Later that night, when I walked to the Religare Wellness pharmacy to pick up her medicines, the pharmacist tried to up-sell me, plugging some overpriced moisturizer for my face. Despite my obviously being in a rush (Lindy was at home with a huge fever) and very obviously ordering the tell-tale medicines for someone with Dengue Fever, this pharmacist took the time to scrunch up her face with her hand, point at my face, and tell me that “winter is here.”
The upshot is that in local medical care (Sangeeta aside), no one pretends to care about people. The person who took Lindy’s blood sample didn’t say a single word to us—not a ‘hello’ or even any eye contact, despite his performing an incredibly invasive action, sticking a syringe into Lindy and sucking out some of her blood. When I went back to the pharmacist for some calamine cream or aloe for Lindy’s itchy skin, the pharmacist wanted to give me anything but. Her ridiculously expensive designer moisturizer would work just fine, she reassured me. While the service is incredibly fast (prescriptions are filled instantly, test results are available almost immediately), the whole experience—for patient and caregiver—feels somehow alienating.
Thank God, price is one thing we haven’t had to worry about. We pity the average Indian—someone earning 400 Rs a day in Delhi. For them, our $100 bill (6000 Rs, for everything Dengue-related, including all medicines, all tests, and all consultations) would be a major blow to the monthly budget. Dengue’s wanton rampage through Delhi the past few months has thus been costly in financial and human terms.
Lindy is staring down another rough, sleepless night as I write this. The itch is unbearable. The last time she felt this itchy was when—as kids—she and her brother pulled out fibreglass insulation from the wall, thinking how fun it might be to roll around in the great, pink, cotton-candy poofs. At least now Lindy has a stomach full of Cinnabon, thanks to our very first venture out of our room together this entire week. Spirits alternate between jovial and despairing. Sometimes the two are even mixed together, as when Lindy belts out a beautiful variation on Paula Cole (“I don’t wanna wait—for my life to be overrrr!”) or Gloria Gaynor (“I won’t survive!”) or Rufus Wainwright (“I’d like to thank you, Rash-ida”). Lindy’s rounding the final bend on this one, and staring down the last of Dengue’s ridiculous, shape-shifting hurdles. We are ever grateful for all your prayers, warm wishes, and thoughts. Though we’re here alone together in Delhi—Wonder Woman battling the Dengue Demon alongside her 6’4” side-kick Foreigner F***—we’ve always felt super supported by your prayers and your emails. Thank you!