Sorry I haven’t blogged much in the last couple of days but unfortunately I’ve been quite unwell. I thought I might have strengthened my ‘Asian immunity’ after numerous trips to the continent, but India is a totally different ball game not to be underestimated! My intention isn’t to scare you away from this beautiful country but to help reduce your chances of getting sick! In hindsight I realise I should have been more careful, for example, not brushing my teeth with the tap water. Also, it's important to remember that a language barrier is frequently present and just because you ask for ‘filtered water’ doesn’t guarantee that you will get it. I am slightly paranoid about this at the moment and today, after asking for filtered water, I followed the waitress into the kitchen to see where the water was coming from. I was thankful I did because my water bottle was being filled up directly from the tap! This was of course not the café’s fault- it’s a result of misunderstanding and miscommunication. I must mention that my immune system was already compromised before arriving in India (I had a horrendous cold on the flight out). So this plus a combination of inattentiveness and inexperience probably increased my chances of getting ill.
India is ill famed for its variety of travellers’ illnesses, notably Delhi Belly! So on Saturday afternoon when I found myself freezing cold- yet dripping in sweat- I presumed this is what had happened. Determined to sleep it off (because I definitely wasn’t going to let a silly sickness bug get in the way of my yoga) I got into bed for an early night… and experienced one of the worst night’s sleep of my entire life! My head felt like it might explode, my bones were aching and on top of that, I was delusional with fever. When morning came I could barely stand (let alone practice yoga!) so I sought out help from Kelley- another yogi- who thankfully lives in my building. Upon seeing my unsteadiness, sweaty face and shaking limbs she escorted me straight back to bed, armed with herbal remedies and essential oils. I must have done something good in a past life because as it turns out, Kelley is an expert in homeopathic remedies. On top of the standard dosage of ibuprofen, she had me chewing on raw garlic (it contains allicin which has been proven to kill bacteria) and strapped onions and garlic to my feet! Both of the latter are air purifiers and when applied to the feet (believed to be powerful and direct access points to the internal organs) they kill germs and bacteria. Onions also release phosphoric acid (the substance which makes you cry) and when this enters the bloodstream it helps to purify the blood. Placebo effect or not these unconventional remedies definitely helped to reduce my fever and the mix of essential oils enabled me to get a few hours of much needed rest. Sadly this momentary relax was only temporary, as before long diarrhoea struck. Proper- “oh dear lord I’m going to shit my pants”- diarrhoea.
By Monday morning I felt completely empty, exhausted and emotional. Despite eating nothing for two days my bowel was still working in overdrive. In an attempt to raise my spirits I decided to walk down to the yoga centre but half way down the stairs I started to feel dizzy and unbalanced, clutching onto the wall for support. Overwhelmed and panicking the only thing I could think of was to call home. My mum is a nurse and quizzed me on all my symptoms but the one I had failed to properly recognise was the frequency of my urination: I hadn’t passed urine in 48 hours. This is a telltale sign that the kidneys aren’t functioning properly (and a sign of severe dehydration) so I was immediately taken to the hospital (again by the lovely Kelley- this lady must be my guardian angel!) Many of the private hospitals are closed at night, so we ended up going to a public hospital, the name of which I wish not to disclose. Now don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t expecting anything remotely similar to a Western hospital and I have previously experienced a Filipino public hospital, when a volunteer fell ill. But this was on another level.
Being hooked up to IV fluids:
When I was being hooked up to an IV line the nurse- who was talking on her mobile whilst inserting the IV needle- managed to get my blood all over my trousers, the bed and the IV bag. What was worse was that she wasn’t even remotely fazed and we were left to clean up the mess (although I dare say that there wasn’t much point as my sheets were covered in old blood stains!) Half conscious, I failed to notice that the end of my IV lead (the part which connects to my arm) had been touching the mould-covered wall. Luckily Kelley remained remarkably observant throughout my stay and insisted I get a clean one. And in order to go to the toilet (which happened frequently) I needed another person to hold the IV bag outside the door whilst I attempted to squat, stay connected to the line, wipe my arse with my other hand and then pull up my trousers (quite a lot to manage with a high fever!)
The dreaded toilet trip:
The blood stained IV bag:
However, what astonished me the most was the lack of basic hygiene: none of the medical staff wore gloves, there was dirt in every crack and crevice and we unable to find any soap on our ward (and as it was night we were unable to purchase our own, so we had to improvise with face wash and essential oils!) I previously presumed that third world hospitals just needed further funds in order to improve their standards, but no amount of money can improve basic hygiene standards: it’s a matter of education. I’m almost certain that the hospital is in need of more equipment and staff, but what’s the point of another nurse if she disregards the need for gloves? Whilst I’m sure this doesn’t apply to everyone, there is a clear lack of emphasis on basic hygiene throughout the hospital, which only serves to encourage disease and infection.
The toilet sinks:
The disabled toilet:
My bed was on an open ‘female ward’ but had as many men as women (and a nest of birds!) And as the only white patient (possibly in the whole hospital) I attracted a lot of attention, something I didn’t need in my very vulnerable and confused state. During the doctor's diagnosis a huge crowd gathered around my bed to listen in on the intimate details. So I'm sure that half the town now knows about the consistency of my poo!!
The birds on the ward:
In the early hours of the next morning I finally urinated and was starting to feel a bit more like myself. After two rounds of antibiotics I was determined to leave the hospital (against the doctor's orders) armed with a take-home supply of antibiotics, rehydration solutions and probiotics. Whilst I wasn’t 100%, I was no longer dehydrated and I knew I would be better off recovering in the comforts (and cleanliness) of my own room. Needless to say, without the help of the hospital staff I wouldn’t be back to health, so I am very thankful and grateful for the care that I received, in spite of the standards.
The view from my bed:
One day on and I’m feeling so much better. I currently exist on a diet of khichdi (an Indian dish typically made from rice, lentils, cumin seeds, turmeric powder, ginger and salt), which is renowned for helping stomach upsets (I’ve linked a recipe below in case you are ever in need!) When I first tasted this dish (after 72 hours without food) it tasted incredible, but after just 5 spoons I was full to bursting! However, I imagine when my appetite retunes I might be craving something a little less bland!
Thanks again to Kelley and the students and staff at Chandra Yoga for their love and support. Now get me back to the mat because I’ve missed far too much yoga for my liking!
Travel tips for India:
-Make sure you get all the necessary vaccinations before your trip. Check out this link for further information: http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/traveler/none/india
-Certain areas of India are malaria zones, so do check if you will need antimalarials before flying: http://www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk/destinations/asia-(east)/india/india-malaria-map.aspx
-Stick to bottled water (and check that it is sealed!)
-Be very careful with street food and give yourself a few days to get used to the local cuisine before trying it out. If the locals are avoiding a certain vendor then you should too. If possible, have the vendor prepare the food in front of you (this applies to pressed juices too) and check if the utensils and cooking area looks clean. As a rule, avoid meat and pre-sliced fruit.
-If you are planning a trip to India I'd recommend looking up nearby hospitals in advance of your trip, so that you are aware of your options in case of an emergency. Whilst basic treatment in public hospitals is often free, your insurance will cover the cost of a private hospital, which will offer a clean and sanitary environment.
-Benefits of chewing raw garlic: http://healthyeating.sfgate.com/benefits-chewing-raw-garlic-3104.html
-The science behind putting onions and garlic in your socks: http://healthywildandfree.com/this-is-what-happens-when-you-put-cut-up-onions-in-your-socks-while-you-sleep/
-Khichdi Recipe: http://indianhealthyrecipes.com/dal-khichdi-recipe/
-Inside India’s Hygiene problem: http://www.theguardian.com/global-development-professionals-network/2015/oct/30/health-in-indian-slums-inside-mumbais-busiest-public-hospital