I woke Nix up at 7am because I couldn’t take much more and asked her if she could please find out about getting a doctor. She went downstairs and asked our landlady who said that it is best to go to the emergency ward at the hospital. I was hoping to get someone to come to me because I couldn’t last much more than 15 minutes without shitting, so a journey of any sort seemed like mission impossible. Our landlady said she would come with us since we didn’t speak Tamil, which was very kind of her. I got up and put on some clothes whilst hallucinating - things were moving that shouldn’t have been. I didn’t know if I was coming or going. Nix walked to the main road to call a rickshaw and therein lay my first challenge - waiting. I lasted 5 minutes then had to run back upstairs to the toilet. When I came back down thankfully Nix was there with a rickshaw ready to go. Our landlady directed him to go to the hospital. Every bump on the ride was a potential disaster for me. I made a silent prayer “Please God, don’t let me shit my pants” then added “And please make this rickshaw ride as quick as possible”. We arrived at the Tiruvannamalai government hospital in about 10 minutes which left me roughly 5 before my next toilet run.
The hospital was chaotic, just like the rest of India. I was relieved we had our Landlady with us because hardly anyone spoke English. She and Nikki explained what was happening to one of the staff nurses and filled out forms whilst I went to see a doctor. After checking me over the doctor said he needed to admit me. That wasn’t what I was expecting. I thought he would prescribe antibiotics and that would be it. I was now going to experience the workings of an Indian government hospital first hand. I told Nikki that they were admitting me and I saw a look of disbelief pass her face. She hadn’t been expecting it either ;)
My first thoughts were that I hadn’t come prepared with toiletries or anything like that. I needn’t have worried. When we arrived at the ward it looked like a refugee camp. There were a lot of people who looked very sick. It couldn’t have been more hardcore. I smiled and joked to Nikki that Tiruvannamalai was really challenging me. The ward had two sections – one for women and children, the other for men. There were steel bed frames with no mattresses and only a thin grass reed mat to lie on which was better than lying on the floor, but I wasn’t going to get any sleep with my bony body on that sort of surface. I went to the first spare steel bed and saw it was covered with old needles. I moved to the next available one and found a half used drip with bloody needle attached next to it. Third time lucky, I found a bed with no biohazard waste. I laughed to myself (which I figured is better than crying) – in the UK all this would have been a huge no no. They were ultra anal about cleanliness when I was a student nurse there – all the things we were told not to do at St George’s hospital they were doing in this one ;)
One of the nurses inserted a needle and valve into a vein in my left hand to hook me up to a drip. As the ward was very busy, it took a while before they attached the drip and I had to run to the toilet again. There was only one toilet for the whole ward – and every single person in the ward had radical diarrhoea and/or vomiting. I put the thought out of my mind. It will be OK.... When I came back to my bed, the male ward nurse sorted the drip situation out for me. As she came over with the bag of solution I smiled at her, and she gave me a wonderful smile back. The nurses are amazing – working in these conditions is hectic, and they aren’t doing it for the money. I’m sure they get paid next to nothing to work in an Indian government hospital . She didn’t speak English and explained to our landlady that the solution will stop my diarrhoea. Allelujah. Then our landlady said she had to go and that she would have some bread and water sent to us from their shop. We thanked her for her help and kindness.
I went through one bag of the solution before needing to run to the toilet again. This time I had a drip in tow so Nix assisted me. Thankfully the toilet was free. Nix stood outside the door holding the drip, whilst I tried to rapidly remove my trousers with one hand (my other hand had the needle and drip tubing in it) without letting them touch the rank floor or walls. It occured to me how fortunate it was that the nurse had put the needle and valve into my left hand – as I am right handed this made my life somewhat easier. Even so I didn’t manage to do it in time and my nightmare was realized – I shat in my pants. I used some of the toilet paper I had with me to clean up as best I could. I felt grateful that we had brought toilet paper, as there was no tap in the cubicle. At the same time I heard vomiting from outside and Nix talking to someone. When I came out there was a lady squatting on the floor and vomiting. When we returned to the bed, our nurse attached another bag of solution to my drip. Every time she came to see me she would chat away in Tamil to us. It seemed that she thought we spoke Tamil. We smiled and nodded, not knowing what she was talking about at all. When she finished we would always say “nandri” (thank you), the one word of Tamil that we do know, and perhaps the reason that she thought we spoke the language....
Soon after a doctor came to check on me. He asked if I spoke English. I smiled and nodded. He asked me how I was feeling. I told him I still had cramping and diarrhoea. He smiled and replied “You vill be fine. Don’t vuree.” I love Indian optimism – it’s completely contagious (along with everything else in the ward). The nurse brought more bags of solution to my bed - four in total, two of which contained antibiotics. Nix joked “Yassus they really are going full power with you”. A different nurse walked up to the bed and said “stomach pain?” I saw the huge needle she was carrying and said “Erm, no, no, it’s completely gone now.” As she spoke Tamil, my half joke (I still had cramping) fell on deaf ears. She motioned for me to roll over, pulled down my pants and jabbed me in the arse. Nix’s eyes went wide – the needle was big, and I think she felt for me.... A while later I had the urge to go to the toilet again. Nix suggested I relax on the bed rather. I said that would be a mistake, so she helped me with the drip and we made our way to the loo, which miraculously was free again. Someone must have been watching out for me. Thankfully this time I managed to direct the diarrhoea into the toilet.
I spent the next few hours on the drip. My head was pounding, but the cramping was beginning to subside. At one stage I had an audience of Tamils who had gathered around my bed to stare at me. “Please, not the staring. Not now” I thought to myself, and shooed them away. I’m sure they meant no harm, and I’m sure they don’t see many white people in government wards, but I had no energy to deal with them. I felt very grateful to have Nix there with me. She was amazing – offering me words of encouragement, massaging my head to ease the headache, checking on the drips, fetching the nurse when the bags ran out, and of course, helping me to the toilet. I was getting 5 star treatment.
When the last bag finished the nurse sister suggested that if I felt able I should go home since I might suffer from cross-contamination if I stayed in the ward. I still didn’t feel OK, but from what I’d seen she was probably right so we opted to leave. The nurse sister gave me a few antibiotic tablets and a couple of immodium to take at home and said I should come in again if need be. We asked about payment, and they told us all the treatment and medicine was free. Amazing. So instead we gave our nurse some money since we figured the staff get very little pay and could probably use the extra cash. She didn’t want to take it at first, but we persuaded her and she accepted smilingly. We walked out to the main entrance to find a rickshaw. As Nix attempted to explain to the Tamil speaking driver where we were going I felt the urge to shit again. I ran to the only toilet I knew which was back in the ward. Unbelievably it was free again. Thank you universe. When I came back out the rickshaw driver had left so we found another and made our way home. I was happy to lie down on a mattress again and I spent the rest of the day doing nothing but that. I took one of the immodium pills and went to bed very early. I slept solidly for the first time in 4 days, although I still got woken up at 10.30pm by more explosions. Indians do love their fireworks. I felt like throttling whoever was setting them off.
I woke up this morning feeling better, but I am hesitant to say I am fine. On day 2 I felt better, but then regressed. I’m keeping my fingers crossed that whatever hectic parasitic or bacterial infection was inside me is now gone. I don’t relish the idea of going through that whole process again. With all the purging I have been doing I must be as pure as the driven snow now....