Although I am generally writing posts a few days after the event I try to write it as though it is a live blog, hopefully you feel you are right here with us at Suradeep Hospital, Mamallpuram.
But before I get to the gory details let me back up, because the journey is as much fun as the destination, sometimes.
Although she wasn’t up to walking, eating or much else, The Sheila was so looking forward to heading south to Puducherry she worked out an itinerary that included a place I hadn’t heard of, Mamallapuram or Mahabalipuram as it is also known.
Digression: there is a trend to change all the colonial names back to either their original or to an Indian name e.g. Mumbai was Bombay, Chennai was Madras. This can be very confusing when you have two maps of a place and the streets have different names on each map.
We flew into Chennai early afternoon from Kolkata with The Sheila as sick as ever, if not worse. This being her part of the holiday I am saying “yes” to almost everything including “taxi, I am too sick for a bus”. Fair enough, it was Rs1,200 ($25) which is quite expensive by Indian standards but a) it was over an hour b) AC and c) random foreign tourist rate.
Research included finding a hotel in an inherited (and since passed on) Lonely Planet guide book. Our experience has been mixed with LP suggestions. Varanasi hotel was great, this one not so much. Huge room with AC, quite clean, quiet, but no screens on the windows and the bathroom was pretty grotty. This is especially important when you aren’t feeling well already.
Sheila spent all that afternoon and evening in bed while I wandered what turned out to be quite a nice place. I’d say it started as a fishing village, but they have adapted to tourism really well. The streets are the cleanest I have seen in India, they hustle the itinerant touts and sellers out of the area and the shop keepers are quite friendly. Though behind their relaxed friendliness lurks the desire to hustle you into their shop.
The difference was that there wasn’t so much pressure to buy, just having a look was acceptable to many of them and I had some great conversations, especially with the owner of the first music shop I have seen. I kind of wanted a tabla, but they are so big to carry.
By now Sheila hadn’t eaten for 3 days and she wasn’t responding to any treatment I found on the internet when searching for “sick in India”. While walking home that night I passed a hospital/clinic and we decided to go there in the morning.
As the parent of a doctor and a pseudo doctor myself I have an idea about the western standard of medical facilities, Suradeep Hospital didn’t come close, except by name. For once being foreign tourists worked to our advantage and we queue jumped lots of sick locals. A sweet woman doctor was seeing a steady stream of patients as well as handling the money and giving instructions to five or so nurses and assistants.
She wants to do blood tests and rehydrate Sheila. Foreign Tourist advantage: some bloke, likely dying of malaria or worse, is kicked out of a small room and Sheila is put on a Sodium Lactate drip in the back streets of an Indian fishing village.
It is almost as bad as you are imagining. No change of sheets on the bed between patients though a pillow is found (no pillowcase) and put under the sheet. They do use antiseptic but no gloves. There is a fan in the windowless room, but power has been erratic all morning. None of the staff speak English. And not a working Clown Doctor in sight.
Leaving her to her fate I am sent on a mission to find a better hotel. Though I don’t want to bore you with details, I will share the criteria so that I can get some of the sympathy you are feeling for Sheila.
- Sea breeze
- Soft bed
- Screened windows
- Reasonable price
- Hot water
- Ground floor
This is pretty much mission impossible, but I say “yes” and head out. A couple of hours later, having checked out every hotel in town (10+) I am able to report back that from the list of requirements she can choose any 4 and a hotel would fit the bill. The only happy ending happening this day was that one hotel, Siva Guest House, just around the corner from our original, won the day. Oh how I wish I had noted the names of all the hotels in all my posts…sigh.
As they hook Sheila up to a second bottle, this time Sodium Chloride, I am despatched to move house. This place, though on the 3rd floor, has screens, wonderful breezes and a balcony. The promised WiFi is disappointing. Geeky friends, have you ever heard of a WiFi access point being visible to some devices but not others? I couldn’t figure it out. Didn’t matter, it was slow anyway.
Just as I finish the final trip from the original hotel with all our luggage and am ready for a shower and a nap my phone rings, possibly the second time in India. Sheila is finished and while I am tempted to try my luck with some humour and say “just walk back to the old hotel, you’ll see me” I don’t tempt fate and instead say “see you in 5 minutes”.
It is too late to cut a long story short, but some tablets were handed over, blood results analysed (minor infection) and we chatted to the doctor who owns the clinic. She hadn’t had a break in over 25 years or so and treats poor people for free. Our bill came to Rs2,600 ($55) and we gave her Rs3,000 to pay for some medicine for someone who couldn’t afford it.
I am going to kill this tale by saying that Sheila ate something that night, first food in 4 days, and by the next morning she was almost back to normal having risen from what she was convinced was her death bed.
I knew she was better, we went shopping!!! We went walking!!! We continued shopping!!! We ate!!!! We went shopping some more!!!
Having bought some cushion covers the next mission was to find a matching textile for the back of the couch and we did. It was Rs2,500 according to the shop keeper. I have mentioned that Sheila is uncomfortable with me haggling. She figures we earn enough to pay full price and I suspect she is also worried about me offending people. But to me, and I think to the shop keepers it is a game that while there is an edge, can be loads of fun.
And so it was with this guy. We spent about half an hour bantering and batting back and forth and bemoaning the fact that our children wouldn’t be able to eat and we laughed and the price was coming down slowly. In fact we really wanted this piece but I knew better than to let on, we were going to leave and go and think about it…but if he gave it to us for our spending limit of Rs1,000 we would buy now.
The Rs1,000 spending limit was something I invented when I got a sniff he might sell for that. Back and forth we went, he even offered us chai, he acknowledged was enjoying the game, I was honoured but knew it was a ploy to weaken me. Fortuitously I had exactly Rs1,000 in my top pocket, I whipped it out, handed it to him and he laughed “better than nothing” and we had a deal. Not bad from a Rs2,500 start. Sheila softened the blow by not haggling for a pair of earrings.
Rather than take a taxi, we head 100km to Puducherry by local bus. Rs60 Vs Rs2,000. This has been a long post, so that tale is still to come.