This would perhaps be a long post, but bear with me. There are times when something happens, and it totally changes your perception of a place, or people around you. I am in such a state right now. It's barely been 12 hours since all this happened. But awake now, and still a little groggy from sedatives, it seems as if the entire morning happened eons ago.
In 12 hours, I had dealt with everything. Pain. Doctors. Cops. EKG. Injections. And much more. I woke up this morning with a deadly pain in my chest. It was strange, since I had eaten okay last night and got proper sleep too. Trying to ignore the pain, I focused on work. I had a couple of meetings, labs, papers to write, and everything else that would make you ignore your bodily discomfort. But my body made sure I did not. Even before I was out of bed, I knew it was serious. Every two minutes, I felt a sharp stab of pain right in the middle of my sternum that would last a few seconds. I tried breathing deep, I tried to get some fresh air, but the pain kept coming back like a cyclic rhythm. I felt that someone was stabbing me in the ribs every few minute.
My first step was to call up a few friends, who for some reason were not available on the phone. I called up someone, who immediately asked me to make an appointment at the campus medical center. Scared of doctors and shots, I thought that I would be okay in an hour or so, and there was no need to make an appointment. A few minutes later, I had keeled over in pain.
I called up the clinic, and for the next 10 painful minutes of my life when I barely managed to keep my breathing okay, I explained to them my symptoms. I asked them if I could come over immediately.
I am sorry but you need to call the emergency first.
(I was recently told that anytime you face a crisis, see an accident, see fire, get attacked, get stuck inside a locked building, swallow something, anything, you dial three digits. Nine. One. One.)
The emergency? I couldn't believe it.
Yeah, we cannot risk anything happening to you on your way. We need the medic incident reports first. They need to get to your place first.
I was in a dilemma. I had never dialed those three digits before. Once you do, an entire team of ambulance, cops, and the fire department shows up at your doorstep in a minute. I had heard tales about their promptness. Today, I witnessed it.
Hello, there has been an emergency. Chest pains. This is my address.
20 seconds later, I heard the shrieks of the sirens. I did not even need to look out of the window. I had barely managed to open the door for them when four well built, uniformed men entered and asked if I had called. And then, a pair of strong hands inserted two tubes that connected to an oxygen cylinder into my nostrils. Another pair tied something strong on my left arm to check my blood pressure. The third pair was counting my pulse. And all this while, I was never even asked a single question.
When they thought that I was in a position to talk (I was always in a position to talk, just that they never let), they asked me about my discomfort symptoms and took copious notes. 10 minutes later, I was on my way to the clinic with S.
The clinic had some more actions in store. Temperature, blood pressure, and pulse (though these had already been done once earlier) later, I was asked for an EKG. An EKG? I thought an EKG was for elderly people who had massive cardiac arrests. I was told that an EKG would be done not because they thought I had a heart attack, but to make sure that everything was fine. So while I lay in the dimly lit room, small tubes attached with adhesives all over my chest, I felt graph sheets making graphs of my heartbeat. Thank God no one saw me that way. As expected, everything was fine with the EKG report.
Next, I was told to go get a blood test done for pylori infection. These are the bacteria that aggravate the digestive lining due to excess of acid secretion. I did not know this, they told me so. They always tell you what they are giving you and why are they doing that. Back in India, I remember going to the doctor for a simple fever when he would write some 3-4 medicines in a handwriting best read only by the pharmacist. I could never really understand if those squiggles were made intentionally so that no one understood them. I would later have to ask the pharmacist what medicines had to be taken when and how many times a day. Here, every instruction was labeled on the medicine vials. What more, you were told about everything that was being tested on you. I remember back in India I would ask my doctor what exactly was wrong with me, only to see an inscrutable "Why do you want to know? Are you the doctor or am I?" expression on his face. I had a right to know, and I could also distinguish my hepatocytes from my lymphocytes.
To cut a long story short, I was informed by a very patient doctor who wore braces on her teeth that the chest contained organs like the heart, lungs, the food pipe, and it could have been anything. An hour later, I was informed that it was an inflammation of the esophagus, which in layman's term meant that excess acid in my gut had caused inflammation of my food pipe in the chest area. Strangely, I was happy that someone took out the time to actually explain to me what was wrong with me. A needle was again pricked in my arm with utmost care, and when they were done, they nicely bandaged it up so as not to leave any evidence or mark (see pic). I was given a medicine to swallow that would act like a local anesthesia and numb my upper gut. Very interestingly, they actually explained to me that the medicine contained three different stuff, one of which would put me to sleep soon. I was given the medicines, visiting cards, and appointments to come back in a few days. Roughly four hours after I had entered the building complaining of pain, I walked out in the bright sun towards my department.
I had to inform the department that I was taking the rest of the day off and I would be working on my take home due this Friday from home.
Word had spread in the department about my illness and I was soon offered a chair and concerned looks as soon as I had reached there. My departmental secretary had already called the professor and rescheduled my take home to be handed over by Monday.
It was the finals week, and here I was sedated and ready to doze off. My department actually understood this and gave me the extra weekend to finish my exam.
This country never ceases to amaze me. As long as you are insured, being sick is nothing to be scared of. You get the best treatment. Every single symptom you complained of would be dutifully diagnosed. They would draw blood with utmost care. They would inform you about every medicine you take. You would walk out of the place more knowledgeable, and more aware of your body and your illness. The next time someone asked you what was written in the prescription, you wouldn't have that blank look on your face. People would even reschedule final exams. In India, you miss one single exam, and you repeat the entire year.
As I think about the day's experiences now, I can see every incident replaying in my mind. It was not nice to be in such pain for hours. But this incident has definitely made me understand this country a little better. I appreciate the way the doctors did everything meticulously, and followed protocol to make sure that things are fine. The way they explained to me the symptoms for every discomfort I had. The way my friend stayed with me like that silent support, giving her work a little less priority for the day. The way the professors showed concern, and other students emailed me ask if I was feeling better. Most importantly, I appreciate the flexibility in the education system where you are not penalized for things you have no control over.
In a nutshell, my perception about this country, the people here, and the way the system works has totally changed. With medication and sleep, I feel a lot better. Just that I wish I had taken note of how the machine made graphs based on the my thumping heart.