Voyage to India

Jennifer and Akriti from the Primus SuperSpeciality Hospital, International Patients Department

Once a year, go somewhere you’ve never been before. For me it was India. I always had a secret fantasy about going there. It is after all the land of Gandhi, the Taj Mahal, curry and the Kama Sutra. I’ve travelled to a number of countries for work and on holiday but quite honestly, I have never seen any country like India.

I would probably not have consciously chosen to go, had it not been for my brother needing urgent medical attention. He had Conn’s Disease, a rare condition with a growth on the adrenal gland that causes the loss of potassium in the blood, the secretion of excess aldosterone and results in asymptomatic high blood pressure. That means you don’t present the usual blood pressure symptoms like headaches etc. With rates as high as 200/120, high blood pressure is a silent killer that destroys organs, particularly the heart and kidneys.

India had many hospitals and specialists with the best state of the art and affordable medical care. The same surgery was going to cost us four times as much in Johannesburg and he’s not on medical aid. He lives in Zimbabwe and with the economic meltdown and lack of expertise, having the surgery done there was not an option. The specialist was willing to do it but admitted it was the first case he had ever treated. We were not taking chances.

India however, has a booming medical tourism sector with a value chain that includes: medical professionals, hospitals, concierge services, hotels and transport companies. We were looked after from the day we arrived by two lovely young ladies called Akriti and Jennifer, from Primus Super-Speciality Hospital. Both were absolute angels. Akriti picked us up from the airport in a taxi and we went straight to the hospital.

On arrival, Jennifer, also from the International Patients Department took over, escorting us to the various departments for checkups and consultations. I knew my way around the hospital by the time we were done. They need that department because from what I saw, to my shock, about 1 in 10 Indians speak English. The British left India a long time ago. There was no way we were going to get around the Hospital on our own. My brother and I saw 4 specialists that day, a urologist, an endocrinologist, a cardiologist all men, over 40 and then the anesthetist. I had to set aside my gender and ageist prejudice as I watched this ‘mere slip of a girl’ rigorously interview my brother and make notes on a massive chart. I was ready to give her a standing ovation when she was done, about 10 minutes later.

My brother was admitted that evening for observation two days before surgery. I left the hospital in the early evening and the driver dropped me off at the hotel. I checked in with minimal fuss. I paid the bill upfront for our stay, changing money at the bank branch on the premises. Exhausted, I just had enough energy to unpack, have a cup of tea and collapse into bed.

Anxiety had me up early the next day. A friend of hours died in India after coming for treatment but in all honesty, they had left it too late. After a light breakfast, the driver took me back to the hospital. There the specialist announced that my brother’s vital signs were good and he was ready for surgery. We prayed together. I waited until they prepped him and took him to the Operating Theatre.

After that I went to get two local prepaid mobile SIM packs. Our taxi driver runs a mobile shop as a side hustle. Lesson learned: 1. Have a side hustle. 2. Indians can sell ice to Eskimoes. They are so persistent and persuasive. He then dropped me off at the mall to pass the time. I walked all four floors of the Ambience Mall in Nelson Mandela Drive in 2 hours, bought a few items, then had a great gluten-free pasta with lamb bolognese sauce at Jamie’s Italian with Thuli Nhlapo’s Colour Me Yellow for company. At 4:00 I went back to the hospital.

When I arrived at 4:30, he was recovering in ICU. I had to put on gauzy covers on my shoes and leave my personal effects behind. He was awake, still groggy from the anesthetic, in some discomfort but fine. The surgery was successful. He was back in the ward an hour later. I changed the SIM card on his phone so he could watch YouTube Videos, because the local tv channel in the hospital had no English programming. With 2GB of Data a day, he had the best time. I left in the evening again for the hotel. Still Thuli Nhlapo’s riveting story kept me company.

My brother spent the next day in hospital and was discharged on Thursday. We collected his prescription medication at the pharmacy downstairs. Medicine is ridiculously cheap in India, with the availability of generic drugs. Then it was back to the hotel for bed rest on Friday for him. By Saturday he was up and about. We went to Agra to see the Taj Mahal, an adventure all on its own. For the next few days we did some shopping and exploring. We are genuine Indian curry, bought stacks of books and textiles cheaply and he binge-watched SA tv shows with his 2GB daily data allocation from Airtel.  He had the staples taken out on the following Wednesday, a full week later. We flew back to SA that evening.

India’s medical and tech expertise are unparalleled. If we can replicate that kind of depth at such a low cost in our own countries, we would have done something amazing. Forget Johannesburg or Singapore. If you need affordable specialist treatment of any kind, cancer, orthopedic or cosmetic surgery, go to India. Not only will you get the treatment, you’ll get to see so much more of the legendary sub-continent, up close and personal.

Note: I did not receive any incentive, inducement or compensation for this article.

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