So Thalie got really sick, really fast, whilst we were in Kerala – swiftly followed by Luke. Thalie’s fever was spiking very high, and she was complaining of pains traveling up her legs, so – with WebMD diagnoses of Dengue and Septicimia dancing before my eyes, and Debra’s gentle urging, we went to the local Varkala hospital one night.
I know that Indian doctors are amazing, and I am one of those moms who has a pretty relaxed attitude towards germs as generally being fairly benign and robust-building entities. I also know that I am in India, where disease, dirt, death is part of everyday street life. But, my delusions of wordliness were shattered when sitting in the ward of Varkala hospital emergency room. I wanted a western hospital, where people actually washed hands between patients (or at all) and wore / changed gloves! I craved a place where sheets were changed on beds between patients, especially those who came in vomiting and ejecting greenish fluids from more than one orifice.
In retrospect, I don’t know what I was thinking. I should have taken Thalie by the hand and got out of there as soon as I could. But I was alone, and panicked, and figured that as the very least, the doctors could tell me if there was something seriously wrong. So, we were ushered onto one such – slightly bloodstained – sheet, which I quickly laid my sweater over, we sat, and we waited. In time a harassed, English-speaking doctor came and told me that they needed to check Thalie’s blood for bacterial infection and do something to bring down the very high fever. I comforted her as best I could as 3 women emerged, brandishing the longest needles I’d ever seen. With their unclean hands they proceeded to draw blood, then plunged the largest needle into Thalie’s bottom until the needle shaft completely disappeared. One put the needle in, one held her down, and one proceeded to slap and pummel her bottom around to add greater insult to the injury. Thalie, a pretty chilled and compliant child, was not happy and expressed this in the loudest possible terms. Whilst in the middle of this several other sick people entered, some wailing, some vomiting – all surrounded by about 16 family members who were fascinated with Thalie and proceeded to take pictures of her. Fun!
The doctors were nice and efficient enough, but preferred to talk about Thalie’s condition to my taxi driver (who I had met 15 minutes before), because of course, he was a man, and therefore FAR more qualified to talk about this poor sick child than her mother. It was the first time I really lived how impossible it can be in India to fight through the sexism and prejudice here. I got out my best strident English accent and barreled in. Bottom line was, she would gradually recover if the hospital didn’t get her first.
I know what you’re all thinking. “How could she stand by and let this happen to her child?” You’re right. I should never have gone, I should never have stayed, I should have questioned much more. I feel guilty every time I think about it and I can barely write about it now – 3 weeks later. I fell into the double whammy of feeling that doctors always know best, and not wanting to be a demanding westerner in a third world country full of intelligent people, where I can’t understand the local language. As soon as we got back to Kaiya House I googled what they had given her, only to find out that it is seriously dangerous to give aspirin (let alone a massive aspirin shot!) to a child with a virus. I then proceeded to stay up all night watching Thalie for sudden convulsions and death – not hard as she, and now Luke were up all night eliminating anything from their bodies that could possibly come out!
We struggled to Cochin for 6 hours the following day, to the bliss of the only ‘western’ hotel on our trip – the Meridian, and a heavenly doctor, courtesy of our lovely friends, the Vetticals. The two of them started slowly to mend, India seemed like a brighter place and slowly, slowly, the mum guilt receded – of what we’re doing / what on earth I’m thinking bringing them out here alone (you name it, I’ve thought it). Now they’re back to eating pancakes, I’m back to loving India, and all is righting itself in our world.