A merry romp through the Indian health care system

by measuringcoastlines
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Let me give you a hand

Last week, I started having a lot of trouble with my right wrist. I have occasionally had trouble with repetitive stress injuries in my wrist or elbow from all my computer work, but I’ve always found a way to manage it with ergonomics, massage, and rest.

But this seemed like something different. I’d been sick with a cold at the time and only lying around anyway, not on the computer much. I started noticing a slight ache around my pisiform bone, and it got a bit worse every day, swelling and getting tender. By the third day I could barely bend it back at all. It seemed like a sprain in some ways, but I had no memory of any specific incident setting it off. Had I wrenched it in my sleep? Was it a stress fracture from all the mousing?

I asked some friends at the ashram to recommend a doctor, but it was the Pongal holiday so doctors’ offices were closed. Still, they suggested I go and get an x-ray at a lab, which I could then present to a doctor the following day.

The lab, which has a decent reputation, was small and packed and had a washroom that consisted of ONLY a urinal, an interesting challenge for a woman. The x-ray was a quick, in-and-out, casual process on equipment that looked like it was from the 1950s.

Waiting room at the orthopedist

Waiting room at the orthopedist

The next day, I went to see a highly recommended orthopedist. My friend Karin came along to help translate and see me through the process, which was great, because I would have been there lost for hours otherwise. There wasn’t a word of English on the signs outside or in the waiting room, which was grim and cramped and full of disintegrating plastic chairs, and waiting figures with casts and crutches and bandages.

When we arrived, there was a list of about 20 to 30 names waiting. But there was a blank spot at #4, and when Karin spoke to the attendant, that was where she wrote my name. So we waited maybe a little over half an hour before I was called in.

Then the attendant led us to the doctor’s office… along with another four or five patients. Here, you don’t necessarily get a private meeting with your doctor. With the number of people who need to be seen, it’s more efficient to have a small group cluster into his office and have him address each one in turn. So I waited as he spoke to the father of a boy with a cast on his leg, and others waited while I had my turn. It didn’t bother me since it wasn’t a deeply private issue and no one else there spoke English anyway besides the doctor, but I certainly hope gynecology and psychiatry have a different routine.

The orthopedist was pleasant and knowledgeable and had spent plenty of time in the west, so we had a good chat. He looked at my x-ray and didn’t see a fracture, and told me that I have an ulnar collateral ligament strain. He prescribed me some anti-inflammatories and a wrist brace, set me up for physiotherapy, and sent me on my way.

Next up was the physio office. It resembled a medieval torture chamber in more than a few ways. The equipment all had an ancient boxy feel from a bygone era. On the wall, there was a device that I could only think of as The Rack. And the pit of hot wax was a nice touch as well.

Physiotherapist's office

Physiotherapist’s office

The Rack... allegedly for shoulder therapy

The Rack… allegedly for shoulder therapy

This was an entirely different experience than anything I’ve had called physiotherapy before. The nurse rubbed an ultrasound device on my wrist for a while, which was awfully tender, and then followed it with some hot wax treatments. (As you can see from the photo, it’s JUST like getting a wax treatment at a salon.) They dip cloths in hot wax and pat them on the injuries, folding and refolding them and picking up new cloths and doing it again, for about 15 minutes. My wrist did feel quite a lot better afterwards.

Hot wax torture pit

Hot wax torture pit

The physiotherapist saw me at that point and fitted me with a wrist brace and asked me to come in a few days later for another treatment. Which I did, and it was noticeably less painful. Although the most uncomfortable part of the process was being eaten by mosquitoes while reading the only thing in English in the entire office… a poster about preventing the spread of dengue fever through mosquito control. If I come down with dengue, know that I got it at the doctor’s office.

Today I went in for my follow-up visit. Apparently I didn’t know the right thing to say to the attendant to get me in at the time the doctor had said to come, so I waited for a soul-sucking two hours before they brought me in, and when I saw him he said someone should have told him earlier. But my hand is doing much better, and all the tenderness and swelling has gone, but I occasionally get slight pulsing pangs in it out of nowhere. He said to keep the wrist brace on for a while yet, and come in for physio every day. I may try a different physiotherapist someone recommended, partly because I’ve only once been met by the actual physiotherapist as opposed to the young women who do the wax treatment and ultrasound. And this may be the same anywhere I go, but I’m apparently a bit of a circus sideshow when I’m there. I’m accustomed to being stared at in India (though I’m not totally comfortable with it) but the whispering and giggling in Tamil while looking at me makes me feel like I’m back in Grade 8.

You may be wondering what was the cost of all this medical treatment? How has it been dealing with travel insurance?

X-ray: $6
Orthopedic specialist: 2x $5/visit
Physiotherapy: 3x $1/visit
Wrist brace: $6.50
Anti-inflammatory medication and pain ointment: $5

At this stage, it hasn’t even been worth looking up the phone number of my travel insurance.

So I’m on the road to recovery, though I’ve had to back off on all computer work this week. I composed much of this blog post in voice-to-text. I’ll be keeping the wrist brace on, going for physio and massage, and making some sort of effort to listen better to my body. Maybe some yoga, minus all the downward-facing dogs. It’d help if I actually knew what the hell I did to set this off – the orthopedist was pretty certain that computer work alone couldn’t cause a sprain.

Time to include handfulness in my mindfulness, I guess.

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