Here's a description someone emailed to me yesterday about what happened after they wanted to be checked out in India for possibly having COVID-19, the dreaded coronavirus.
Hopefully this doesn't describe a typical medical experience in India. If it does, India is in deep trouble as it fights the coronavirus (currently the country is in the midst of a three-week stay at home lockdown).
If you aren't aware what paan is, check out the Wikipedia page about this commonly chewed substance in India.
I was in India recently. Just got back a little over a week ago. Had a great time for the most part skateboarding a bit, visiting one of my best friends, and just bumming around looking for potential investment properties and doing touristy things.
To make a long story short, I'd been coughing since almost the first week I arrived in India, attributing the cause of the cough to the fact that I was in a place with more air pollution than hell, and I was also smoking super strong clove cigarettes all day every day.
But the cough never went away totally even when I stopped smoking altogether, and as the corona hysteria grew it made me a bit nervous about myself, but more importantly for the people I was staying with.
One day I asked the hosts I was staying with to call the corona hotline India had set up, and was instructed to immediately go to one of the well known hospitals in the city. The family assured me that it's the most advanced place with the most professional doctors and all that stuff.
Since I thought I should minimize risk and not unintentionally spread corona to randoms on the street, I walked to the main road at about 11PM and called an Ambulance, thinking they might have some sort of transportation procedures. I was wrong.
Between my own crappy attempts to give directions in Hindi plus locals on the street speaking to the dispatchers on my speaker phone, it took almost 15 minutes just to explain where I was. No big deal for me, but I imagine people die there all the time just from the incompetence of the people on the phones who ask pertinent questions such as "aap foreign hai?" (are you foreign) over and over again.
Moving on, an ambulance finally arrived and I was instructed to get in and not touch anything. The ambulance was the dirtiest thing I've seen in any kind of medical scenario in my life, and they drove like madmen, nearly making me fly off my seat about 10 times.
After a few seconds we arrive at the hospital, and the first thing I see is a big sort of half indoor half outdoor enclosure packed full of people coughing, screaming, crying and sleeping. There is wet paan spit every few inches on the road, stray dogs are everywhere in and around this tent-like building and the noise is basically no different than the streets of India.
The whole place looks like a war zone with the exception of the workers who all seem not to give a fuck about anything at all. I told myself that I'd run away if they tried putting me in that tent place. Luckily they didn't.
After being instructed to stand near the van in 3 different places, I'm finally escorted into a packed waiting room which is also full of sickly people milling about aimlessly, causing ruckus and of course staring at me. I was wearing a mask, but still made a useless attempt to maintain distance from others.
After waiting around for a few minutes I'm escorted back outside and toward another building altogether. There I'm instructed to wait outside, which is a good thing since that, too, is the wrong building. After stopping at two more buildings and walking around the spit drenched roads, we finally arrive at the place where I'll be made to stay overnight.
While entering the building and walking up the stairs, the first thing I notice is that the paan spit isn't reserved for outdoor areas, and even the halls of this medical building are covered in the distinct red stains seen everywhere else in India. It's not a good sign but I have no other choice really since it was announced that anyone who doesn't go to the hospital when instructed has committed a crime.
Americans are fools who follow laws. In retrospect, it may have been wiser to just come back to USA.
So finally I get to the second floor, known as the first floor in India, and take a seat on a bench. A man comes out who I assume is a doctor and asks me a lot of questions as well as takes my heart rate. I ask if he's gonna take my temperature and his response is something like "No, we don't do anything like that here" which doesn't give me any confidence at all.
I'm eventually taken to an area with rooms full of beds which I guess is the quarantine area. It's across the hall from the "infectious disease ward" but itself isn't labeled.
Upon entering the room, the first thing I notice is that the sheets on my bed are stained, and that the attached tray has a bunch of pieces of rice on it, which means it wasn't only not disinfected, but hadn't even been wiped clean of food. Strewn about the floor are wrappers and the packages from bandages, swabs and other medical paraphernalia, and like many things in less important sectors of Indian society, things were generally disorganized and broken.
After a few minutes the doctor comes back to tell me that I will be tested for corona in the morning and that I should sleep, so I decide to get up to use the restroom, and make my way down the hall to find what was maybe the most concerning thing about this already frightening adventure I'd been on.
The restroom I'd been instructed to use is a squat toilet that looks as though it's never been cleaned, and has no toilet paper or one of those ass sprayers that are becoming common, but instead has the old style tap and bucket, meaning that the people in the quarantine (which luckily was only me at that point) are supposed to clean their ass with water and their bare hand.
The handleless door had that appearance of something decades old with layers upon layers of filth that had been smeared and scraped in every direction a millions of times. Filth which in this case is mostly fecal matter. Thank God I only had to pee and did my best not to touch the door.
I left and searched in vain for a place to wash my hands. There was no sink, no soap. Nothing in that hall but a really dirty bottle of hand sanitizer near the door of my quarantined room.
Not only until the next morning did I find in the same hallway another restroom with a western style toilet and a sink to wash my hands. The problem with that one was that it, too, had no toilet paper, ass sprayer or even bucket and water tap, and on top of that, the toilet had no seat and the water was literally black.
Around 3 in the morning some random dudes came into the quarantine, since I guess the security guard decided to go elsewhere, and asked me "koi aya?" (has anyone come). I attempted to tell them that I had no clue wtf they were talking about, and after a minute or so they realized that yes, I was indeed foreign and that they should stand, stare and talk about me for a while before leaving.
I went back to sleep.
Around 7 or so the doctor-ish guy returns and says he'll give me a test, but not for corona. I'm told that due to my long stay in that city and no exposure to any known cases, I'm not eligible and I'll instead be tested for bird flu, swine flu and all that other stuff.
They send me to another doctor who gives me some meds for plain pneumonia and I go back home to the room I was renting. Later after a lot of hard work, I find some phone numbers online of alumni from the medical college, and get a number to retrieve my test results, which are negative. No swine flu. Awesome.
I decide when I get to my room that I need to leave India, but surprisingly not due to the chaos, but because I felt bad for my wife being in USA alone, and I knew that any plans I had were not gonna work at that time. Booked my tickets the next day, and good thing I did. My flight was the last Air India flight out of the city, and for reasons nobody ever told me, they confiscated my documents and I almost wasn't able to get on the flight.
Before I left I started to feel the tribal tension and famous racism of India starting to build up. Kids in the neighborhood who once wanted to be around me every day were now looking at me weird, fat women on the street were pointing at me and saying "corona corona!" and in one market the shop owners were saying that I came to India just to spread the virus.
My hosts said that neighbors started coming to their house asking about me and saying I had to leave, never mind the fact that a local singer was suspected of attending parties about a mile from where I was staying while she unknowingly had corona and potentially spreading it to many other celebrities and politicians. No, it's the foreigners who are doing it! Even if I'd had it, it'd be from Indians since I was there from before corona.
But whatever. People are idiots.
Now I'm reading about foreigners being kicked out of their hotels and rented homes all over India, and them and their children being spit on, pelted with stones and attacked at random on the streets. Nobody is really talking about it anywhere, as can be expected. Meanwhile mindless Americans are crying about the word "kung flu" and making bad jokes international news.
Anyway, I'm back home. Self quarantined. Feeling good. Making music. I feel lucky. Things could be a lot worse for me.
As for India, if that disease catches on, they have no way to stop it. Whatever assurances the government is giving are hollow. Police beating poor people on the street will do nothing but cause riots which are already happening anyway. It's sort of like their disastrous "demonetization" failure all over again, except about 1000 times worse. In that one, foreigners were being groped and molested at the ATM machines and banks, but not kicked out onto the streets and attacked by mobs.
In a lot of ways I really love that place, and many of my favorite people live there, but it'll probably be my last trip to India. I saw a side that I don't want to see more of.
Good luck to everyone there, and be well, Brian.