What It’s Really Like When You Fall Ill in India

Falling Ill  😦

What is it like to be an expat (or visitor) and ill in India?  There’s no simple answer to this question.  It really depends.

For example, the author of 4-hour work week and 4-hour body Tim Ferriss was in Kolkata, India recently and fell seriously ill (along with his traveling companion) from food poisoning. He describes his nightmarish ordeal here.  If anything close to that happened to me, I would be on a plane (or whatever vehicle will take me there) to US in a heartbeat! Amazingly, he concludes the post describing his medical debacles with “The Bright Side“. He’s obviously a stronger person than I.

My experience with illness in Mumbai has been rather…uh… pleasant. What a strange way to describe an illness! I mean that, not just in comparison with the above mentioned horrendous occurrence, but on absolute terms as well. It’s never pleasant to be ill (even mildly), but we are not given much choice about it. So, if it had to happen, I got lucky since I would certainly put down my medical experience as one that made me feel better, not worse.  

The Hospital

It does make a difference where you live in Mumbai so I believe I lucked out with this aspect first.

When I started having flu-like symptons, I was not about to take any chances (as I would have, had I been in the US) and let the illness work its way out of my system.  I wanted to take control of this and find out exactly what I did and did not have.

In order to do this, I visited this hospital. See those picture on the website?  Looks pretty neat, right? Modern, clean, well designed and constructed, clean, spacious, well-lighted, did I mention clean..? And guess what? It’s exactly like the pictures display. Now, that’s truly remarkable!  

I have not visited too many hospitals in India recently, and frankly, it’s not been my goal to do so.

However, if I had to go to one, it seemed like I picked the right one. Once you entered the premises, you could have been in virtually any developed country in the world.

The Physician

The hospital has every kind of specialist. So, all I had to do is talk to some local friends and they recommended who to see, based on their past experiences. It’s straightforward to get in to see a doc with a same-day appointment.

Because we were unsure as to what my symptoms could point to, a few blood tests were suggested for me on the first day. The results were available for me to download from their website that evening. [Privacy is maintained since you need both the patient and invoice numbers in order to access your test results and I don’t see how anyone but the patient -or a trusted associate of the patient- can have access to these].

Because of the “viral” nature of my illness, I had to repeat a specific blood test every week to ensure that I was getting back to normal. So, I would go to the hospital for the test in the morning and be out of there in 10 minutes or less. That same evening, I would download the PDF containing my results and email it to my physician.  He would review them and let me know what they meant – by email from his iPad.  Can you say efficient? Clearly,  I lucked out with my physician as well!

And The Bottom Line

Now, let’s look at cost.  Given the likes of the hospital that you see in the picture and on their website, they must have a relatively high overhead.  So, the tests were not cheap (by Indian standards).  All my tests – I probably had about 15 tests done through this period – came to about $150.

What seemed pretty ludicrous to me were the physician charges. When I saw the physician at the hospital, the consultation charge was less than $10.

However, when I saw him at his other (low overhead, independent) office, he charged me $4 for the first consultation and $2 for the follow-up visit. And, for all those emails he sent every time I sent him my results? Zero. I’m still trying to figure out how and what to pay him! Mercy.

I guess this just goes to show why medical tourism is all the rage and a growing industry. For example, this particular hospital offers the following medical packages for overseas patients. They don’t publish the cost but that information is but an email away. The above descriptions will perhaps give you some idea of what the cost differential may be.

A final piece of advice – if you are planning to visit India for a short or long stay, do your research. It’s not inconceivable that you will fall ill. So, come to India armed with the name of the best hospital within a reachable, reasonable distance from where you are staying or the contact info of a trusted person from whom you can get this information quickly.

If you don’t believe me, just read Tim Ferriss’ post on his unforgettable nightmare of an experience. No kidding, if I were him, I would find it extremely hard to return to this country. Ever. But, luckily, based on my own personal experience, I can safely say that it doesn’t have to be that way. I think it’s called the yin and yang of life in India.

Except for the cost, which was ridiculously low, the care I received is comparable to what I would have received at home. With a nice dose of efficiency thrown in for good measure. Of course, it’s nice to be well again. And no matter how pleasant, I would prefer to stay well, thank you very much.

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Posted on October 20, 2011, in india and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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