Why Indians should avoid hospitals

Go if it’s critical, but else stick to our traditional ways

babulous
babulous
Jul 25, 2020 · 14 min read
I don’t wanna go (Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash)

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When I was a kid in India, going to a hospital wasn’t the nightmare it is now. Most hospitals were run by the government, and the place with the reputation for having the best doctors in town was our local medical college. The hospital was disorganized and messy but the treatment was usually effective. There was something homely about the place because we had friends and family working there. They could be relied on to give us a helping hand to get through the bureaucratic maze that was a government hospital of that era. But most important of all, the cost of treatment was reasonable, or rather affordable by an ordinary Indian.

The changing face of Indian hospitals

The place was a revelation as it was nothing like the old ragtag hospitals of India. With sparkling clean floors, glass doors, spick and span lifts, a reception with an array of computers manned by efficient staff in neat uniforms, well organized waiting rooms, and futuristic diagnostic machines, this looked like a premium hospital located in the US or Europe. I can’t say I was surprised when they asked us to pay in advance as the bill amount was sky-high. Luckily my mother’s insurance covered most of the expenses.

The Open Market Economy

However, the Indian government made one mistake. They allowed healthcare and education to become part of this open market economy. These ‘services’ now became ‘service industries.’ This led to the establishment of hundreds of state-of-the-art hospitals all over India, which remind me more of 5-star hotels than the old rundown government hospitals of my childhood.

Free healthcare still exists but there’s a catch

What if you can’t afford it

Others aren’t so lucky. An uncle of mine needs a liver transplant but refused to have the procedure done, even though his kids are willing to be partial donors (livers regenerate after transplantation, and the partial livers of donor and recipient will grow back into complete organs). His problem is the cost is prohibitive at around $50000 (₹37 lakhs). That is out of his reach as he’s lives on his pension, earned from many years working as a Forest Officer. He refuses to allow his daughter to pay for it even though she’s a doctor herself. I’m guessing he’s calculated that she would have to scrimp and save for 3–4 years to pay off that kind of money. That would come at some cost to her own family.

The thing is health is something no one wants to compromise on. My mother didn’t want to risk her eyes so she chose the private hospital that her friends recommended. But she made sure her insurance was valid there. Most Indians don’t have medical insurance as the concept is just catching on in India, and is mostly a perk offered by employers to make a job offer more attractive.

Too late for the industry to change course

It’s a bit too late to change from open market to free service for India’s healthcare industry. These are businesses and they have already invested millions and need to recover it. There’s no going back.

The government did recently ask these hospitals to treat Covid patients for free. That’s impractical. The business expenses of the hospital have to be covered, which includes staff salaries, costs of medicine and equipment, utility bills, etc. Even then, if it’s a new hospital, it probably has huge loan payments to make. They aren’t going to be able to provide services without any money coming in.

I understand the business issues, but don’t have much sympathy for these hospital-businesses. Many of them show no signs of having a heart, and have absolutely no qualms in ruthlessly taking advantage of any situation.

To go or not to go

The thing is the cost of treatment may not be much by Western standards, but it’s easily half a year’s income for an average middle-class Indian family.

Profiteering Vs Profiting

This is what led to the situation where my wife’s grandfather had a heart attack and was admitted to a private hospital where he was put on a heart-lung machine. The thing was he was already dead when he arrived at the hospital but the hospital wanted to make some money. The family got lucky as my wife’s sister is a doctor. She quickly assessed the situation and had the life-support system disconnected. They still had to pay for one day of its use, which itself was a humungous price to keep a dead guy’s heart pumping. This kind of thing happens all over India and is giving the medical industry a bad name.

Medical Tourism

The cost of treatment at these hospitals may be high by Indian standards but relatively cheap when compared to treatment in a hospital in say the US. Americans want top-quality treatment and top-quality service and these new hospitals can deliver easily on both fronts. Being staffed by doctors with degrees from Western universities is just the final touch of reassurance needed to clinch the deal. If these hospitals had seriously targeted Western countries, India could have become the world’s top medical tourism destination by now.

Take that $50000 for a liver transplant. My uncle found it too expensive, even though it was being done in one of the top hospitals in south India. The thing is it would cost $250,000 in the US. So doing it in India would work out economical for patients from abroad who are looking for quality care and good outcome at an affordable price.

Medical tourism is already happening in India, but in a small way. I know this successful Indian engineer who works abroad and is a diabetic. For all his brilliance, he was careless with his diet, and sugar, and taking his medicines, and ended up needing a liver transplant. He got it done in one of the better hospitals in south India, and went back to work abroad, and was doing fine till Covid struck. I’m guessing he must have quarantined himself as the transplant puts him in the high-risk category. Another friend, a US citizen, had eye surgery (retinal detachment) done here earlier this year.

Medical tourism needs to be promoted big time by the Indian government. It’s a huge opportunity as we have the skills but we need to grab it before China or some other country moves in and captures the market. This promotion by the government could be a win-win situation for local patients and hospitals as the latter could in return agree to subsidize treatment for Indian citizens.

So where does this leave the common Indian?

Anyway, by a coincidence of luck, personal experience, being a fitness fiend, and having a wife who religiously avoids anything with chemicals, be it food or medicine, I ended up in figuring out how to live an alternate healthy life with a little help from India’s time-tested world of home remedies, and alternative medicinal systems.

An Alternate Healthy and Affordable LifeStyle

Food is medicine

A fit body can fight off disease

As for me, I do a combination of stretches and jogging/walking to stay fit. I had to take a break for the first couple of months of the Covid lockdown, but managed to stay fit with an exercise app. These days, I just go jogging on the local roads around my house as the entire area is pleasantly covered by large shady trees. It helps that the roads are deserted except for a handful of other diehard fitness freaks.

Eating healthy

Intermittent fasting

Alternative Indian Medical Systems

I haven’t delved too deep into this. But we have had immunity building herbal combos at home to keep Covid at bay. This includes a neem-turmeric mix, a gooseberry-turmeric-pepper-honey mix. Local grandmothers recommend a medicine called ‘nilavembu kashayam’ as an immunity booster. It’s made of a herb called ‘nilavembu’ (Andrographis) which has to be boiled in water to which you add a few herbs. I’m not too sure of the exact ingredients but I think they use things like honey, mint, coriander, turmeric, basil, ginger, pepper… Seems to be working as we have been Covid-free though it’s raging all over the city I live in.

Yoga

However, the main part of yoga, which is meditation has always been difficult for me. I just can’t switch off my brain. My online guru says to forget about controlling the mind and focus on putting some distance between myself and my body and my mind. I’m still trying to wrap my head around that.

We still need hospitals

Diagnosis: Doctors have spent years acquiring the skills to recognize dangerous diseases. So they are my favorite diagnostic tool. For some reason, I was always worried my baby daughter would catch ‘whooping cough.’ Its name conjured up alarming visions of my kid whooping like a cowboy chasing a cow with a lasso. That way, doctors are an effective early warning system. Once you know the exact issue, you can figure out how best to handle it.

Tummy upset About six years ago, I had a series of recurring episodes of diarrhea. Since my father had colon cancer, my doctor brother recommended I get it checked out as a precaution. Having a camera up my backside was mortifying, and only reinforced my desire to stay away from hospitals. Oh, there wasn’t any cancer and in hindsight, I think it was amoebiasis.

Accidents Around five years ago, I stubbed my toe badly on a submerged rock in a lake I was paddling around in. I had an X-ray taken, and the doctor confirmed a hairline fracture. It was the middle toe, so they couldn’t put a cast. But he immobilized it by tightly binding it with my second toe, and banned all exercise for ten days. Fortunately, there were no complications.

Root canal I had a couple of wolf teeth which I was too scared to extract. Big mistake. My toothbrush wasn’t able to get at food particles stuck between the wolf tooth and the molar, and a cavity developed in the molar. The dentist said the wisdom teeth had to go and a root canal had to be done on the molar. I had to make about 3–4 visits to the dentist to get the job done. I still feel the dentist could have let my wisdom teeth be, as that was my last shot of becoming a wise guy.

Ingrowing toenail This one happened a year ago and was very painful. I couldn’t extract it with my crude tools, and it was getting infected so I was left with no option but to drag my feet to the hospital. The good surgeon wanted to entirely remove the nail for a permanent cure. I requested to him just cut off a thin slice on that side of the toe. He was doubtful about the whole thing as he couldn’t see the offending bit. But he finally agreed to do it, and was a bit surprised to see I was right about a thorn-like growth. The toenail has grown back now and I’m thankful I didn’t give in to the surgeon’s natural instinct to cut first and ask later.

Thankfully, except for my mother’s cataract surgery, none of the above were financially killing. Maybe I got lucky. I’d like to think I made my own luck.

Good luck, people. Eat healthy, exercise, diet, meditate, opt for home remedies, and do whatever you can to stay away from those hospitals. Yes, I did say meditate, because it’s worth trying anything and everything, rather than risking ending up in the clutches of those bloodsucking businesses.

My post was inspired by this video. He has an amazing ability to simplify things.

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