I was admitted to a hospital in Orissa yesterday in the late afternoon. I had been having intestinal issues that were excruciating 5 days previous and never quite recovered until yesterday when the cramps in my intestines intensified once again. I was unable to keep and medicine down and my body was trying to get rid of whatever was ailing me out of my mouth as well as my lower region. Since I could keep nothing down the doctors admitted me, severely dehydrated and in great abdominal pain, to the hospital with an IV and a shot in my upper hip.
I could only understand, at best, 15% of what was happening or being said, even with translators. The nurses would come in periodically, speak in Teligu with the representative from WIDA that was here with me, inject me with something, take some blood, and change the fluid bag that was hanging next to my bed. No one told me what was being put into my body unless I asked them specifically and with urgency in my voice; even then I was seldom told what I was enduring. The injections were very painful, making my hand and arm tingle in a way that reminded me of one time when I was injected with medicine I was allergic to and I stopped breathing for awhile.
I felt so confused most of the time, disoriented because of inconsistent sleeping during the day and interruptions from the 5-8 doctors and nurses that would periodically come in, ask me some questions in English I rarely understood, tell me to stick out my tongue and they checked my eyelids. This morning at 5:45 a nurse came in, turning on the room light and waking me up quite disgruntled. It was then that I refused a second injection in my upper hip because it was supposed to control vomiting, something I hadn’t done since before being admitted. In another hour a nurse who wanted to give me a very painful injection again woke me. I refused this because the doctor I spoke with before going to sleep that night told me I would be switched to taking only oral medications because I needed to finish my whole dosage of medication to fully get rid of the infection and ensure it wouldn’t come back. I have received no oral pills to complete my dosage even though I was supposed to have the next dose over 3 hours ago and I am afraid the infection is not cured because I am still having milder pains in my intestines. I am also concerned with how much I will have to pay for all these injections and medicines.
Pramila is a very kind 43 year old Indian woman who works at WIDA and has been staying with me while I am here. I’ve been able to talk with her about basic things like having 5 children in each of our families, both being evangelical Lutherans, and both having boyfriends. Although she is nice and helpful, I sometimes feel like she is trying to show me off as ‘the American’ to her boyfriend (who stayed in the room until at least 11:30 last night until I asked if they would be so kind as to shut off the lights so I could sleep and yet they continued to talk while I tried to sleep) and now another friend who has come to keep her company and stare at me ‘her American friend’ and I cannot blame her. I feel like I am on display to the doctors and nurses and for Pramila’s friends. However, I am grateful that Pramila is staying here with me and feel she should be able to have company that is better than me, who often does not feel like talking with her because it’s not easy to talk with her. She speaks adequate English but I am unsure as to how much of what I say gets across to her with regard to literal words and connotations.
This may be what it feels like for people to come into the US and be sick but not speak English. I realize that I am most likely treated better for being a white American in this country and I wonder what kinds of discrimination immigrants face in the US. I shudder to think at the confusion people must experience when they do not have any translator to help them understand what is going on and yet they are surrounded with and plugged up to such contraptions that mush be confusing compared to the very simple room in which I am currently sitting. I can see how such fear could be enough to prevent people from seeking any medical care at a hospital at all, even if they have insurance. If a person does not have insurance in the US, I can see how this would prevent people from seeking help for health concerns and this would make for an even more fearful experience in the hospital in a foreign country. My total bill for 24 hours in the hospital and for all the medical supplies and medicines used equals $40 instead of the thousands I would have been charged in the US. This is around the price of one simple co-pay for people who have insurance to see a normal doctor for only 30 minutes. Astonishing, no?