Kolkata, India. Today was mainly spent in a hospital, getting my knee attended to. First of all, the venue itself, is called the Apollo Gleneagles Hospital. To me, that sounded like a Greek god intermarrying with a Scottish golf course, but what do I know. First Apollo cures you, then you hit the links?All I can say is that we were in awe of this typical Indian situation. At first, it looks like total and absolute chaos with absolutely no discernible patterns. People just open doctors’ doors and walk in. And there are hundreds of people! (We snuck a few pictures.)
But then you observe a little longer – and you will have sufficient time to observe – and you see that there is a system at work. It just not be the system you are used to and it’s very likely not the system you would design, if asked. But, if you remember that there is a high degree of illiteracy and that you always need to create as many jobs as possible, then you might see some value in the way it is done here.
Apollo Gleneagles is ranked #1 for medical tourism in India, and that has become a huge business. However, in all the crowd in the ortho outpatient department today, we were the only Westerners, and we were treated royally. I used to be embarrassed when guides put us at the heads of line, but I confess that in this situation I was very grateful to see the doctor, get a quick X-ray and to get a cortisone shot much sooner than the queue would indicate should happen. But I doubt anyone actually noticed.
The process is so complicated overall that I just couldn’t have done it without Don being there, running up and down stairs to get me signed in, standing in line at the pharmacy twice for my meds, and generally spear-heading our way through the confusing series of steps.
We met some lovely fellow patients, and everyone loves hearing about our trip and our views of India. What nice people they are. I always compliment ladies on their lovely saris or their cute children, and it’s just great to share a smile.
So here’s the miracle – or several of them.
I got to the doctor I saw today via a referral from an Indian doctor at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York. I don’t know him and he doesn’t know me, but my orthopedist, who is the head of the department, asked around for a recommendation for a specialist in India.
As you might recall, we have now been in many cities in India, and Kolkata is our last stop at a major city here. I did get a referral name from a Lenox Hill doctor, via my doc, but the three people in between these messages didn’t know his first name or what city he was in. You cannot imagine how many Dr. Chatterjees specialize in orthopedics in this country.
What were the odds that he could help me, or be within 100 miles of where I was or was planning to be?
Next miracle: Yes, this doctor has a practice in Kolkata, and he called me back personally and made an appointment for 11:00 on a Saturday in the outpatient wing of the aforementioned Apollo Gleneagles.
Next miracle: Dr. B.D. Chatterjee is the head of the Orthopedics department and considered the top ortho in Kolkata.
The gods continued to be on our side. Yes, we were very early, because India, and yes he was 30 minutes late for my appointment, because India, but in the meanwhile the crowds outside his door continued to swell. No need to read a book – just watch the madding crowds.
He arrived, and came right up to me in the waiting room and introduced himself. As I seemed to be the only person in the crowd with an official appointment, I got right in. And as I was the only Western woman, I guess I was easy to pick out.
Next miracle: Dr. Chatterjee trained in New York at Lenox Hill (my hospital of choice), with the doctor who ultimately referred him. (He also trained at Thomas Jefferson in Philadelphia and Johns Hopkins in Baltimore – not too shabby. He didn’t know my orthopedist – who doesn’t do knee replacements – but now I learned he is very good friends with the orthopedic surgeon who did do my knee replacement, Dr. Rodriguez. “José??!! I was just with him in Las Vegas at the American Orthopedic Congress convention! Tell him I said hello!!”
What a small and amazing world this is.
I learned from one of my new buddies in the waiting room that I would notice that Dr. Chatterjee has a limp. He said that the doctor had crippling polio as a child and that he prayed to his god(s) that if he could walk again, he would make it his life work to help other people walk.
Dr. Chatterjee told me that he had several offers to stay in America, but he felt that India is where he is needed. Because of the poverty, many people wait far too long to seek medical care, and when they do, the doctor knows he has only one chance to help, because most of the patients could never afford a second visit.
For us, the entire event, including a consultation, cortisone shot, some other meds and an expensive optional knee brace added up to about $115. We will get totally reimbursed by our travel insurance. For the average Indian, a cane might have been the only solution.
Me? My knee is already feeling better.
Medical tourism is a fashion that I have very mixed feelings about. People are coming here for joint replacements and lots of other expensive procedures that – even with airfare and accompanying costs – will be cheaper than in the US. (Of course the health care system there is hardly anything to brag about.) It’s the contrasts here that get you. Should we at the top take advantage of the services that those at the bottom here can’t afford? Do we help to subsidize the system? I don’t know.