Indian Medicine

Dr. Kasliwal’s Ear, Nose & Throat Centre’s waiting room was not big, but several tightly placed rows of benches were filled to capacity with probably 30 patients. It was 6pm on Friday night. The price list for a dozen types of services was on the wall for all to see. A typical charge, converted from rupees, started at about $5.

We were not asked to sit on the bench. With us was Dr. Archana Sogani, an elegant middle-aged woman in a dark-blue sari, carrying a briefcase. As a member of IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers), she showed up in the room of our posh hotel within 20 minutes of our arrival in Jaipur. Ten minutes later, she determined that for the ear pain Sonya had we needed to see a specialist. Her call to Dr. Kasliwal’s office cleared us to go there immediately, and off we went, driven by Dr. Sogani herself in her immaculate SUV.  As VIP’s we clearly were, we were led to the doctor’s office directly from the entrance.  The rooms of the “ENT Centre” were quite bare with the walls painted in government-issue ugly-green reminiscent of the erstwhile Evil Empire, but the equipment was top-notch. When Dr. Kasliwal conducted an examination, we could enjoy a real-time view of Sonya’s inner ear on a large computer screen.

Not seeing anything wrong, the doc ordered a couple of other tests. A string of attendants escorted us to a separate room upstairs. The clinic was in a standalone house, probably also containing the doctor’s residence, as on the earlier doctor’s visit in Delhi, and the staircase was steep and narrow like in old American colonial houses. The tests were done without delay but showed nothing of note. We already knew what to expect at the conclusion – a final brief talk with the doctor, a written list of recommendations and medications to order and to take. We also knew, that there was no equivalent of a formal prescription in India: you simply go to the pharmacy and buy the stuff ordered by the doctor. But if you know what to buy, you can go and get it on your own. In this case, there was nothing new to buy or learn. This after all, was Sonya’s fifth medical visit in India.

Thus, half an hour later we were out and back in Dr. Sogani’s SUV heading to the hotel. The whole care, while solving nothing, at least did not bankrupt us. It set us back by $90 of which $25 was due Dr. Sogani. Her driving was not a courtesy item either, but was included as a separate charge. Considering the price list at the Kasliwal’s Centre, it was obvious why we were treated as VIP’s.

The whole sequence in Jaipur was a clone of the earlier visit in Delhi, when a woman-doctor came to the hotel and then sent us to a male specialist for an evening appointment. At 9pm in Delhi, the line at the doctor’s office was already smaller but the treatment similar. That’s when we learned that the doctor does not necessarily write all the details and quantities on what we thought was a “prescription”.  As a result of the sloppy written communication, the first batch from the pharmacy was not enough and we had to send for more medication from the hotel later.

You may not realize from this story that the medical care in India is actually universally provided by the government hospitals. That’s where the doctors toil in their day jobs. Care there is free or at a nominal charge (this is Indian, not American level of nominal of course). Yet the doctors moonlight at sometimes ungodly hours, and the people who don’t seem rich are eager to visit them in their private offices and pay out of pocket, rather than go to get government sponsored care. It is left as an exercise for the reader to figure out why.

If you need help:

Dr. M. Venkateswara Rao, Civil Asst. Surgeon, Govt. Hospital, Nampally, Hyderabad

Dr. Archana Sogani, Member of IAMAT (International Association for Medical Assistance to Travellers), Jaipur

Dr. Neeraj Kasliwal, Ear, Nose & Throat Centre, Jaipur (Prata: 9.00 se 12.00  Sayam 5.00 se 7.00, Avkash – Ravivar)

Dr. Sanjay Sachdeva, Director ENT, Head & Neck Surgery, Fortis Healthcare, Greater Kailash, New Delhi