The H1N1 virus, a.k.a. “swine flu,” is all the rage here at the moment. India, like the rest of the world, is subject to media-driven hysterics, so I didn’t think twice about ignoring well-publicized preventive recommendations (such as avoiding crowded and enclosed spaces) and took an overnight train from Kochi to Bangalore, visited a crowded temple, and rubbed my eyes after pushing a shopping cart.
When the fever came, I passed it off as just another unbearably hot twenty minutes in India – followed by an unseasonably cold twenty minutes in India. The sneezing just felt like allergies; I thought maybe a cat had walked through the neighborhood, and the aching muscles were just a natural reaction to not being able to get my ass out of bed to exercise.
Whatever the opposite of a hypochondriac is, is what I am. I assume that physical ailments are the result of character flaws, or not trying hard enough, or being a bad person; not biology. I can’t help it, it was the way I was raised. So my normal reaction to feeling under the weather is just to notch up the self-loathing and avoid actual medial care. But, considering the times, and the current swine flu fear epidemic, my normal reaction just seemed nothing short of self-indulgent.
I decided to be a responsible citizen and take myself to the doctor.
When I arrived at the clinic they wouldn’t even let me thought the front door. A huge banner listing all my symptoms – fever, sneezing, headache, aching joints, etc. – was hung ten feet from the entrance, with a big red arrow directing people like me to go around to the side of the building. There, they’d set up a triage unit to deal with the incoming sniffling masses. Only a few people were seated in the four rows of chairs, and everyone, except for me, was keeping their germs to themselves by wearing face masks.
When the doctor saw me, there were no tongue-swabs or blood tests, just a reiteration of the banner questions: Fever? Yes. Sneezing? Yes. Headache? Yes. Aching? Yes. Appetite? No. Basically the same symptoms as every head cold I’ve ever had. Because of my pre-exisitng asthma condition he sent me packing with a box of Tamiflu, a surgical mask, and instructions to not leave the house for ten days – although I suspect he was either just playing it safe or playing the race card. The last thing India wants is a white lady to die of swine flu on Indian soil.
From what I can tell, the Indian medical system is one of the few things that actually works in this place, which is good because my immune system is worthless here. Every Indian germ is a new opportunity to take me down. I’ve been to the doctor more times in this past six months than I have in six years, and I’m beginning to think that India has cured me of my fear of doctors.
They say that India is bound to change a person. It seems to be true: thanks to four bouts of food poisoning, I can finally zip up my fat jeans. I figure if I add a little exercise to this routine, then by the time I go home I might also be able to fit into my skinny jeans. Or, a small body bag.