You’ve managed to use your mosquito bat with success a few times; you’ve adjusted to the spicy cuisine and eating with your fingers and you’ve enjoyed more turmeric in the last few months than you’ve ingested in all your roast beef-and-mashed-potato upbringing; you’ve learned a few words of Tamil and sometimes flip your “r’s” without even thinking about it; and the traffic doesn’t seem quite so unruly even when an ox cart and a few goats appear out of nowhere in the fast (relatively speaking) lane and a hulking bus worthy of a Steven King movie swerves your way without slowing a bit . . . Hey, life is good!
Yet, for anyone making a new home on the other side of the world, a nagging, unspoken dread may still darken the mood once in a while, to be bravely scorned or wishfully ignored. Nah, I’m fine, you might say, this ache or cough or little infection will go away . . . I won’t ever have to go to . . . hospital!
Hospital, oh my! That’s serious stuff—frightening in fact for most of us—even back in the US when you know your flat, midwestern accent will be understood perfectly and you trust your own regular doctor and you know your insurance card will work and you have plenty of family and friends nearby to bring you a double chocolate malt from Ben & Jerry’s. How awful to be hospitalized on the other side of the world! Please let this not happen to us, you might say . . .
As you can no doubt tell from the tone so far, this story has a happy ending, but the header photo was Sarah’s view in the recovery room following emergency surgery at Apollo Specialty Hospital here in Chennai in late November. The good news was that several lessons were learned and we recognized the impact well-run organizations can have on smoothing the process and soothing your nerves.
First of all, Sarah would (well, now, anyway) tell you to please, please attend to any health issue when it is still just bothersome and manageable rather than waiting too long—and of course your spouse and friends can also pry and question a bit more when you aren’t yourself. Next, if your employer—in Sarah’s case, the American International School Chennai—has a full time staff of nurses and a doctor, on site at the school, every day, at no cost—meaning, zero, zilch, nil, nada—be sure to see them asap and tell them the complete story of what might be bothering you.
So, on a Monday, Sarah went to school, as usual, only to call mid morning to say she felt horrible and thought she had the flu and to send Mani, our driver, to pick her up. By that afternoon, she seemed to be feeling better . . . But Tuesday morning she woke up and realized she needed to call the school nurse and ask for help. Miss Jessy, the nurse, called Dr Sivagama, the school doctor, who immediately contacted a surgeon and set an appointment for Sarah to see him at noon. We only found out much later that she had insisted the surgeon leave his regular office at the main Apollo Hospital up in Thousand Lights in central Chennai (about a 45 minute drive for us) and meet us at their hospital on the OMR (Old Mahabalipuram Road, a main IT thoroughfare) only about 15 minutes away from our house. Although we didn’t know it, that was just the first of AISC’s incredible attention, reach, and impact throughout, along with Apollo’s top drawer service.
To cut (sorry, pun intended) to the chase, the Dr. Jothishankar, the surgeon, arrived right on time, examined Sarah, and said “Surgery at 3pm. Yes, in the Operating Theater. Yes, general anesthesia. Yes, today. Yes, today today.”
OMG, this is all so fast, is it okay, is this the right thing, how do we pay, where’s the insurance card, on and on and on . . . So I called Nurse Jessy at school to get her confirmation. She immediately came to the hospital to walk us through everything, along with Anitha, the school’s insurance rep from Religare (who chided me for putting down a half lakh ruppees deposit), and we were even assigned a relationship contact, Miss Sumitha, with the hospital. The three of them shepherded us through all the details over the next 30 hours. Passport, check; Residency Permit, check; insurance card, check; single room, check (Miss Sumitha managed to swing us into a lovely suite instead!)
Long story a bit shorter, Sarah’s surgery went well, took less than an hour, and after a call to Nurse Jessy, I managed to find her in the darkened recovery room. “You’ll be staying overnight,” the doctor said. Overnight!! The nurses soon chased me out and sent me to our new room, the Platinum Suite, on the top floor, where we had a bedroom, living room, and two bathrooms for the night.
During Sarah’s stay, we were consistently attended by nurses, her doc, staff doctors, the head of staff, housekeeping, dietitians, all providing thorough attention and conscientious care (and some excellent sambar). Whenever we had a question or concern, a quick call to Jessy or Anitha or the hospital rep, Miss Sumitha, yielded a response that seemed nearly instantaneous!
Of course, after a good night’s sleep—I got a hospital bed of my very own—an early and spicy South Indian breakfast . . . and then an early South Indian lunch . . . and a final okay from the surgeon around noon, it was time to hit the road. Sarah was eager to slip into her own jammies, cozy down into her bed in our own Besant Nagar flat, and just . . . heal!
Four hours later, we finally did just that. Some things I guess are exactly the same around the world. We filled out surveys and questionnaires and signed a few forms, and then we waited. The great news was that Sarah’s insurance, provided by AISC, paid every single rupee of the bill—no deductible—and the total cost was about 5% of what it probably would have been for comparable top notch care in the US. Hmmmmm. (Oh, and the Rs 50,000 deposit I had to put on my credit card was refunded in cash when we checked out.)
As I file this post, its nearly two weeks after Sarah’s surgery and she is showing the strength and determination that makes her the strong, successful woman and outstanding teacher I’m so proud of. She went back to school the following Monday and is in full swing prepping for holiday carol sings and concerts over the next couple weeks.
So, all in all, an experience we hope not to have to repeat, but one that impressed us with Apollo Hospitals’ first class facilities, care, attention to detail, and well run process. Dr Jothishankar—Sarah has had two follow up appointments and yes, he still comes down to the hospital on the OMR—has been attentive, gracious, and responsive—he gave us his mobile number so we could SMS him directly!
And of course AISC’s connections, relationships, and individual personnel, including Miss Jessy and Doctor Sivagama, and even the Religare intermediary, Miss Anitha (who has an office at the school), as well as the school’s leadership and faculty who offered concern and best wishes and dinners, made a difficult time so much more workable for Sarah. Many thanks all around—and especially to AISC for sending flowers, Sarah’s favorite!
Best of all, Sarah can now pretty much say “Nan nalam,” which is Tamil for “I am well.”