I'm thinking of calling this blog, Serena's Dramas, as that's what it's turning into. I'd like to tell you, boys and girls, about an incident that happened to me in Jaipur yesterday involving a nasty doggy. If you are squeamish, then you may prefer not to read this.
I'd spent the morning walking around Jaipur taking pictures of the pink city and the people I met on the way. My barriers had dropped somewhat since I arrived in India, and I was talking to more people, and forgetting to ignore unwanted attention. Consequently the leching men were getting to me quite a bit that day, starting to wear me down. I walked to the Albert Hall museum, and sat on the steps outside and gave myself a bit of a talking to. I told myself to put the blinkers back into place and stop seeing the stares; you cannot easily change the attitude of others, but you can change your reaction to it. I finished my pep talk, and decided not to visit the museum I was outside of, but to go instead to the Museum of Indology, where they are said to have a fine collection of miniature paintings.
As I walked around the outside of the museum I noticed two female monkeys, each with a young one clinging to her, running along the top of the railings. They appeared to be the same sort I had seen at Akbars Tomb in Agra, but rather than docile like those had been, these were extremely agitated. The lead one bared her teeth at me as I drew near, and I thought of monkey bites and rabies and passed by quickly, stopping to look back from a safe distance. Chasing the two females was a male of a different breed. Typical - I thought, feeling aggrieved at men at the time - being chased by a man. The monkeys split up, and I watched the male chase one across the busy road, and wished her luck in escaping him before continuing on my way.
I started to walk down Jawaharlal Nehru Road - a wide thoroughfare that reminded me of The Mall. I was walking on the left hand side of the road, as is the custom here, at least five metres away from the pavement that was bordered by a wall. A group of pavement dwellers called to me, and I smiled and waved back at them. As I turned my head back to look in front of me I saw two dogs by the wall, one white and the other black, and noticed that the light coloured animal was chained up. As I drew level they began to bark quite savagely. I am not keen on dogs, but I know that people say they can smell fear; whenever I am near one that makes me nervous I remind myself of this fact, take a big breath and make a conscious effort to relax.
I carried on walking at a steady pace, but could hear by the barking that the dog was coming after me, getting closer now, right behind me...then I felt his (it had to be a male, I'm sure!) teeth sink into the back of my ankle. I half turned as the black mutt slinked off, snarling, and threw my hands up in the air as I burst into tears. I made my way to the pavement, feeling the wetness of my blood in my shoe as I walked; maybe I should have got a rickshaw after all instead of walking everywhere, I thought. I sat down and looked as the blood flowed freely from the cut. I moved my foot slightly and saw that it was deep. I tried to remember whether there is an artery in ones foot, and hoped I wouldn't need a transfusion, drama queen that I am! The pavement dwellers crowded around me, and we all stared at the blood. One of them managed to find a clean bit of cloth - I don't know where from, as they were all dressed in dirty rags. It was white with blue flowers on it, until I held it against the wound, whereupon it became red instantly.
I pressed hard and cried more, as a cycle rickshaw-wallah shouted hospital, and I was helped up onto the vehicle, resting my foot in front of me with the ankle turned inward to prevent the gash from gaping open. The guy cycled like the wind, sticking his leg out to counter-balance the rickshaw as we belted around the corners to the nearest hospital. At the emergency entrance I was helped onto a gurney, and wheeled into casualty, where I drew quite a crowd - I looked up and saw at least a dozen people bunched around me, so waved and said hello through my tears. While I waited to be dealt with I took a couple of pictures of my injury, as you do. The rickshaw-wallah explained what had happened to the doctors, who told me that I would need a couple of injections - tetanus and a painkiller - and then the wound would be cleaned.
Once I'd been jabbed, I was wheeled into a private room and told to hold my leg over a bin to be washed. The bin was lined with a yellow bag that was liberally spattered with other people's blood, so I was careful not to make contact. There was a doctor (I presume) and two orderlies in the room; the orderlies found my presence most amusing, and my tears hysterical, which didn't help matters. The doctor washed the cut with sterilised water for several minutes, then put some pink soap on the wound and started scrubbing it vigorously. I made the mistake of looking as he stuck his finger into the hole, and poked around under the skin. I noticed that he had no gloves on, and didn't remember seeing him wash his hands; I continued howling, at the thought of it as well as the pain.
Once he had finished a giggling orderly handed him a wad soaked in iodine, and a bandage. As he undid the bandage he slipped, and the end of it unravelled into the bin. After a moments hesitation I was relieved when he tutted and threw the rest of it in, and asked for another, clean bandage. He loosely wrapped my foot, then I was wheeled back into the main casualty area, where most of those standing around appeared to be onlookers rather than medical staff, though it was difficult to judge. I was handed an A5 piece of card and told to return to the hospital the following day at ten - at the time I assumed it was for stitches, although I later read on the card that it was for "further needles", and that I was to attend the Dog-Bite Clinic in Room 11.
I was wheeled outside, and a porter asked with sign language whether I wanted a rickshaw. I nodded, and he returned a short time later with a sullen driver, who quoted me 100 rupees for the journey - which should only have cost maybe 30 or 40 rupees. I managed to haggle down to 70, but felt this was real insult added to injury; a case of kicking me whilst I was down. At the hotel I told the guy on reception what had happened, and asked for a big pot of chai - I really needed the sweet, milky tea. I got myself together a bit and then phoned my sister, telling her what had happened, and asking her to check with the travel clinic where I'd had my inoculations to see which rabies vaccine I had had before coming away. She advised me to tell my insurance company too, in case of complications. The hospital I had been taken to was a government one, and emergency treatment was free, so it was unlikely I'd be making a claim at this point.
They told me that a medical person would call me the next day, and I gave them my mobile number. Then I remembered that I was out of credit - as India is such a big country the networks are split into states, and once you are outside of the state where you bought your card, you are roaming and therefore charged around 5 rupees a minute to receive calls. They also have a strange recharge system, whereby only around half of the money you pay to recharge actually gets added to your credit - so basically call charges cost double what they seem at first glance. Anyhow, I knew that I had to get more credit on my phone, but as it was Sunday, few places were open, and I ended up walking a couple of kilometres and making the bite begin bleeding again.
I did eventually find somewhere, and also an Internet place, where I was able to let my parents know what had happened. As I was leaving there, still feeling quite shaken, a rickshaw driver asked if I needed a ride - he was about the fourth that had approached me, but the rest either didn't know where my hotel was, or asked extortionate amounts. This guy shocked me by offering to use the meter - they all have them fitted, but I didn't think any used them. He said if I preferred he would take me for 20 rupees, so I got in. At the hotel he asked - without pressuring me - if I wanted to go anywhere the following day, visit any sites. I explained that I'd been bitten and had to go back to the hospital, and he asked if I wanted him to take me. I said yes, and this was a wise move, as he ended up being a real star.
The next morning he turned up promptly, and ferried me to the hospital. He said he had been there before with his nephew, and could show me where to go if I liked, guiding me through the throngs of people inside to room 11, the dog-bite clinic. The hospital was different to those at home, in many ways. It was on the grubby side, for one, no sterile smell of antiseptic here. The concept of queuing doesn't really exist either, instead everyone just enters the doctor's room, crowding around his desk and pushing pieces of paper and drugs towards him. I was a bit backward at coming forward, so the rickshaw driver got in there for me, telling me to sit down by the desk.
The doctor was multitasking in a big way: a few words to him; scribble on her car; have a quick peek at his wound, and send him off somewhere. As I waited I looked around the room, seeing a chart on the wall marking the number of animal bits the clinics deal with each month. October was the quietest month in the last four years, as only six hundred and something people were seen. The busiest month had been January 2004, when over 1,200 cases had been dealt with by the clinic. After a while the stream of people entering the room slowed, and the doctor cast his eyes over my sheet of paper, which I'd been given in casualty the previous day. He told me to unwrap the bite, to confirm that it had broken the skin, I think. I showed him my vaccination booklet, and said that I had been inoculated before my trip, but he didn't take a lot of notice. He spoke more to Raju, my rickshaw driver, than to me.
He sent me away, and Raju explained we were going to the allergy clinic, where two doctors sat behind a long table covered in vials and syringes, and numerous people stood or sat around the room. Again Raju ushered me towards the doctor, who stuck a needle in my forearm, causing a bump that looked like a mosquito bite. He waved me away, saying "wait three minutes", and I sat on a bench across the room. The doctor glanced at me occasionally over the next quarter an hour or so, then waved me back over, looked at the needle mark and asked if it itched. When I said no, he stamped the back of my card negative, and I was sent back to the dog-bite clinic.
Whilst simultaneously dealing with half a dozen other patients, the doctor got me to jump on the weighing scales then scribbled on my card the name of two drugs, and a list of dates under the second: 28/11, 1/12, 5/12, 12/12, & 26/12. Then he told me to go and buy the medicine and the syringe, and come back. Outside of the hospital, but still in the grounds, were several stalls selling medicine, which Raju explained were non-profit government shops, where you could only by the drugs prescribed by a doctor. I hung back while he joined the crush at the counter, handing him the money to complete the purchase once we were served.
Back in the clinic I joined the other patients thrusting their cards and medicines at the doctor, who initialled the vials, then sent me into the anteroom. I joined something that almost resembled a queue and waited my turn, when a man in a white coat measured out a precise dose - according to my weight - of one drug, which he stuck into my arm. Another man told me to lie on a gurney and injected a frightening amount of clear liquid just below the waistband of my trousers, leaving a little bit in the syringe and sending me yet again back to see the dog-bite man. He called in two trainee doctors, spoke to them in Hindi and sent me off with them.
After weaving through busy corridors we arrived at a room where two people were lying on tables, one with quite nasty open wounds, and several of others - some in white coats - were variously standing around. The trainee doctors spoke English, so I asked them if they could tell me what was happening. "Well this boy has been bitten by a dog, and...", I explained that I wanted to know what was happening with me, and one answered "Well, madam, you have been bitten by a dog, so you must have a course of anti-rabies injections..." I gave up. The man on the other table was escorted out, so I was motioned to lie down on the dirty cloth covering the table, still with no idea of what was happening. I figured it wasn't going to be pleasant, though, so turned my head away and covered my eyes.
I felt an intense pain in the slit, and could only think that they must be stitching me up, but Raju told me they were injecting inside the wound. Yes, I thought, that would account for it. They stuck the needle in six times along the length of the bite, then a female nurse - the first female worker I had seen in the hospital - put a gauze on the cut, and bandaged it neatly. I cast my eyes up, and saw a pigeon sitting on a ledge near the ceiling. I got down, and saw the doctors simpering at me. "Are you alone, madam?" asked one. "Are you married?"
As we went to leave the room we passed a sink and Raju said to me, "Now wash your hands." He and I both did, using the pink soap that sat there, and after exchanging glances the young trainee doctors followed suit. Back again to the dog-bite clinic, where the doctor - as busy as ever - wrote the name of two tablets on the back of my card, telling me to come back once I had bought them. Raju spoke to him in Hindi, then led me outside the hospital grounds, to a normal chemists on the opposite side of the road this time, as instructed by the doctor. One lot of tablets were painkillers and muscle relaxants, the other antibiotics - my third course in as many months. I wanted to buy some cough medicine too, but Raju wisely pointed out that we should check with the doctor first, to make sure that it wouldn't interfere with the other drugs.
Back to familiar room 11, where this time the doctor was absent. Sat waiting for him was a man with a horribly swollen leg, the skin all stretched and shiny, and his wife. With Raju as translator we swapped stories: he had been bitten by a camel over a week ago, and was back to the clinic for a third time. a grubby strip of cloth was wound around the bite itself. The doctor returned, followed by a number of patients all clamouring for his attention. I waited patiently until he had time to turn my way, and he checked that I had got the right tablets and told me how to take them. As he was turning away I asked about the cough medicine, which he said was fine and would not interfere at all. "But," he said sharply, pointing his finger at me, "you must not drink or smoke for two months - no intoxicants at all." I told him he had just ruined my Christmas, and he repeated "No intoxicants."
So for a day or two my ordeal was over, though I've four more injections and a dry Christmas to look forward to. I'd been looking forward to indulging in a bhang lassi in Pushkar, my next destination - after all bhang, a derivative of marijuana, is legal over here. My plans for the festive season including having a hedonistic time of it in Goa, partying on the beach, drinking till all hours, but that's all out of the window now. I'll have to think of somewhere else to go, because if I'm surrounded by pissed-up revellers I'll either join in or be miserable. I know some people say they don't need alcohol to have a good time, but I'm not one of them! Won't be getting any Christmas presents, but I'll have a needle stuck in my arm on Boxing Day. Bah Humbug.
Still, worse things happen, and in India I am surrounded by examples of those less fortunate than me everywhere I look, so I can't really get too glum about it all. Shit happens, eh? When I looked at the photos I'd taken the morning I'd been bitten, at the colourful street scenes and smiling faces, I was still glad I had come to India.
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