Ah, how to begin? My Facebook friends and Twitter followers can tell you that the theme of this trip was ‘how many different ways could Melissa be sick/injured/infested with bugs.’ Friend Maitreya finally commented on one of my statuses, “Stop being so fragile.” Easier said than done, my friends!

Let’s get one thing out of the way–I am incredibly accident-prone. My body and medical bills are testaments to that. I fall/trip/run into things more than the average person. Way more. I like to think it’s character-building.

Frugal as ever, I opted not to purchase travelers’ insurance. I had it during last year’s Southeast Asia jaunt and it just wasn’t worth it. (I got a measly $70 back on a $200 Vietnamese hospital bill.) I calculated that unless I ended up spending more than $250 on health-related issues, getting insurance in India wasn’t worth it, either.

Well, to quote Dr. Joggi, who runs a hospital in Agra, “You came to India without insurance!?” It’s not a good sign when even your doctor thinks you’ve done something stupid.

It all started in Bangalore. Lice, while not doctor-worthy, sure aren’t fun. I know that getting lice is some weird rite of passage for elementary schoolers, much like chicken pox or shingles or what have you, but I avoided that like the plague. Maybe we Zena School kids were immune to lice, because I can’t remember a single outbreak in my six years there. Enter Korea, where I spent a year in constant contact with kids. Again, no lice. Three days at the Bangalore orphanage and I knew something was up. The itchiness, the scratchiness — it could only be one thing. Sure enough, it was. That weekend, I picked up a 25-cent Indian-brand lice shampoo that, much to my surprise, worked like a charm. (But Mimsie still brought the American stuff, just for good measure.) Indian medical care 1, American medical care 0 (and expensive). I was lice-free by the time we got to Mumbai, which was where our troubles really began.

My ear had been bothering me for a few days, so I went to a clinic near the hotel to get it checked out. Minor ear infection–no big deal. The doctor’s fee and medication came to…wait for it… wait for it…700 rupees. For about the cost of my American co-pay, I got two clinic visits and medication. Indian medical care 2, American medical care 0.

The night of our Bollywood extravaganza, Mimsie nearly had to roll me out of bed. Maybe it was the sun or dehydration, but my head felt like a sumo wrestler had made his home on my brain. To give you an idea of how much Ibuprofen I popped that night, I was afraid to take more than a couple sips of Mimsie’s cosmo.

I slept virtually all of the next day. When I stumbled out of bed for dinner, my headache was gone, but something else was wrong. So terribly, awfully, painfully wrong. So begins the E.coli saga.

Oh, E.coli. Until this trip, the term ‘E.coli’ conjured up images of spinach and meat in my head. Now? Me, curled up on a bed, feeling like a pregnant woman having contractions. We’re talking shooting pain that literally stopped you in your tracks. Mims felt it, too, and so we spent the second half of our time in Mumbai in agony over what we had dubbed the ‘alien babies’ in our stomach.

My pain subsided enough for me to walk around the city on our last day, but Mimsie got worse and worse. She couldn’t stand up straight, much less carry her bags. After the 22-hour train ride to Agra, I convinced her to go to a local clinic. I figured they’d give her some antibiotics, maybe a shot, and then we’d be on our way. But no, Dr. Joggi had different plans. Mims was only a day or two away from going into septic shock and ending up spending three nights in the hospital, hooked up to an IV and under constant supervision. I really give her credit for sticking it out — had I been in her place, I would’ve absolutely lost it.

My own alien baby had yet to completely disappear, so Mimsie made me see the doctor before she was released. Turns out I also had E.coli, though not as severe a case as hers. We concluded that we got it from the water at our hotel in Mumbai, as that was the only time we ate/drank the same thing. I don’t know how bad my E.coli could have gotten, but I’m gonna go ahead and say that Mims saved my life. Granted, I saved hers first. Tit for tat.

Oh, and my medical bill in Agra? For the visit to Dr. Joggi and a week’s worth of antibiotics, I paid just under 4000 rupees, less than $100 US. Indian medical system 3, American medical system 0.

Mims and I parted ways in Agra, her to a city south of Delhi and me to Varanasi. I had just gotten settled in my sleeper compartment when, of course, I hit my foot against the bed. A sharp pain shot through my foot, and I realized that I had a tender welt on the side of my foot. I vaguely remembered some swelling in that same spot a few weeks earlier, after numerous run-ins with walls and furniture in my room in Bangalore. I snapped a photo and sent it on to my med school friend Kevin. His response: “I can’t tell if your foot is broken from a photo.” Much less a blurry one taken on my Blackberry camera. Brilliant, Melissa.

I finally got myself to a hospital in Delhi, where the doctor told me that while nothing was broken, there was tissue damage and my foot would be swollen for months. She prescribed an anti-inflammatory and I was on my way. Max Hospital doctor visit and medicine bill: 500 rupees, around $10 US. Indian medical system 4, American medical system 0. (Are we sensing a trend here?)

Earlier today, I swung by a pharmacy to pick up more anti-malarials. Instructions indicate that one should take them for a full month after returning home so as to completely eliminate the possibility of contracting malaria. Can you guess how much 30 pills cost? Guess! Wait, first let me tell you that anti-malarials in America go for about $250, according to the woman I spoke to at Kingston’s Nekos-Dedricks pharmacy. OK, ready? A month’s supply of anti-malarials in India go for 19 rupees. That is not even a dollar. That is not even HALF a dollar. Indian medical system 1,000,000, American medical system 0.

Having recently shelled out nearly a grand to pay for March’s ER bill (for a damn pulled muscle, people), I’m floored by the low cost of medical care in India. For three nights in a ‘deluxe air-conditioned room,’ countless IVs, pills and food, Mimsie’s bill came to about $1000 US. Good thing she bought insurance, right?

So there you have it, friends. The good and the bad, the itchy and the alien baby. I will miss the amazing medical care provided at such a low cost. While these prices seemed like nothing to me, I was given a reality check at Max Hospital. Shocked that I could be treated at Max for less than the cost of a steak dinner, I told one of the nurses how impressive it was that such quality health care was so affordable. Then she pointed out something I foolishly had not thought of. Five hundred, six hundred rupees — that’s not a lot for us, but that’s a hefty chunk of change in a country where the per capita income is around $1000 US. India has made me more aware of how much money is carelessly thrown around.

Remember that scene in ‘Roadtip’ where the four stars find themselves in Slovakia, where a few dollars allows them to live like royalty? India has sort of been like that. I can get by on $15-20 US a day here, including my room, meals and rickshaw rides around town. I got pretty down on America in this post, but the truth of the matter is that even in trying times we have it pretty good, and I think that it is important to remember that.

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