We watched in awe as the Doctor hung the IV from the ceiling lamp. In the middle of an 11-day tour of major Indian attractions, a case of Delhi belly complicated by severe dehydration almost proved fatal—we’ll provide a lot more details of the 11-day trip in a couple weeks. Now we were in a hotel room with our son, daughter-in-law, and one Indian Doctor-cum-philosopher preparing for two hours of rehydration and pharmaceutical restoration.
It is usually best to undertake a new diet with moderation.
Visitors are advised to ease into India’s flavorful, aromatic cuisine. Although many people in the West are accustomed to eating spicy food, some are unprepared for Indian meals prepared with higher concentrations of Indian spices commonly found in the country. It also takes time to develop the immunity to the bacteria found in some foods, especially those that are not cooked and served piping hot. Much like hiking above 10,000 feet, slow acclimation to the environment is a good idea.
Although we limited our consumption of Indian food during our son and daughter-in-law’s first few days in India, Dustin, having unfortunately inherited our sense of adventure, still developed a case of Delhi belly. Whether it was the airplane food, or the bar food from the hotel, or the spice tasting in the spice market, we’ll never know. What we do know is it started on Monday night in Delhi.
Tuesday morning we were dispensing anti-nausea medication, Imodium, antacids, vitamins, and ciprofloxacin (cipro), an antibiotic.
They spent several days touring Delhi, Agra, and points in between.
When we caught up with Dustin and Rowan in Jaipur on Thursday, Rowan had a cold and Dustin looked pretty rough. He’d been taking the cipro, but not the Imodium. He was consuming as much water as he could given his travel schedule. Conventional wisdom dictates that diarrhea is the body’s way of ridding itself of whatever toxin it ingested; however, three days of the runs tends to dehydrate a person.
Men make bad patients.
Women are multi-taskers; they can be tough, smart, and practical. Men are single-taskers; we can be tough, or smart, or practical, but usually not all three at the same time. As the story goes, a husband and wife are sitting on the back porch one day drinking a cocktail and talking about the kinds of stuff men and women discuss during cocktail hour—probably vacations, or kids, or which city they would choose if they won the lottery. As the sun starts to settle into evening, an elephant dances across the lawn. The husband comments, “ Wow, did you see that huge elephant?”
The wife replies, “No, where?”
“It just danced across the lawn! How could you not see it?” says the husband.
“Because I was watching Noah load animals on that ark,” the wife replies.
“What ark?” says the husband.
Men tend to focus on singularity; we look through the scope, place the cross hairs on the target, and track it until it is either dead or gone. Women think holistically; they are aware of the target’s existence while perceiving the trees, grass, wind, birds, telephone poles, clouds, smells, and sounds that complete the picture. They may not see the elephant, but they know if it exists it probably came from that ark parked across the street.
I am generalizing, of course, but it is to make this point: men make bad patients. We have this illness that is allowing a large amount of fluid to escape from one or more orifices—I had to look up the plural of orifice; it’s not orifi. Being of singular vision, we are focused on being strong, so we take the antibiotic out of perceived necessity, but don’t want to take the anti-diarrheal just yet. We’re drinking lots of water to stay hydrated, but of course our body is trying to rid itself of something foreign. So we stumble though the next couple days until someone reminds us to take something to stem the flow of liquid. By then it’s too late.
It’s good to be the King’s Doctor.
As we eased into Friday evening, Dustin started to look worse. He’d spent the week losing more fluids than he was ingesting. The hotel rang for the Doctor.
Doctor Gupta arrived within minutes of the call. A smaller man in his fifties, he dressed in casual yet professional attire and carried a rather large Doctor’s bag. He asked a series of questions, took vitals, and announced, “You are dehydrated. You need an IV.”
Dustin was less than enthusiastic. He certainly did not want to go to the hospital for an IV anymore than we wanted him to go to the hospital. We’ve been to an Indian hospital; the bedsheets were dirty, there were small, curly hairs on the pillow, and the pile of blood and pus stained gauze next to the chair in the X-ray room could have been there for days—calling the conditions subpar would be like describing the Ganges as a bit muddy. Unless death was imminent, a hospital was out of the question.
After describing our concerns, Dr. Gupta assured us a hospital visit was not required. He could administer the IV fluids and medications right here in the hotel room. He had all of the drugs, needles, fluids, alcohol swabs, and other implements of the Doctoring trade right there in his rather large black bag.
We urged—a family term for ‘badgered’—Dustin to accept the treatment, but he’s developed, much like me, a healthy concern for having needles stuck in him in countries with developing economic and questionable sanitary conditions. Fearing being overruled, he turned to his wife, Rowan, for support.
“I think you should get the IV, baby,” was Rowan’s reply. It could have been the dehydration, but Dustin looked beaten. He was counting on Rowan’s usual and mutual disdain for shots to support his argument against in-room IV treatment. No such support was forthcoming.
With nobody on his side, he finally relented.
Dr. Gupta hung the IV from the lamp and went to work.
The average Indian medical Doctor servicing high end hotels sees hundreds if not thousands of the same cases every year. Tourists arrive, they eat something they shouldn’t, and the evil Indian bacteria takes hold, turning stomachs into cauldrons and butts into fire hoses. The Doctors are experts when it comes to diagnosing and treating these cases.
Over the next two hours, Dr. Gupta hung 1.5 liters of fluids and meds, all while telling stories of his life. He was a Doctor-philosopher of sorts, curing illness and imparting wisdom in a Jaipur hotel room. When Rowan described her lack of religious conviction, Dr. Gupta said, “Religion is like FM radio; you just need to find your frequency;” when we asked about his practice, he described serving as the physician for the former Maharaja of Jaipur, Bhawani Singh; and when asked about his family, he described how he could ask his son to wash his feet, but could not ask his daughter. He even suggested the best way to apologize: touch the person’s feet, “They have to forgive you if you touch their feet.”
At one point Dr. Gupta told us a story about how he became a Doctor. “When I was young, I was a bad monkey,” he described. He related how as a teenager he would fight and break the rules. At age 14, his grandmother took him to see a local Guru many years his senior. The Guru asked him a series of questions, to which the young Gupta responded honestly. Did he fight?—yes. Was he disrespectful to his parents?—yes. Did he skip school and get bad grades?—yes. He was a bad monkey.
The Guru taught the young Gupta a mantra, making him repeat it until he committed it to memory. It changed his life. He started to study for classes, attended school, and stopped fighting. He continued to see the Guru, reciting the mantra time after time. Eventually he attended medical school and became a Doctor.
Upon returning to Jaipur 30 years later the Guru asked to meet with the now Doctor Gupta; Dr. Gupta happily accepted. As he sat down, the now much older teacher asked him if he remembered the mantra from those many years ago. “Of course,” he replied, and he recited the mantra word for word.
The Guru waited until Dr. Gupta finished and said, “No, that is not correct. There is more.”
Dr. Gupta was confused. He repeated the words he’d learned 30 years earlier. “No. There is more,” replied the Guru.
“Could I have forgotten the rest?” Dr. Gupta thought to himself. This was the mantra he remembered. He recited it one more time and again the Guru responded, “There is more.”
“But Guru, this is the mantra you taught me,” Dr. Gupta replied.
The Guru sat for a moment in silence. “Yes, this is the mantra you learned. But there is more. Today you are ready to learn the rest.” With that, the Guru taught Dr. Gupta the remainder of the mantra that changed his life 30 years ago.
By the end of the story the IV fluids were finished.
The King’s Doctor removed the needle from Dustin’s arm, dispensed medications to be taken over the next few days, and shook everyone’s hand. Dustin received 1.5 liters of IV fluids and didn’t feel the need to use the bathroom. Dr. Gupta was correct, Dustin was dehydrated.
This visit over and Dustin feeling much better, Dr. Gupta left for his next appointment; a woman at the hotel thought she might have dengue fever.
If you enjoyed one of my articles or you’re just feeling left out, please subscribe to be notified as new material becomes available.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos and drawings are those of the author. Copyright can be found here.