WHERE : New Delhi, India WHEN : May 2014 OBJECTIVE : Whole-body Wellness Exam DISTANCE : NA CLASSIFICATION : Walks
I make little secret of my disdain for the US healthcare system. It is categorically horrific. Devoid of compassion, ineffective, broken from top-to-bottom, and predicated on greed. We pay the most money for health services amongst all the so-called advanced economies of the world, yet every year our outcomes rate near the absolute bottom of the barrel. The entire system criminalizes poverty and misfortune.
It’s also one of the reasons why medical tourism is booming in India. And for this year’s annual physical (I recently turned 50) I wanted an exhaustive exam. Everything. In the US, my insurance (an average, employer-subsidized BCBS plan) covered blood-work, an EKG, the standard finger up the a$$ to check your prostate (and apt symbolism for US healthcare if ever there was one), and a couple of other basics. For the half-century mark, this is inadequate, particularly given my activities (hard-core physical exertion) and history (high cholesterol since my mid-20’s and some years as a smoker). I wanted a treadmill stress test, a 3D abdominal ultrasound, a chest x-ray, and a colonoscopy. “Wanted” being the wrong word, but you understand my meaning.
From Pokhara, I emailed Apollo Hospital in Delhi with my request—I hoped to visit for a few days and take care of my physical on the way back to the US (for my mom’s 85th birthday party, and a couple months’ work to refill the coffers). They told me that it would be “a bit expensive,” but they had a two-day service that included everything I wanted and more. Except the colonoscopy, which would be an additional $300USD. Their Whole Body Wellness Exam was $197USD, including pick-up and drop-off service from the airport. That’s One-hundred Ninety-seven dollars and 00/100s. Inclusive. The “and more” I mentioned above: full dental and optical work-up, lung capacity tests, hearing tests, equilibrium tests, fasting AND non-fasting blood work, and a CD with all my ultrasound & x-ray images, charts, and doctors’ recommendations.
I received excellent care. They were thorough and professional. At the end of the two days, I sat down with one of the hospital’s staff doctors to discuss my results. I had a gallstone, rather small, and was otherwise ridiculously healthy. I asked about the colonoscopy. He looked at the abdominal ultrasound, and the other tests, and said I could waste my money if I wanted to, but he wouldn’t advise it. I listened. (For those apologists of US Healthcare out there, I point you to this article. It’s only gotten much worse since.)
In between visits to the hospital and a nearby dentist, I got to know the Jasola area of New Delhi a bit better. During the day, the heat was overwhelming, but mornings and evenings things were pleasant and the streets were full of energy. Jasola is one of India’s strangely pre-planned areas, with addresses like “the corner of Sector 8 and 13A in K Block.” Not kidding. But away from all the beige industrial parks, I found life. Families in makeshift shelters assembling brooms for local manufacturers (paid by the kilogram); others providing laundry and tailoring services, others caring for the local livestock—theirs or someone else’s I couldn’t determine. There were sidewalk grocers and barbers and the usual rickshaw drivers and food stands and paan wallas. And a thousand others I couldn’t make sense of. It was all that.
This was a much different Delhi than I experienced eighteen months earlier, and I a much different person–though still only beginning to fathom what I was capable of. And just as all of these wonderful opportunities and ideas and thoughts and images started to form a pattern in my imagination, I hopped a plane back to…Texas?
June 2, 2014 (Happy 85th, mom!)
This sign across from Jama Masjid in Old Delhi expresses a simple tenet shared by the world’s major religions: that steadfast devotion to the Eternal is important, regardless of the cost–and that God rewards such faithfulness.