No one, as far as I am aware, enjoys being ill. There are one or two instances where other people like someone being ill: For instance, the Chemist Alexander Borodin was also an amateur composer. According to the story I was taught when training as a young musician, his friends used to look forward to Borodin being ill; this being when he composed. History now sees Borodin as one of the great Russian “Five” or “Mighty Handful” as they were also known– a group of Russian composers writing around the latter half of the 19th century who dramatically altered the history of Russia’s contribution to music. Sometimes, it seems, being ill is a good thing.
I wish that had been true for me.
Instead, Typhoid fever absolutely knocked me sideways and, for nearly two weeks, I was worse than useless; even more so than usual, one could argue. I just could not write. Even a short entry to Facebook would have me quickly take to my bed again for a nap.
Annoyingly, the fever came just as the school holiday arrived during which I failed to celebrate both Durga Puja with our Hindu friends and Eid ul Adha with our Muslim friends. Thing II did get to one dawat (dinner invitation) when a school friend invited him but he did so without either parent. One of the most upsetting things for me was missing these celebrations because they are a great time to socialise with friends (and they all do a bloomin’ good nosh-up too!)
I spent the first week lying on the bed at home with a cannula in my arm as we tried to get a couple of bottles of saline down me. It didn’t work. The fever continued to rage and I was eating less and less. In the end we had to cave in to the doctor’s demands and allow me to be admitted to LAMB hospital.
We did have good reasons not to:
First, we live on compound and I have a perfectly good bed that could be used in my own home rather than take up a bed in the hospital much needed by the poor.
Second, a white guy in a Bangladeshi hospital tends to attract notice. If I stood still for more than a few seconds, I drew a crowd. The attention is not welcome when you feel ill.
Third, hospitals in Bangladesh are not like those in the West. You have to have a shonggi with you at all times. This is your spouse or other family member who stays with you, feeds you, washes you and basically looks after all your domestic needs. They don’t get a bed; they sleep on a bench, on the floor, or – if they can persuade you – budge you over to one side of your bed and sleep on the bottom of your bed. That’s if your shonggi is a woman. The men are normally found downstairs in outpatients sleeping on the hard benches in the waiting area. It is not an easy life for your family when you are a patient, I can tell you.
Basically, wifey had to be my shonggi and look after Thing I and Thing II at the same time. We really wanted to keep me at home to make this possible. But, the fever didn’t play ball and eventually we had to give in.
So, last week, I had my first full day in the hospital. Thankfully, they put me in a ‘staff room’ although there was quite some debate as to whether or not they still exist. Some say they are now overflow rooms for when the wards become too full. Anyway, I got one and that was a mercy. I was in no state to cope with a ward of people milling around and looking at “the white guy”.
I did get my own veranda though and a view of the school, which was nice.
I was hooked up to a drip. That was not fun. Through the week, the cannula kept rupturing and they had to keep putting new ones in. Both my arms were full of holes by the end – I looked like a perforated tea bag (or a junkie, I’m not sure which). What with the multitude of blood tests they kept doing as well, I came this close (holds up tiny gap between finger and thumb) to developing a phobia of needles.
By now I was feverish, uncomfortable with needles stuck in me and very dizzy.
Going to the toilet then, was fun.
Bangla toilets are not like Western toilets. They are, to all intents and purposes, a hole in the ground. Mine was special. It was a raised hole in the ground. The idea is that you ‘drop your relevant’ and squat like an Olympic sumo wrestler to do your business. I’ve lived here four years and still never got the hang of it, though I know many a bideshi who has ‘gone native’ and swears by the Bangla version.
“I never let a toilet near my bottom if I can help it” one bideshi tells me. Regularly. Worrying really.
All well and good, but not such a good thing when the room permanently spins and your are hoiking a drip around and trying to keep your arm lower than the bag so that gravity doesn’t cause a reverse flow and you suddenly find you are now donating blood rather than receiving saline.
Thankfully, I was constipated at the time and so only had to do what comes naturally to a man and pee down a hole. However, even that proved to be beyond me as, on my third go, the room nearly succeeded in toppling me over by spinning so hard what little I had eaten that day nearly came a-visiting again.
At that point, I had had quite enough.
Wifey went looking for “the potty”. She knew the hospital had one. I was intrigued. I wondered if it was one of those clever plastic port-a-loo things that even flush and don’t smell, or a more traditional ‘bucket made to look like a toilet’ thing. It was neither.
It was a chair with a bottom-sized hole in it.
I kid you not.
Still, it did the job even if I did feel like I was a king perched on a throne. Worryingly, I remembered that George II died whilst on the toilet so I shook that idea from my head. The ‘throne’ did make the job a lot easier, especially when I stopped being constipated thanks to the stuff they were making me drink after every meal that tasted like gone-off mints that had been watered down. It was known, affectionately, as ‘Mom’. Nice.
The worst worry was getting a splinter that would then get infected. I didn’t feel I could cope with that so sat down on the old, wooden and splintering chair very carefully indeed – at least until wifey pointed out that the amount of antibiotics they were pumping into me meant that it was probably impossible for me to be infected by just about anything at the time. Then I relaxed a little. Which helped, of course.