Reveling in Being Home, Jennifer to the Hospital, A Murder in Logan

Dear Friends,

We are all so thrilled to be home!   To drink water out of the tap, to take a bath, to eat plums and peaches and nectarines without peeling, to eat salads, to look out our front windows at the neighborhood street  and see no traffic, no trash, no cow dung, smell no fumes, not worry about Aidan and Kellen getting run over, to hike my trail up the ridges of Green Canyon, to sleep in our own bed, to have uninterrupted WiFi!, to feel the dry heat of the West, to see the magnificent green mountains of Logan, the wonderful clouds, to have all of our regular things in our house.  Our espresso maker!    It’s just amazing!

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But, Sunday night Jennifer was up again with vomiting and diarrhea.   Monday morning she was completely wiped out and could not get out of bed.   So, we took her to the ER.   They gave her an IV and two liters of fluid.   Started her on a new antibiotic.  Doctor Bates, a young doctor, one of the nicest I have ever met–one who has visited 30 countries doing relief work, including India–understood everything about the situation.  They took blood and bathroom samples and we should hear by tomorrow the results of the tests.   Jennifer is much better.  She’s even going to run today.  Antibiotics really are miracle drugs.

Aidan and I are still not quite 100%.   Once we get the tests back on Jennifer, we may both go in and get further checked out.

Yesterday, there was a murder-suicide in Logan.    A recent poli-sci graduate forced his way into an apartment where a student and her friend were inside.   He killed them both, then went to another apartment where he thought he would find a man he thought she was involved with.

These things do not happen in India.   In India even the police, as is true in Britain, do not carry firearms.   Even though India is one-third the size of the US and has over a billion people crammed into it, these kinds of shootings do not happen there.  Other kinds of crimes do take place, of course.  But gun violence seems uniquely Western, perhaps uniquely American.  One Indian paper I was reading referred to the “epidemic of gun violence in America.”  The great majority of the incidence of gun violence, as in this case, involves people who know each other, only a very small percentage occurs among strangers, as in the case of a burglar or armed robbery.

Our hearts go out to the families of all of those affected by this tragedy.

 

Home!

We made it home! I can’t even say how thrilled I am to be here.   How free I feel. I loved being in India so much, but I feel now how much I carried around a heavy sense of responsibility while we were there. I so wanted it to be a great trip for the family. I worried about everyone staying healthy, about them not getting hurt, about them being happy, feeling at ease, liking India.   I arranged our travels, our accommodations, our food, etc.   Jennifer helped with all of this, but I felt the responsibility greatly and did not realize how much it had weighed on me.

Now, I’m sitting in my favorite chair under a lamp in the pre-dawn dark.   My favorite time of day.   I finished my meditation. I have my regular tea. Aidan got up at 4:30—we all went to bed at around 6:00—and is quietly having Great Grains cereal at the table under the yellow kitchen light reading one of his National Geographic Kids magazines.   This was one of the things he missed and dreamed of returning to. Jennifer is out running her regular trail. It’s like the way you feel on a backpacking trip once you reach camp. You take off your backpack and feel like you are floating around the campsite. That’s how I feel right now. I feel like I’m floating around everywhere, like an orange-and-white clown wrasse, finning freely through his great colorful coral reef called home!

The only worry is that just now while I was writing this, Kellen has woken up vomiting.   He’s thrown up three times. We hope it’s just some left-over motion sickness, but we’ll watch him carefully.   And, happily, we feel capable of caring for him now that we’re back home, either alone or with his regular doctor, the wonderful Dr. Nina Jorgensen.   And he does seem better, now that he’s had some carbonation in an Izzy.

So, our return trip went so smoothly.   We had anticipated possible trouble at many points, but all went well.  We left Pune in a car on Friday morning, at 9:00, as our flight was scheduled to depart Mumbai at 1:10, a.m., Saturday morning.   Actually, we left in TWO CARS!   We had four people, eight suitcases, four backpacks, and Indian cars tend to be small.   We told our Fulbright friends at the United States India Education Foundation about or load, and Sachin wrote back saying he was gong to send two cars!   How embarrassing!

Our favorite driver, Kumar, and his friend in the second car, arrived two hours early, having driven the three hours from Mumbai to Pune.

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I took the family over to the Mandir (my guru’s ashram) and we said goodbye to my dear friends there, the elderly women sisters, Manu and Bharati (the “Mother Superior”), Shankar, the eighty-something administrator, Sumesh, who had helped us at the hospital, Balji and his wife, the workers who walked with me around the mandir every morning chanting the “Hanuman Chalisa,” and the blissed-out Dipti, a young woman with short dark hair and an ever beaming smile.   We walked around the gardens.   I felt heartbroken having leaving.   A huge part of me feels that the ashram is my spiritual home. A part of me could stay and live there.   During our last days in Pune, I didn’t go over to the ashram, staying busy with making arrangements to leave.   Once I did go over, I realized I had been avoiding the sadness of saying goodbye.

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I felt my guru’s presence there so sweetly, so strongly. But I feel that presence with me all the time everywhere.   There’s no loss there. And being in the presence of my friends, the monks and nuns, my brothers and sisters even for a few moments is nourishment enough to last a lifetime.   Time and space have no meaning in the realm of the spirit.   A few moments with a realized being can transform your life forever.   And though I would have liked to have remained with them much longer, being in the presence of such highly evolved persons for even a short time restores the soul at its deepest core. You feel refreshed, renewed.

 

Good-bye, Mandir.   Good-bye, India.

 

And—-I am so thrilled to be home!

Leaving India

Today we leave India.  We are so very sad to go, but will be very happy to be home.

Yesterday, two women came walking down the street playing drums.  Aidan and I ran down to give them some rupees.   Just an ordinary little miracle of the kind you see every day.  We took it as a little send-off farewell.

Good-bye, India–place I love so much.
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“In Harm’s Way: Part III. The Doomsday Shot”

“In Harm’s Way: Part III.   The Doomsday Shot”

(title courtesy of the patient).

India has some of the best doctors in the world.   My friend Rajkumar, a cardiologist, like many others here, was trained in the US and in Britain.   The most sophisticated procedures are routinely performed.   And yet, hospitals the world over can be incubators for all kinds of bacteria and infections, and many studies have tracked diseases caught by travelers in Indian hospitals.   So, we were terrified to have to take Aidan to a hospital.

It was 10:00, p.m.  He had to have the anti-emetic shot, but we worried they might want to admit him, or to put him on an IV.  Fear of the unknown loomed over us.

I called Rajkumar and told him the situation.   I asked him which hospital to go to. He said the Jehangir.   “Will it be safe?” He said yes, that’s where he sends people. He said, “It’s the best we’ve got.”   He said Sumesh, one of the older monks from my guru’s ashram, probably in his 70’s, would accompany us for any negotiations or translation needed.

Okay.   We were going.   It was the only choice.   The most common cause of death among children in the developing world is dehydration caused by diarrhea and vomiting. Aidan had lost so much food and fluid already.   He could hold nothing down. We were scared to death.

Sumesh did not drive.   We would have to take a tuk-tuk.   Aidan hates tuk-tuks. He’s scared of them. We told him we had to go.   He had to get the shot that daddy got so that he could hold down the antibiotic and get better.   He was a limp doll.   He offered no resistance.

After an interminable time, Sumesh showed up.   He had a tuk-tuk, but we needed a second, as well.   Jennifer, Aidan, Kellen and I got into the one he had, and we had to wait on a street corner for a long time to flag another.  Then, we were on our way

I told Aidan to close his eyes. He had gotten in first, then me. Jennifer had wrapped her shawl around him.   I had one arm around him and he lay his head against my chest.   I put my other hand over his ear to keep out the noise.   Jennifer had one arm around Kellen and one arm around my shoulders.

“Just close your eyes, sweetie. We’ll be there soon.   You’re going to be ok.   We’ll take care of you.”

It was a long ride.   Maybe a half hour.   All the way, I hummed Brahms’s “Lullaby,” as we weaved in and out of traffic, bumping and swaying in the sea of traffic, fumes, near-misses, breakings and darting forward.   I wasn’t sure he could hear but I hoped he could feel the humming in my chest. I held him and hummed just like when we was a baby. For months when he was little, it seemed we could not put him down.   He had colic. He would stop crying only when he was held.   So many of my memories of his those days are of walking around the house holding him and humming Brahms’s “Lullaby,” singing “Edelweiss” or “Ave Maria.”

Before long, I could tell we were in Koreagon Park, an affluent, expat area.   That seemed good. Finally, we pulled through the gate of the hospital. All I could see was a line of decrepit houses behind a fence, but Jennifer said, “I see the hospital. It looks regular.”

The driver let us out.   Of course at the wrong door.   Sumesh’s tuk-tuk pulled up.   He paid the drivers.   We walked around to the ER entrance. It looked okay.   We went in.   A small reception area with a counter and a few plastic chairs.   They took Aidan at once through some double doors.   A guard said only one person could accompany him. Jennifer went.   Kellen and I watched through the glass doors.   Aidan was laid on the first examination table.   I wasn’t going to wait outside.   I took Kellen and went in.   The guard said children were not allowed in, because of infection.   Still, I could not stay out.   And I wasn’t going to let Kellen wait alone.

“Kellen, don’t touch anything,” I said.   “We’re going in.”

There were five or six nurses or aides around the table.   Jennifer was explaining the situation.   Aidan looked scared.   “It’s okay, sweetie.”   They wanted to weigh him.   They brought a scale.   I had to fill out some forms. I worried—after the foreign registration office disaster I’d experienced when I first arrived in Pune—that the paperwork itself would kill us. But it was pretty simple.   They told us they had a pediatric resident on call and were going to call him. Rajkuar said they would have one.   We waited.

Before long a woman in a white coat and stethoscope came in. She seemed to know what she was doing.   We assumed she was the resident.   We explained in all again.

Aidan looked up with big eyes and a cry in his voice.   “I’m scared.”

Aidan is deathly afraid of shots. Maybe it’s from when he was two and fell and cut the place between his eye and eyebrow.   We had to take him in for stitches.   He was hysterical as we held him down and the doctor administered the injection above his eye.

“Remember when I got the shot in the hotel room?  I said.  “It was the easiest shot I’ve ever gotten. I barely felt it.  It will be fine.   You’re going to be just fine. Don’t worry.”

Then, a young male in a white coat came in. He was the resident.  Two syringes were prepared.

“Why two?” we asked?

“One is the anti-emetic, the other is to prevent gastroenteritis [or something], which could cause an accumulation of gas and cause him to vomit.”

Aidan was beside himself.

We said, “No way. We just want to anti-emtic.”   He seemed okay with that. He picked one of them up. I was pretty sure it was the right one.   It was big.

“Okay, Aidan.   Here we go. It won’t hurt.”

The doctor made him turn on his tummy, rather than his side.   This was a mistake.   The hotel doctor had me lie on my side. On your side if you tense up, you’ll tense inward.   On his back, Aidan was going to tense outward, tensing his gluteus muscles and making it harder.

“I’m scared. I’m scared!”

Later Aidan would tell me that he was so scared that his teeth were chattering so fast they  could have cut down a tree in nothing flat.

I bent down and held him, my face next to his.   And stayed there.

We waited. And waited.   Then, he yelled: “It hurts!”

“It’ll be over soon.”

“It hurts!”

Then, I thought Jennifer said something like, “See, it’s all done.”

But then she said, “What the hell are you doing!?”

I looked up and back.   Aidan tried to look up. He buckled in pain.   It looked like the need was sticking straight down into one of the cheeks of his bottom and it seemed the doctor was moving the needle around inside.   Aidan was screaming.   The hypodermic was still half full.   I was in a shocked place, a paralysis between wanting to grab the doctor and choke him and wanting to see that hypodermic emptied.   So, I held Aidan and watched the plunger go down.

Poor Aidan was crying like a baby.

“What the hell was that?!” I said to the doctor.   He didn’t answer.   The nurses said stuff like, “They have to learn how to receive shots.” And “Children always react like that.”

I felt horrible. Full or rage. I had spent the whole time reassuring Aidan. It was some kind of botched job.   But at least the anti-emitic was in him.   That part was over.

I took care of some administrative stuff.  Jennifer stayed with Aidan.  Paid the bill, which was only about twenty dollars. Got our prescriptions.

We went outside. I told Sumesh that we wanted a regular taxi. He said it would be hard to get one. Aidan said we should just take a tuk-tuk.   Okay.

Sumesh had them.

We got in, me first, then Aidan, then Jennifer and Kellen.   We rode home, Aidan’s head against my chest, our arms around him.  I hummed all the way home.

“Just close your eyes, sweetie. It’s over. The antibiotic will make you better.   Just close your eyes.”

Huddled together in the tuk-tuk we all closed our eyes.   We wove among the traffic and I felt like we were in a paper boat on a river, tossed this way and that, drifting through the night, at the mercy or forces greater than we were.   At least together.   I prayed that Aidan would be okay, that he didn’t have something the antibiotic wouldn’t cure.   I was getting better.  That was a good sign.   Jennifer was better.

I thought of my time here in India, how it is my favorite place in the world. But I also thought that perhaps my family’s genetic constitution  may just not be right for it.   Of course, you don’t have to come to India to immerse yourself in the spiritual life.   I noted early how Augustine said that “God is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference in nowhere.”   I feel that Presence at the center of my life, in the center of my heart, and have for many years.  Around that center we circled through the night in our little boat.

The jewels of Buddhism are the Buddha, the Sangha (the spiritual community), and the Dharma (the teachings). I knew then that my family was my sangha, my first sangha, around which might cluster other spiritual communities of friends and devotees.

For now, we just needed to get our family home. We had had a great trip.   In Dharamsala, we had all agreed that two months would be the limit of any trips we took.   I wasn’t sure I would return to India, a place I deeply love.   But that was okay.  For now, we needed to get home.

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Two mornings later, we had another scare.   Aidan seemed to have a relapse. He seemed very pale. He had not been drinking or eating or urinating.   We called the “call a nurse” line in the US that our insurance provides, and when we told him that Aidan had not urinated in 36 hours, the nurse insisted that we take him immediately to the hospital for an IV.   He said Aidan needed at least two liters of fluid.   He said he could not get it by drinking at this point.

We panicked. I called Rajkumar. In the meantime, Aidan went to the bathroom.   We decided to try to get him to drink two liters, a cup every half hour, by noon, and if he had not done that, we would take him in.   Luckily, he did it.

Three days later now, he seems just about back to normal.   In two days, we board a plane to return home.

Over the course of these days, each of us has said that we will be sad to leave, but happy to be home.

Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi-Belly, Hell in Delhi

Old Delhi, New Delhi, Delhi-Belly, Hell in Delhi

I love the Sikhs. I have written about them before.   They’re a devotional sect from Northern India and Pakistan, a religion begun in the 15th century by their founding teacher, Guru Nanak.  They are neither Hindu nor Muslim, but have some commonalities with both.  Following Guru Nanak came nine other gurus.   The tenth Sikh guru declared that forever afterwards, the “Sikh guru” would be the Granth Sahib, a sacred collection of writings from the gurus.  One cool thing about the Granth Sahib is that it also includes writings from other writers, including Muslim and Hindu teachers and poets, such as Kabir.  The Sikhs believe in one God who is without form.   and honor all religions.

Long persecuted by the Muslim Mughal leaders of the Punjab, the Sikhs developed a marshall, almost chivalric code.   To this day, as part of their dress, they wear a sword, often a dagger these days, sometimes very small.   So chivarlic and reliable are they, that former Indian Prime Minister Indira Gandhi had Sikh bodyguards.  They often fill the Indian army, administrative, and other security forces.

However, around the time of Indira Gandhi’s re-election campaign in 1984, radical Sikhs seeking a separate Sikh state, had set up headquarters in the Sikh’s most sacred building, the Golden Temple of Amritsar.  Indira Gandhi had the temple stormed and conducted raids on others outside the temple. Chemical weapons were used. The government admitted that over 400 civilians were killed; other estimates range to 5,000.   The radicals were killed or captured, the temple badly damaged, and the library was burned.

Four months later, in spite of, or because of, their chivalric code, two of Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s Sikh bodyguards assassinated her. One was one of her favorite bodyguards, who had worked for her for ten years.

The Sikhs have the most beautiful spiritual music in the world.   I first got to know some American Sikhs who taught mediation and Kundalini yoga back in the 1970s in Birmingham, Alabama. They are a beautiful and in my opinion a noble people.

So I looked at blue-turbaned Omkar, who had rescued us from despair in the New Delhi train station, saying “Thank you. Thank you!” with my hands together.  “How did you find us?”

“The train stopped before it was supposed to. That’s why I was not outside your car when you got off.”

“And,” I thought, “that’s why it started off again as I was disembarking.”

Omkar led us out of the station, but not without confusion, even for him. He argued with a guard who wanted us to go through a security set-up, one obviously meant for people entering a part of the station.   We’d been going the wrong way.   After consultations with other guards and more turn-arounds, we eventually wove through a set of barriers arranged to keep people from passing through and made it outside.   Jennifer said she could wait for the bathroom in the hotel.

A half hour later, Omkar drove us through the gates of the Maidans Hotel in the heart of Old Delhi,   The hotel, built in 1903, is a collection of beautiful, white colonial buildings, arranged on seventeen acres of lawns and gardens at night radiant under illuminated palms and flame trees.   A sweet little paradise to recover from our travels and enjoy the famous city of New Delhi.

But a serpent hid in our little paradise—as has happened in paradises before.

We thanked, and tipped, our Sikh angel, Omkar, profusely.

We checked in, and after a room shuffle, had wonderful place to stay, on the fourth floor of the central building, with views overlooking the front lawn, gardens and fountain. The next morning, we feasted on a wonderful breakfast, the boys having pancakes and pastries from the buffet, our meals “free as part of the package.” We swam in the outdoor pool and then ventured out to see beautiful Delhi, taking the sleek, modern metro.  We toured the Red Fort in blazing heat and found a McDonald’s for the boys.   Kellen, our sole family meat (chicken) eater, scarfed down 12 chicken nuggets.   We took a rickshaw to a spice market and rode the metro home.  Our dinner was particularly excellent, even Aidan enjoying the Indian entres from the buffet.

But something there must have been contaminated.

I woke up the next day sick. Really sick. Excruciating stomach aches.   Diarrhea six times in a couple of hours.   And suddenly I had to throw up.   I made it to the bathroom and knelt before the toilet.  I retched with a force I thought would turn me inside out.  A couple of times in my life I’ve been drunk enough to puke.  Those times were nothing like this. I felt I was not in control of my body. I wasn’t sure I could breathe between explosions. I moaned on the tile like an animal.   I thought I could die.

When I crawled back out, Jennifer was calling the hotel doctor.   Many hotels have a doctor on call. She got the number and called the doctor directly.

I lay in bed moaning, while the boys played on the floor.   “Kellen, not so loud!  Please.”   After an hour, a knock came at the door, and an older man in a beard, another (blessed) Sikh, came in with a doctor’s bag.   Dr. Dhupia.  After asking the usual questions, he said he would give me a shot with a powerful anti-emetic, which would keep me from throwing up, so I could take the antibiotics to get rid of the infection.  Suddenly, while he was talking, I leapt from the bed, almost knocking him down.  Back to the bathroom.

I barely made it.   I retched with the same, wounded-elk moaning, with the same feeling I couldn’t breathe, that I could die.  Later, Jennifer would tell me that while I was moaning, the doctor had said, “You better go check on him.   He’s in bad shape.” She said, she knew that. That’s why we’d called him.   Once I was done, I came back out, feeling a bit better.

We told him about my reactions to the Levofloxacin, the quinolone family, which includes Cipro.   He prescribed a different antibiotic.   He said he would have the hotel get them and bring them to us.  This is a great thing about India.   There are so many people, and so many who need jobs, that there is an overabundance of employees everywhere, so there’s always someone to run errands for a hotel.

Doctor Dhupia had me roll over on my side and gave me the injection in my hip.   “You won’t feel the needle. You might feel the medicine going in.” I don’t mind getting shots. I weirdly sort of like getting them.  But this was completely painless.

I was queasy and nauseous for the rest of the day, but the retching had ceased.   I slept mostly, dosing in and out of consciousness.   Jennifer took the boys out on the metro to see more of the city. They went across town to a big mall and she let them buy some toy cars.   There found a Pizza Hut and they partook.  Little moments of the familiar help when you are away from home for months.   I remained in that flu-like state in which decide you need a drink of water and lie there for an hour thinking about getting up and getting it.

The next day, I was feeling a good bit better.  Antibiotics are miracle drugs.  We got packed for our flight to Pune and checked out of the hotel.   Our driver was late, of course, and we got stuck in traffic, but made it to the airport in good time.   On the ride, Aidan was saying that his tummy was hurting because he was hungry.

At check in, our bags were too heavy (over 15 kilos—33 pounds), so we stuffed more things into our carry-ons.   We made it through security and found a food court where the boys were excited to have more Pizza Hut pizza.  J and I had banana smoothies.   We boarded the plane and all seemed pretty okay.   I was feeling pretty fine. I’d taken my anti-nausea medicine, but no one else took any.

After we got up to cruising altitude, Aidan started getting sick.   We had a couple big zip-locks we carry for motion sickness.  He started retching just the way I had.   We hoped it was motion sickness.   Luckily, the throw-up bags of Indigo Airlines were each inside another ziplock.   Over the course of the flight, poor Aidan went through five or six of them, retching his guts out.

Going through that yourself is nothing compared to seeing your son go through it.   I felt horrible for him, helpless, blaming myself for bringing them here.

Once we landed we were walking into the terminal, and poor Aidan had to throw up again.    I held him, saying, “It’s okay, sweetie.”  His vomit splashed on his shoes and pants and mine.  “It’s all okay, sweetie.  We’ll get you home.”

We got our bags, Aidan slumped pale and listless like a doll in a chair.  I got a prepaid taxi.  We had to walk across the parking lot to where a skinny, energetic Muslim man took off running to get his taxi.  We waited.   Then, on the way to the flat, weaving and stopping and starting as usual, Aidan, in the front seat had to throw up again.   We had a ziplock. The driver pulled over.   Jennifer and I knew it was serious.

When we got to the flat, I called my doctor friend, Rajkumar, who happened to be in Delhi.   He gave us the name of a doctor who might be able to come over and give Aidan the anti-emetic shot.   Of course, we could not reach the doctor of the phone.

“We have to take him to the hospital,” Jennifer said.

I looked at her with fear in my eyes.

I’ve heard horror stories about the risks of infections at Indian hospitals.   About how new, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are making their way around the world inside people who have been in Indian hospitals.

Last year, Sonia Shaw wrote an essay in The Atlantic, “The Super Resistant Bacteria That Has India Hell Scared”:

Over 50 percent of bacterial infections in Indian hospitals are resistant to commonly used antibiotics, and surveys show that many widespread bacterial pathogens in India are also resistant to powerful, broad-spectrum antibiotics.

In 2010, a team of South Asian and British scientists analyzed bacterial infections in a hospital around New Delhi, and found that 24 percent could also resist hospitals’ last-resort intravenous antibiotics, called “carbapenems,” and 13 percent were endowed with a super-resistant gene, dubbed “New Delhi metallo-beta-lactamase 1,” or NDM-1, which confers resistance to carbapenems along with at least 14 other antibiotics.

“Everybody is hell scared,” says medical microbiologist Chand Wattal, of Sir Ganga Ram hospital in New Delhi.

It was our worst nightmare. The reason I hesitated to bring my family here.  We felt we had no choice.

“I’ll call Rajkumar,” I said, “and get the name of the best hospital in Pune.”

 

Next Post:

‘In Harm’s Way, Part III.  Over the Edge: The Doomsday Shot

(title supplied by Aidan, the patient

In Harm’s Way. Part I: Dharamsala to Delhi.

In Harm’s Way:  Sick in India

Part One: From Dharamsala to New Delhi

Last summer, I came to India for a three-week trip and got sick with a intestinal bacterial infection that would not go away.   After about seven days, I started taking the antibiotic I had brought with me, Levofloxacin, and suffered crazy, psychotic-like, nervous-system side effects from the antibiotic.   It seemed to interact badly with the anti-malaria drug I was taking, which I found out later, itself, can cause psychotic episodes and was used by the military in Abu Graib and other places to torture prisoners.   After many sleepless, hallucinatory nights, I came home early.

A couple of week ago, I started writing about getting sick in India.  I have not finished it yet, but now need to write about our current scare.

After my adventure last summer, I worried during the course of the past year about bringing my family to India, potentially, and unnecessarily, putting them in harm’s way.   Jennifer and I talked about it and at the end of the day we decided that I shouldn’t turn down a Fulbright Fellowship to India.   We would be extra careful with food, water, and cleanliness, not take any anti-malaria drugs, as we would not be in high-risk areas.  People take children to India all the time.

Over the course of the year, the nervous-system side effects from the Levofloxacin, which in some people have been permanent, subsided, so I was feeling better about coming.  (Levofloxacin is of the Quinolone family, which includes the commonly prescribed Cipro.  I would be very careful of using them.  Most people do fine with them.  I will never touch them again.   Read the warnings, if you take them.)   We got another class of antibiotics from our doctors.

When I arrived in India this past April, a month before my family would arrive, I would barely eat anything that I had not boiled or fried the living hell out of.   I ate a lot of rice with sautéed veggies and peanuts or paneer (Indian cheese) with spices like garam maslal, inventing new Indian dishes every day.  After a while, I started buying mangoes and melons, as you can eat things you can peel first.   Of course, you have to wash the outside peel first, and dry it, so that as you peel it you don’t contaminate the inside.

By the time Jennifer and the boys arrived, I had little systems for cleanliness in place.  A mantra for the hands, was “wash, dry, sanitize.”   Luckily the apartment had a water filter on the wall by the sink, so we could get safe water for drinking without having to treat it.   We filled the sink with soapy water and soaked all the fruits and veggies before rinsing and drying them.  We made sure all the dishes were absolutely, completely dry before putting them away.   Of course, we never bought food on the street.   We sometimes took our own little glasses to cafes to use with the bottled water.

We went to Dharamsala and the weeks went by with only occasional tummy trouble that might last a day or so.   We took Pepto-Bismal tablets when necessary and all seemed fine.   Then, at one point I got something more serious, tummy trouble with fever and chills and diarrhea for a week.   Jennifer has written about this, about how in the middle of the worst of it, we also ran out of water.  I’d have to go to the bathroom in the middle of the night, which meant going out and down the outside stairs.   Jennifer had to take a bucket and fill it up from a little pond in the garden in the dark and pour that water into the back of the toilet.   I took the antibiotic I had brought, and the illness cleared up in a couple of days, with no side effects.

Our two months in Dharamsala came to a close and we were about to travel to Pune, via Delhi.   But Jennifer now was sick.   Diarrhea and nausea.  It wasn’t clear how serious it was going to be.

We stopped at a local chemist and got motion sickness, anti-nausea medicine for, which everyone took, for our ride out of the Himalayas.   It was a beautiful drive.   Everyone slept except me.  We passed through beautiful, lush country, with rivers cutting through high canyons, villages nestled along the riverbanks, orchards, gardens, fields full of summer vegetables, open air markets in the towns.    We passed through the driver, Anup’s village, and he was excited to point out the things he spent his life around.    We were stopped on the road several times because of mountain roadwork, and got to our train station in Panthankot, a city in Punjab, just a half hour before the train.   Our first time to take one of the famous Indian trains.   The open air platform was hot and the air stuffy.   A group of young guys who looked like trouble kept their eyes on us.   I stared them down.

The Indian train system is one of the marvels of the world.  It’s incredibly cheap and can take you anywhere you want to go in India.   It’s the chosen means of transportation for most Indians, except the more wealthy, who are flying more and more.  My friends at the ashram in Pune, mostly middle class, recommend hiring a car for trips of three hours or less, and flying for anything longer.

We got a 2AC accommodations.  That means “air-conditioned, second class.”   There are three classes of air-conditioned coaches and three classes of un-air-conditioned coaches.  The un-air-conditioned classes are pretty much a free for all.  I’m not sure if one gets assigned seats, but the people in the cars are piled on top of each other, heads sticking out the windows to get whiffs of hot air.   Guidebooks tell Westerners to get air-conditioned, 1AC if possible.   In 1AC, you basically have a little separate carriage or closed off part of a train car.   Four bunks for four people.  No one else.   We couldn’t get one of those, and settled for 2AC, which turned out to be a little section composed of two bunks separated from others by a curtain.   Not bad.

Of course we worried about dirt and germs.

Jennifer was sick.   But she said there was no way she was using one of the train bathrooms.   She doesn’t even like to use public bathrooms in the States.

Jennifer lay down on her lower bunk and slept.  The boys were allowed all the Mine Craft or videos they wanted in their upper berths, and I listened to music and looked out window.    We would be an eight-hour ride, from 1:00 to 9:30, p.m.

We rattled through the wide, Indus-Gangetic plain.  Rice paddies laid out like patchwork mosaics of water mirroring the white hazy sky.   Men with their dhoti’s rolled up stood in the water, upright or bent over cutting green sprouts of rice with dark, curved hand-sickles.   Labor-intensive work in the 100 plus heat.

We stopped at stations, none with signs, and eventually I worried that we might miss our stop when we got to Delhi.

I told the boys, who also worried, and myself, that it would be one of the largest train stations in the world, so I didn’t think we would miss it.   We were right.   At about 9:10, we stopped at a dark station with no signage and people started gathering up their bags.  I asked people in the car if this was Delhi, and they said the next station was Delhi, about five minutes away.   We got everything ready, our four suitcases and four backpacks.   The boys would have to carry their backpacks and pull a large suitcase each.   Jennifer would exit first, with the boys in the middle, and I would pull up the rear.

As we pulled into the station, we entered yet another Indian world.   The lighted platform began to appear.  Then, the masses of people.   Untold numbers.   The train stopped.  People started down the aisle.  I yelled to the family to stay close together.    “It’s going to be really, really crowded.  Watch out for pickpockets!”   When we got to the steps to descend between the cars to the platform, we saw the seething mass into which we were going to descend.   Everyone hurrying, pushing, shoving.   We had the boys between us.   Jennifer went first.   Someone helped her get her suitcase down off the train.  Then, Aidan and Kellen.   When someone offered to help, we were torn between saying, “Thank you so much!” and “Get the hell away!” So worried were we about scams and touts.   Then, as it was my turn, I came down the four steps, the train started moving!   I leapt off with my backpack and suitcase.   “What the hell?”   We were in the moving mass.  It was like a river half-stopped before a log jam, water swirling and buckling in eddies and whirlpools, runway channels and currents that could whisk you away in a moment.

We got out of the main rush beside the train and circled ourselves around our suitcases.   We warded off touts offering help.   “The hotel driver is supposed to meet us right here outside our train car,” I said.   They’d assured me at the hotel that he would be right here.  They had asked for our train car number and seat numbers.  It would be “No problem!”    But now, how would we ever find the driver in this seething chaos?   Jennifer said, “I need a bathroom.”   This is something Jennifer never says.   Ever.  This was bad.  She was going to use a bathroom in an Indian train station.  I could not imagine finding one or anything else!

Jennifer thought we should take a large free-standing staircase behind us that led up to elevated walk-overs that passed over the many tracks in either direction.   I thought we should wait right there for the driver.  She thought the walk-overs would lead to the outside and we’d find our driver outside.   So we climbed the stairs.   Poor sick Jennifer hauling up her suitcase up each of the five or so flights.  Poor boys hauling their own.   I carried two suitcases part of the way.  We didn’t know whether to accept help or not from faces that appeared spectral like out of the masses.   At the top, we stopped.   We looked in both directions.   The walk-overs were filled with people.  All was incredibly hot and stifling.   Jennifer said, “We’re going to stay here.  You find out where we should go.”   “What about the bathroom?”  I said.   “I can wait.”

I looked back and forth.  The walk-ways seemed to lead nowhere, just into other elevated walkways as far as thy eye could see, filled with more masses of hurrying people, shoulders, chests bumping each other.   Some led through doorways with no signs.   There were no signs anywhere.  There were no information booths.  There were no porters or station guards.   We were in a giant endless maze swarming with people.   I was afraid to leave the family.   I didn’t know where to go, what to do.   I knew Jennifer needed a bathroom.   I had a moment of nausea and panic, a train below roaring like the Minotaur at the end of the seething labyrinth.

“Excuse me, sir.  Is this you?”

I turned around and encountered a tall man in a beard and dark blue turban pointing at a sign in his hand.   It took me a couple of minutes to reorient myself, to bring my consciousness up out of its dark chasm of terror to be able to read the sign.

It said:  “Maidan’s Hotel.  Michael Sowder.”

“Sir, is this you?”  He asked again.

Our hotel driver, or rather, our angel, our Virgil materializing out of that inferno of chaos and peril, stood before us in the flesh, with wide, clear eyes and an open, kind face.

“My name is Om Kaur.”

“O, my God.”

We nearly fell to our knees.

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