Indian hospitals: 8 hours for my first ultrasound

Yesterday we went to get my first-trimester ultrasound done, at the renowned Christian Hospital in Chhatarpur, 55 km away from Khajuraho. For a five-minute scan of my tummy, we were away for more than eight hours… This post is about the entire process – or should I call it a journey – I went through to get what I wanted. From my experience, it is quite typical in Indian hospitals actually!

We left the house at about 9:00 in an air-conditioned taxi. The drive takes about one hour. Two of Kishan’s friends joined us, because they know the hospital well and they would help us find our way. It still puzzles me that they came with us to spend their entire day waiting outside in the heat… But this is India! I guess it doesn’t make much difference where men hang around doing nothing, hey?

Kishan had warned me in advance: In this hospital, men are forbidden in the ladies’ wards, so he would mostly be waiting for me outside – and indeed, I guess it was more fun to wait with his friends!

Indian hospitals: Admission & waiting for my turn

First of all I had to go to a first counter, tell them my name and why I was there, pay a fourty-rupee admittance fee (i.e. €0.54 or £0.40!) and get a record book. The counter window was so low that I had to bend my neck to see the clerk. As usual, he had trouble with my name. He asked me why I was here; I said I was twelve-weeks pregnant and  I wanted a check-up. The man sent me to the main entrance, where I handed my book to two nurses behind a desk. We didn’t wait too long, until among the other waiting patients one of them weighed me and checked my blood pressure. She looked at me funny and asked “How do you spend your name Madam, Vayo-lettee?” “Veeo-let” I replied, and I went to sit in the waiting room full of patients, next to Room No.2 where another nurse would soon call my name. Up to this point only, Kishan was sitting inside the hospital with me. His friends were waiting outside with the driver, chatting away.

Many patients were staring at me – people always stare at me in Indian hospitals. Among them many were pregnant women. I guess the saree is very practical during pregnancy. It accommodates all sizes, and women certainly don’t have to invest in pregnancy clothes in India! The salwar-kameez with its baggy trousers is equally practical. A nurse was often coming out of Room No.2 calling pregnant women in. As I waited I decided to go to the toilet to be more comfortable. “Is the toilet going to be clean?” I wondered. It was in the courtyard, and there was not a single proper toilet (what if people need a poo?) The ladies room only had urinals – tiles with a little canal driving the pee to a hole. There was a tap with jugs to throw water after yourself, and I guess it was clean-ish. But it was very basic, and every time I was peeing on my flip-flops and feet so I had to rinse my feet afterwards. Oh well! I’ve seen worse… I came back to the waiting room and soon the nurse called my name, not without difficulty.

Of course I was not the only patient in the room, because privacy doesn’t exist in India, but I knew it because I’m used to Indian hospitals. I sat at a desk and another nurse asked the last date of my period and what I wanted. I answered, and with a cardboard diagram she calculated my number of weeks and my due date and she wrote it in the book. Then I was asked to sit in a next room with about fifteen other pregnant women sitting on three wooden benches, to wait until the nurse in charge could call me. There were all sizes of pregnant bellies in the room. It was funny somehow to see pregnant ladies in burqas. One was enormous. Around 11:30 yet another nurse called me behind the curtain in front of a small the waiting room.

Indian hospitals: Inside an hospital, Chitrakoot (UP, 2009)
Indian hospitals: Inside an hospital, Chitrakoot (UP, 2009)

Indian hospitals: Check-up

When I pulled the curtain to enter the check-up room, the nurse in charge – older – looked at me with big eyes and a big smile. She seemed quite excited to have to deal with a foreign lady! (I am always a great attraction in Indian hospitals!) She asked me what I wanted (my tummy doesn’t show at all yet!) “I’m 12-weeks pregnant.” I said. She too asked me for the date of my last period; I told her, she opened the book and looked at what it said. Then she told me to lie down behind the curtain. She palpated my tummy and then said (and wrote in the book) that she couldn’t feel any sign of pregnancy. “Are you sure you’re pregnant?” She asked. “Uh?” I replied. “Did you do a pregnancy test?” she continued. Or rather, it sounded more like “You doing urine test? two lines showing?” “Yes, yes!” I confirmed, when we went back to sit at the desk. She proceeded to scribble in the book when I said “I want to do an ultrasound”. I don’t think she would have suggested it otherwise… “Ah ultrasound! OK!” So she pulled out a slip, started writing on it. There was a column with prices on the right-hand-side of the paper and I started wondering how much little the ultrasound would cost! When she handed me the slip I found out it cost only 350 rupees! That’s less than €5 or £3.50! When I was in the UK I had checked the prices of ultrasounds and it was at least £150! Incredible India! The nurse instructed me to go and pay for the fee at the counter where I had handed the 40 rupees, and then to go to Room No. 18. And to drink plenty of water as my bladder had to be full for the scan. Shame I had already gone to the toilet! Well, not really…

Indian hospitals: Ultrasound?

I came out and went back to the waiting hall where Kishan was waiting for me. We went outside to pay the fee, and with his friends we went to look for Room No. 18. It was across the yard in an opposite part of the building. The hospital, although renowned, was pretty rough for European standards by the way. Walls had their paint falling off in bits, but it was not dirty as such, I guess, and less dirty than some other Indian hospitals I have seen. Kishan gave me a bottle of water and I went into Room No. 18 on my own. Even for an ultrasound when only women’s bellies are in display, men were strictly forbidden in the room. Incredible!The room was quite simple. The ultrasound equipment was hidden behind a curtain, and next to the entrance there were just two wooden benches in a narrow space for waiting. A very young-looking nurse was writing all the records at a desk. Some pregnant women were already waiting; I recognised them all from Room No.2. The young nurse asked me for my book and tried to pronounce my name. “How do you pronounce your name?” She asked completely puzzled. I said my name loud and clear, exaggerating the pronunciation and trying to roll my “r”s as much as possible so she would make sense of it. “Can you say that again?” she asked embarrassed. “Are you trying to write it in Hindi?” I guessed. “Han (yes.)” she said. So I took a piece of paper and wrote it down in Hindi for her.

It was already passed midday. I started waiting, and drinking water, and waiting, and drinking water, until over one litre. The pregnant women were talking and sharing their stories and it was quite nice to listen to them. In the meantime a woman with an enormous belly sat down with us. She was nine months and five days pregnant. From time to time a man from one of the ladies’ family would pop through the creaking door to ask something or give something. The young nurse complained and asked them to talk outside, because they were too loud and disturbing. For an Indian I thought it was quite funny. Two days before had been a day of fasting (when wives fast for their husbands – although husbands never fast for their wives), and most of the Hindu ladies were saying they had fasted all day (not even drinking water) even though they were pregnant!!! They were talking about how weak they had been feeling, and how ‘mandatory’ fasting was for them. Tradition over the needs of their wee baby. “Crazy!” I thought. And then I just had to join the conversation: “But fasting is really bad for the baby! Pregnant women should never fast” I said in Hindi. A Muslim woman who was sitting in her black burqa (though with just an untied shawl on her head) agreed with me. The traits of her face were very calm and loving, and I liked her. I had remembered her name, having heard it from the nurse, and it meant “light”. For a while, she had also talked about wearing the burqa, saying how compulsory it was to wear it as soon as she stepped outside her home… The pregnant women’s conversations soon got too loud for the young nurse, and again she complained that she was going to make mistakes in her reports if they carried on talking so loudly. Of course, no-one lowered their voice. Half an hour passed and I slowly started needing a pee again, when the young nurse announced that the doctor, for whom we had been waiting all along because he had been called somewhere else, would not come back before 13:00, and she also had to go and get her lunch. So she sent us back outside and told us to come back for 1 o’clock. By that time I was bursting for a pee so I went to the toilet to relieve myself!

I walked back to the boys, asked Kishan to get another bottle of water for later! An old school friend of his had joined them in the meantime, because his wife had just given birth to a baby-boy there the day before! So while we waited we all went to see her and the boy. It was going to be an opportunity to see what the rooms of this hospital looked like! She had a private room with a bathroom, at least. It was clean but pretty grim and dark, with a very loud air-cooler (to get an idea of what it sounded like, click here!) She had had a C-section, but she looked well and very happy with her little baby, who was so tiny and hidden underneath his wee cover that I hadn’t found him when I entered the room. Two women were sitting on the floor, one would have been her mum, and they asked me to sit down in the armchair. The mother took the one-day old baby and put it on my lap, wow, it was so tiny! “Soon it will be my turn” I thought, but he was so small and vulnerable that I hardly dared movin him about. Well, I guess it will feel okay when it’s mine… I hope anyway! Later in the day I asked Kishan if AC rooms (as in proper, quiet air-conditioning rather than loud, metallic air-cooler) were available in this hospital. He said yes. I guess I could be fine to give birth in this hospital, but the big “but” is that men are not allowed, for goodness’ sake!!! And that is a big “BUT” indeed!

At 1 o’clock I returned to Room No.18 with a new bottle of water. The doctor was back behind the curtain, at least. I heard him speak in good English and his voice gave me a good impression at first. I started drinking the water slowly, slowly… And waited. And drank. And waited. And drank… I could hear him go through each ultrasound with each lady behind the counter. “The placenta is like this…” “Oh this bladder is not full enough, come back later.” “The baby this, the baby that…”, and then “Next patient!” Every time I heard this I hoped my name would come next but it never did. We heard the next woman cry when she saw her baby, and it brought tears in my eyes… Somehow we all were sharing an experience, waiting to see our baby on the screen. I was getting quite impatient although I was still pretty calm and relaxed, not sure how. But soon I started to need a pee quite badly, and it started to become quite uncomfortable. Then a student nurse came out with my book and asked “Who is [insert husband name here]’s wife?” “Me!” I exclaimed. But somehow she just wanted to check this and didn’t call me in. I sat back down. Then the doctor left the room; I finally saw his face and I didn’t like it at all. He had a big head and big bulging eyes, not very friendly-looking. The young nurse announced that he had been called on an emergency and he would come soon. “Damn Indian hospitals!” I thought. I needed a pee now! I didn’t want to have to wait so long that I would no longer hold it, go for a pee, have to drink and wait again! I wanted my ultrasound now and I had waiting long enough! I started becoming really frustrated and I begged the nurse to be the next patient on the list, because I really needed to pee. She said she would do her best so I would be the next. We waited maybe another twenty minutes until the doctor came back. But in the meantime a lady came in the room. He had been calling her twice earlier and she had not been there, but now that she had come, she was next! I burst out crying with frustration and looked at the young nurse with begging eyes. By now my bladder was ready to burst and I had a stinging pain from needing to pee so much. Then the door creaked open and a nurse brought in a woman in a wheelchair, straight behind the curtain. I was not the only one to complain by this time. But I wouldn’t have anymore: I stood up, opened the curtain and showed my face. “Please doctor! I’m bursting for a pee now, and I’ve been waiting for hours! Can I be next please?” I was still crying. The doctor, with an impassive, indifferent and almost cynical voice quietly said “Well, thank you for letting me know of your discomfort. You will be next.” After he finished with the patient, I heard him say to the lady in the wheelchair to please wait, because he was going to take the “white girl” in.

Indian hospitals: Finally the ultrasound!

It was almost 15:00. I hurried behind the curtain and lied down on the bed-mat thing, with great discomfort because as soon as I moved or bent forward a little, my bursting bladder stung me more. “Where are you from?” the doctor asked. “France” I said, still crying a little. “So you’ve come to have a baby in India?” he said with his cynical voice, as if to mock me for my boldness or madness. “I’ve lived here for 7 years!” I retorted. “And what do you do here?” “I’m married!” I said. “What is your age?”. All the while the student nurse had smeared my tummy with gel, and as the doctor pressed my lower abdomen with his utensil I had to focus on my breath to bear the stinging pain and discomfort. He moved the thing around a bit, told me that all was well, and then turned the screen of his machine to show me my baby. “Here! look this is the heart beating”. I could only look at this wee heart bit for half a minute, but it made me cry even more. This time though of course, it was emotion! I was mixed with discomfort and emotion, in a whirlpool of tears, and my head was starting to pound with ache. As I lifted my body back up and off the bed, the doctor told me to stop crying. “I cry if I need to cry!” I said, as I often say to Indian people who try to stop me crying. And then I tried to put on my flip-flop and grab my back as well as I possibly could. “Go alleviate yourself and come back”, the doctor threw. I ran out and to the toilet. I peed for five good minutes; the flow just wouldn’t stop. I carried on crying, breathing, and relaxing as I squatted in the meter square of tiles and peed on my own feet. I rinsed my feet, went to Kishan to tell him I had to go back for the print. Gathering my breath I went back to Room No. 18. I went to the young nurse, grabbed my book, and she said I should go back to Room No.2 to show it to the nurse in charge.

Indian hospitals: first-trimester ultrasound
Indian hospitals: first-trimester ultrasound

Indian hospitals: Report with the nurse in charge

I quickly showed the photo of our baby to Kishan and went back to Room No.2. I waited another half hour on one of the wooden bench until the nurse called me in. She had not felt my pregnancy by palpation so I sat and said “See? There’s a baby in my tummy.” “Good news!” she exclaimed. She scribbled something in my book and said I should take a supplement of folic acid for two weeks. “But I’ve been taking folic acid for four months already” I repeat two or three time. “So no need” (and besides, two weeks is nothing anyway, I thought! One must take supplements at least one months for them to work, so what is this about?) And she also said I should take a calcium and iron supplement, again for two weeks. Non-sense, I thought. “I did blood tests in France and I have enough iron” I said to hear. I pulled out the French report out of my bag, showed it to her and pointed to the “ferratine” result. She didn’t really look at the paper, and she told me to do what I wanted… I left the room somewhat unimpressed.

Indian hospitals: Another hospital…

I went back to the courtyard to find Kishan and his friends. He asked me if I was hungry but I was not, although we had skipped lunch completely. From drinking all that water, I guess! Then we had another new-born baby to visit – Kishan’s cousin’s son, who was born just three days before! But he was not in this hospital. He was in a government hospital, which I was very curious to see!

The building’s façade was pretty dilapidated and the Christian hospital was way nicer in comparison. The new mother had also had a C-section, and Kishan told me that it was because she had fasted the entire day before her delivery so she had been too weak to have a natural birth! She was lying on a bed in a dormitory full of post-C-section women, all with tiny babies with them in bed. We approached her bed and I was offered to sit on it. The bedsheet was not well-spread and you could see the mattress, made of fake leather and ripped in parts. Next to the bed Kishan’s aunt, the grand-mother of the new-born, was sitting on a rough mat spread out on the floor. The nurse who came to change the mother’s perfusion did so without gloves. A cleaning lady was sweeping the floor with a straw broom, moving out dust, empty boxes and other items of rubbish.

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Families were kind of camping by their daughters or daughters-in-law’s beds, on the floor next to them. (NB: most Indian hospitals don’t provide food to their patients so it is up to families to do it.) We sat some more with our family, and before we left I asked to go to the toilet. Kishan’s aunt came out of the dormitory with me and into the corridor, and after the next turn she pointed and said “There.” There was no toilet. I peed in a corridor, next to an area of the floor that was stinky and brown from piss… This was by far the worst of all Indian hospitals I have been to, and it was the government hospital!!! Well, I wasn’t planning to check that one for myself anyway…

We arrived home at 17:30. I had my mother-in-law’s yummy, comforting food – she had my favourite dish of karela (bitter gourd) and daal (lentils). Then I went straight to bed. My head was still heavy and pounding and my eyes were sore. I lied down and slept and rested. I couldn’t do anything for the rest of the day… But I had my ultrasound!

You may also want to read:
A new chapter & reflection about motherhood in India
Delivery options: Where in India?

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